There are just so many things to say about the ongoing conflict and issues in Ferguson, Missouri. There are so many feelings and thoughts and images and questions and denials, I don’t even know where to begin. I assume that most people feel that way. Just to clear my head, I’m going to try to sort them out and see if I can make any sense of it.
First off, there are at least four separate events, each with their own injustice.
1) A young unarmed Black man was shot by police and the town/city and its police did little or nothing about it
2) As it seemed no justice was to be had, tensions rose among the citizens, rioting and looting happened.
3) The police force and the city moved to quell the riots by arresting reporters, shooting protesters with rubber bullets and generally militarizing.
4) The conflict between the people and the police has not quieted yet.
1a) Police should not ever shoot unarmed citizens. Police should not shoot at anyone or impose the law disproportionately because they believe that all members of a group are bad/evil. Racism is wrong.
1b) Because racism is wrong, there needs to be justice found for those who are victims of it. Because all citizens are people, if you deny them justice, there are going to be problems.
1c) The law must be applied equally. No citizen is above the law, regardless of race, class, power, religion, age, status in the community. At the same time, no citizen should be considered a criminal without cause or proof.
2a) The shooting should never have happened. How and Why did it? The answer to that question should be sought and reflected on, so that it doesn’t happen again.
2b) Since it did, it is imperative that those in charge of justice seek it for the victim and his family.
2c) Since all citizen have the right to expect justice, those in charge of getting justice (police, DA’s, courts) need to do so as quickly as possible. This should not be a rush to judgement, but a rush to the process of justice.
2d) Until justice is sought by the police, it will be sought by the citizenry. Because there seems to be a long-standing history of justice not being had or had by only one group, the frustration leads to desire for the riots.
2e) If the citizens can’t believe in the justice system, then police have no authority. When the police have no authority, people who are inclined to be criminals will act out, thus the looting. If the police can’t tell the difference between good citizens and criminal citizens, they have lost any ability to do their job. With no ability to do their job, and no authority to do it per the citizens, they need to de-escalate and at least do no harm.
3a) In a democracy, officials work for the people, not the other way around. They are elected by, paid for by, and given legitimacy/status by them. Any time an official hurts democracy by taking away freedoms from its citizens, it is wrong. The right to a free press, the right to assemble peacefully, the right to petition for grievances, and apparently the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness have been taken away from citizens. The present system in Ferguson has no legitimacy and should resign, or change the things they are doing.
3b) Using force against people who are doing nothing wrong, or are using their rights as citizens (and therefore being patriotic) is wrong. Killing people is wrong. Injuring people with no regard is wrong.
3c) Using an inappropriate amount of force to handle a situation is never right. Police should be (and are?) trained in what “appropriate force” means in a situation and they should use only as much as necessary.
4a) Looters are wrong because they often steal from the wrong people. If a police officer is hitting you, stealing from a shop owner doesn’t get you justice. Police will not stop trying to quell the riots and looting until looting stops. Looting offers a cover of legitimacy to those who want to control, even if there is no legitimacy there.
4b) People have the right — and perhaps the responsibility — to exercise their rights. Peaceful protestors have the right to be, and should be, on the streets as a way of saying that democracy is not dead and that true justice is valued in America and will prevail.
4c) Police need to de-escalate their current tactics. If 4a, 4b, and 4c happen, peace will return to the streets of Ferguson.
4d) Someone in authority needs to reassure the citizens of that community by bringing the officer who originally shot the unarmed man in and the process of justice needs to start. All parties need to be honest and fair and take responsibility for their parts in whatever injustice was done.
Most importantly, all law enforcement and elected leaders need to understand that African-Americans are citizens and are due equal treatment under the law and equal respect as humans. Each person in America is due that. Each person in America, regardless of skin color, is a citizen and the government serves them.
And all of this is simple civics and politics. I didn’t even get into the religious view, but it can be summed up in two words: “Jesus wept”.