The shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was unarmed when he was killed by a white police officer on Aug. 9 in a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri, has sparked protests and riots and a police response that has a disturbing paramilitary flavor.
The death of Brown and the unrest that has followed in the community of Ferguson has added fuel to debates about race relations, police power and citizens’ rights to protest. Those are debates that need to occur, and need to be resolved, for the benefit of our republic.
What is unacceptable, and deeply unsettling for advocates of civil liberties and justice, is the way peaceful protests have degraded, as they often do, into looting and rioting by a handful of unscrupulous people.
The destruction of private property has given law enforcement, which first approached protests with an obviously disproportionate response, justification for riot gear, tear gas and automatic weapons. Leaders can throw up their hands and say the tactics match the uptick of violence that has swept through the protests.
The protestors and members of the community of Ferguson, and anywhere else similar protests occur, must conduct themselves in a nonviolent way, if only to draw a stark contrast to the repressive measures being implemented by the St. Louis County and Missouri governments. The state is not going to back down — its response can only escalate. It is the protestors’ duty to advocate for nonviolence in response to a violent act.
It’s perfectly natural that there is outrage in Ferguson at the killing of an unarmed black teenager at the hands of a white policeman, particularly given the suburb’s demographic history, which has been detailed in numerous media reports. But it’s also of the utmost importance that unnecessary conclusions aren’t drawn until a full and complete investigation of the shooting is completed.
That investigation, and others like it, should be carried out at the highest levels of the federal government.
The wounds that incidents like Brown’s death expose need to be brought into the light, and they need to be healed as best they can. The state apparatus, so quick to resort to military tactics, cannot be relied upon to begin that process.
It starts with the people.