The Ferguson Debacle
The Police, “Militarized” and Otherwise
Last week on Ricochet.com I wrote a post called “Lose the Camouflage, Please,” in which I criticized the soldierly appearance of many of the police officers facing off with protesters in Ferguson. Camouflage fatigues have no place on the streets of any American city, regardless of the chaos that might be reigning. But I erred in being critical of the sight of snipers aiming their rifles into crowds of what I had been led to believe were peaceful protesters (see “Media” discussion above). Now we know there were armed men in those crowds, and that some of those purportedly peaceful protesters took a break from looting at night only for as long as long as it took to shoot someone. This being the case, better for a police officer to be equipped with a rifle and perched up high than with a pistol at street level should the need arise to engage a gunman concealed among innocents.
And I reject the notion that the mere sight of a group of police officers, whatever their uniform and equipment, is somehow justification for ransacking a block of shops. Yet this notion persists, even among some in law enforcement. I recall the 2005 memorial service for Stanley “Tookie” Williams, who at long last had been executed for his role in four 1979 murders. The service was held at a church in South Central Los Angeles, and a good many of the mourners were, like Williams himself, gang members. At one point there was friction between some of these gang members and members of the LAPD who were there to keep the peace. The time came for officers to form a skirmish line and move a large group of gangsters out of the street. Incredibly, a senior LAPD commander, a man who had spent his career comfortably seated in an office chair, ordered officers not to wear their helmets and face shields out of fear of angering the crowd. Yes, better for an officer to take a bottle to the head or a brick to the face than offend the delicate sensibilities of a bunch of gangsters.
Senator Rand Paul, his moistened finger held aloft in the political winds, is among the latest to add his voice to the debate. Though he makes some valid points in a recent contribution to Time magazine, he crosses the line into naked pandering in his second paragraph. “If I had been told to get out of the street as a teenager,” he writes, “there would have been a distinct possibility that I might have smarted off. But, I wouldn’t have expected to be shot.” Does the senator believe Michael Brown was shot for merely “smarting off”?
The bottom line is this: the protective equipment worn by soldiers and police officers can have much in common, and it’s facile to say we should deny some piece of gear to a police officer just because it resembles something a soldier would use. Just last week, LAPD officers used an armored truck to engage an armed suspect who had already shot at police. The truck was riddled with bullets and a SWAT officer was seriously wounded, but the bloodshed surely would have been worse had the truck not been available. (But still, please lose the camouflage.)
There is no carnival so vulgar that it cannot be made more so with the appearance of Al Sharpton, a man whose rise to prominence began with a fraud and has continued without a trace of shame along the same lines ever since. His act is so predictable and so tiresome that by now it’s a wonder anyone pays attention to him at all. He would leap over the dead bodies of all 60 black men killed by other black men to get to the one who had been killed by a cop, and his only concern in doing so would be to get there before Jesse Jackson did. If he truly wanted to make a difference, if he wanted to improve the situation in Ferguson, he would have been out on West Florissant Avenue after dark last week instead of hunkered down in whichever five-star downtown St. Louis hotel he was staying in. If he’s so magnetic and persuasive, if he’s such a leader and peacemaker, perhaps he could have stood in the path of the looters and implored them to change their ways and go home. But he knows if he had dared to try that he would have been brushed aside or maybe even robbed himself as the mob sought out its next target. The thugs just don’t care what Al Sharpton has to say, and he knows it.