The police have failed the people of Ferguson, Missouri. But not in the manner the media has shown, nor simply by the shooting of an unarmed man. They have failed in their most basic duty to protect and to serve — to protect life and property, and to preserve order. Despite all their gear, weaponry and armored vehicles, they haven’t done the job of a basic blue-shirted officer of the peace, and for that, any trace of trust Ferguson’s citizens may have clung to has been shattered, torched and carried off into the night by the criminals now running the city.
The police departments of small town America may have acquired the tools of the military, but they sure didn’t acquire the training. American soldiers working crowd control are taught to use the four S’s: Shout (a warning), Show (your weapon), Shove (using non-lethal force), Shoot (to remove the threat). The police, it seems, were taught Sit (on your ass and) See (the chaos unfolding from atop a) Shiny (armored personnel carrier).
This is a riot in the United States, not a war in Iraq, and shooting bullets into crowds is not an option. But again, this is the United States, not Iraq, and here, our government has promised that in return for granting it a monopoly on the legal use of force, it will protect the life, liberty and property of the people. In Ferguson, that covenant has been broken. (RELATED: Capt. Ron Johnson Is Averaging About One Broken Promise A Day)
Some of the most striking images captured of Ferguson were taken by Charlie LeDuff and his cameraman in a segment for “The Americans.” Mr. LeDuff dared to venture beyond the strange media-mob-police red carpet showdown to capture the darkened blocks of the city, where violent teenagers now ruled and marauders roved conquered streets, stealing and destroying the existence their hardworking neighbors have spent their lives creating.
Where were the police? The state troopers? The National Guard? It wasn’t curfew yet, so there was no law in Ferguson. No one dared protect innocent American citizens from violence.
“This ain’t what it’s about man, stealing other people’s shit!” one black man pleaded into the great big night, while masked criminals strutted about in the open. “The whole fucking world’s looking at us, and y’all n**gas stealing shit, man!” he yelled, his voice hoarse, tears in his eyes.
Blocks away, the police stood still under the glaring lights of the media.
“We all out here trying to protect and serve,” a young black man guarding a building told Mr. LeDuff. “Better than what they [police] doing up there. They blocking us off and tear-gassing us, but they need to be out here protecting and serving. This is not what’s up.” (RELATED: Twenty-Four Hours In A Small, Highly Televised Riot)
Meanwhile, a gang of masked looters was gathering nearby.
“Fuck this peace shit!” a male looter menaced. “No justice no peace!” rang another looter’s shrill call to violence.
After threatening the young man’s life and receiving assurances that he would not shoot them if they broke and entered, the looting continued.
All just a few blocks away from the McDonald’s where terrified employees had huddled in a storage room to seek safety from gangs.
All just a few blocks from Fort Apache, Missouri, where a heavily armed American police force looked on from their positions, protected by the gear they would never use.
LeDuff, too, was forced to flee after he and his cameraman were attacked by a criminal in the middle of an American city street.
“Get out of here, before somebody — just walk away, get out of here,” one man warned the reporters. “Walk away! Walk away! Walk away!”
When the clock struck midnight, the police woke up like some kind of reverse Cinderella. The tear gas rained, and the police began their slow march back into the streets they had surrendered.
This isn’t the first time Americans have been abandoned to mob rule.
In 1992, the LAPD — so brave when they outnumbered a crackhead — fled race riots targeting whites, Hispanics and Koreans. Dozens of people were killed, thousands of businesses burned, and citizens never forgot the day the police ran away.
Not much has changed. On Tuesday, a CNN anchor suggested police use water cannons — a nonlethal weapon that can actually be targeted at malicious actors, unlike tear gas and stun grenades, which blanket whole crowds — to combat rioters, leading to howls of indignation from Americans who recalled that water cannons had been used in the 1960s to break up peaceful civil rights marchers. Use of police force against peaceful protesters is a shameful chapter in American history, but the outrage over the suggestion is a disgrace to civil rights history. Because these rioters aren’t peaceful civil rights marchers; because the tactic would lessen harm to innocents; and because no matter what some activists says, this rampant criminality is not for blacks’ civil rights — it is a direct assault on black Americans’ rights to life, liberty, happiness.
What is behind police inaction? A fear that if they stop the violent mob, the mob won’t like them? It will make for bad TV? And what, then, of the law-abiding citizens whose businesses burn, whose lives are threatened? What of the store owner who was forcibly robbed by Mr. Brown, and then had his business gutted in a demented play at “justice” for Mr. Brown?
Every community has problems and trouble makers, but this can’t be stated forcefully enough: Allowing black neighborhoods to fall under the rule of criminals and burn is not a form of police diplomacy or community outreach that any American should tolerate.
Sometimes it makes sense to line up all your policemen in a shiny and intimidating line, like maybe with an angry protest, where the “Show” of force can maintain peace. In Ferguson, that time has long since passed. Whether it’s the police, the troopers or the guard, Missouri has an obligation to protect their citizens from violence, robbery and fear — by bringing order to the streets of Ferguson. Or, to paraphrase the protesters, justice. And peace.