The likelihood of unrest in Ferguson, Missouri and greater St. Louis has morphed from a threatening possibility to a foregone conclusion. Protesters began ramping up their preparations to protest after timed leaks from the grand jury proceedings started to point to the return of a “no true bill” or non-indictment of Mike Brown’s shooter, officer Darren Wilson. With the arrival of a sizeable contingent of the National Guard, a sighting of seventy Homeland Security vehicles and online chatter of the most disgusting sort, no one is asking if anymore, it’s a matter of when.
While rumors of the impending grand jury indictment decision ominously swirl, Missourians are expressing fatigue not only at the lengthy wait, but also at an apparent dearth of leadership in elected officials clearly tasked with such. Enter term-limited governor of the Show Me State, Jay Nixon (D). Last week the governor surprised many by making a strong show of force during a press conference with his newly formed policing arm, the unified command; a coalition of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, St. Louis Metropolitan Police and local police arms under the direction of the St. Louis County Police Department. The unified command will operate in coordination with the National Guard. Governor Nixon stated that violence and property damage would not be tolerated.
Yesterday at a press conference, Nixon was utterly flummoxed by a Huffington Post reporter’s simple question, regarding who’s ultimately in charge here:
Hi governor. Thank you. Given that you’ve declared the state of emergency, and you’ve put the highway patrol in the unified command, does the buck ultimately stop with you when it comes to how any protests are policed?
More succinctly, “You’re in control here, right?” HuffPo’s Matthew Sledge asked the question because of the changes in operational control instituted by Nixon to address widespread criticism of the police’s response to the initial round of protests. Many protesters and observers considered it heavyhanded and militarized. What went unreported is that there were shots fired at officers every night. Bottles, bricks and Molotov cocktails were hurled; the gear was needed for law enforcement’s safety.
Any other leader in this position would have stated simply and in the affirmative: “Yes. Ultimately the buck stops with me and here’s why; I’m stepping in to be the voice of reason and leadership here in Missouri as that is my responsibility as holder of the highest elected office in the state.” This would have immediately seized the momentum from protesters and agitators and placed them on defense.
Instead, Nixon ignited a drop of red matter that suspended time in this dimension and sent listeners into a black hole of equivocation. Today on the radio all over America innocents are suffering through replays of the assault on intelligent discourse that was his non-answer. Here’s a translation:
“Well I mean, we’re, um, it, uh, it, uh, you know — our goal here is to, is to, is to — you know, keep the peace and allow folks’ voices to be heard,” Nixon said on the call. “I don’t spend a tremendous amount of time personalizing this vis-a-vis me.”
“I’d prefer not to be a commentator on it,” he added.
This was a simple and straightforward question. Governor Nixon’s last public statement on the potential unrest in Ferguson was an admission of responsibility, which surprised no one, as he is the governor of the state and the only one responsible for issuing really important orders like, say, declaring a State of Emergency!
My goodness, man! Get in the driver’s seat already! If you aren’t responsible for the safety of Missourians at large through coordination of policing resources, then who is? Certainly not the reporters and definitely not those citizens of the state bracing for potential widespread rioting, looting and violence! Maybe a few other parties share the responsibility; namely President Obama, for suggesting that the protesters “Stay the course.” And AG Holder for telling the protesters that he is “One of you.” But ultimately the buck stops with you, Governor Nixon.
Lest anyone accuse me of letting the protesters themselves off the hook, let me just say they should consider this: If you accept violent protesters in your groups, then you are the violent protesters. If one throws a brick, all are responsible for the damage to persons or property resulting from said projectile. What you tolerate, you condone. You are the least amongst you.
Or to quote John Adams from his defense of the redcoats in the Boston Massacre
Rules of law should be universally known, what ever effect they may have on politics; they are rules of common law, the law of the land, and it is certainly true, that where ever there is an unlawful assembly, let it consist of many persons or a few, everyman in it is guilty of every unlawful act committed by any one of the whole party, be they more or be they less, in pursuance of their unlawful design. This is the policy of the law: to discourage and prevent riots, insurrections, turbulence and tumults.
In other words, if we as a civil society permit violence, thievery, and unrest under the guise of free speech we will quickly devolve into anarchy. Governor Nixon, as it is within your purview, it is time to firmly lead over 2 million residents in the St. Louis Metro to a lawful and peaceful conclusion to the Mike Brown saga. It is your responsibility and you are indeed in the drivers seat.