Wednesday, November 26, 2014
FERGUSON: THE MORNING AFTER A NIGHT OF CHAOS
PROTESTORS MARCH PEACEFULLY
IN MANY OTHER BIG CITIES
ONE OF THE DOZEN BUSINESSES SET ABLAZE IN LAST NIGHT’S CHAOS
TAGS: FERGUSON GRAND JURY DECISION, NO INDICTMENT FOR PO WILSON,
PROSECUTOR BOB McCULLOCH’S ANNOUNCEMENT, PEACEFUL DEMONSTRATORS VERSUS
LOOTERS, ARSONISTS, AND THE OPPORTUNISTIC VIOLENT ELEMENT,
MISTAKES MADE ON BOTH SIDES,
AFTER ACTION REVIEW
An After Action Review
(Wednesday November 26, 2014, FDR Drive, NYC) For the most part those who chose for whatever reason to come out last night and block traffic here at the southern segment of the FDR, at the Manhattan Bridge and along Seventh Avenue in Times Square have been peaceful; vocal, yes, but peaceful. Certainly there are those who are opportunistic and seize on a night such as this to cause trouble, incite anger in others and hope that the peaceful assembly will turn violent mob. The NYPD was certainly prepared but opted to not engage the marchers and eventually, with a small number of arrests for “unlawful assembly”, “failure to comply” and “impeding” the flow of traffic, the crowds dissipated as the temperature dropped and the wind gusts grew more forceful. The NYPD excels in all aspects of urban policing and they have mastered the art and logistics of crowd control. Anyone who has ever been present in Times Square on New Year’s Eve can attest to this fact.
Over a thousand miles away it was difficult watching the upheaval in Ferguson Missouri in the wake of the non-indictment of Police Officer Darren Wilson. The Ferguson Police Department and other area Law Enforcement Agencies (LEA’s) had over three months to prepare for last night and, it became painfully clear early on into the night that they had squandered that time. In the weeks leading up to last night’s Grand Jury announcement, officials on the ground here in Ferguson, and other neighboring towns, the St. Louis County PD, the State Office of Public Safety all the way up to the Governor himself had been proclaiming their readiness for whatever last night might bring. It is difficult to see any evidence that they were prepared. Quite the contrary. The night rapidly devolved into a riotous atmosphere with all the accompanying arson, looting, random gun fire, destruction of Police cars and public property. The smoldering ashes seen today were largely family owned, local “mom and pop” establishments that serviced and employed many Ferguson residents. To be sure, it was not the entire community that poured out into a two block commercial area stretching down Florissant Avenue to Cantwell Drive. The majority of residents stayed home and they had no disturbances in their neighborhoods.
We have witnessed similar scenes before. In many ways we have witnessed the same scene played out with minor variations to the general narrative of heavy handed, racially biased, predominately White Police Officers abusing, arresting, assaulting and, at times, shooting unarmed young Black men. Are there endemic problems embedded in some of our policing practices, procedures, policies and protocols? Yes. And there are the hosts of social and cultural ailments so routinely recited regarding the plight of the African American, People of Color communities throughout America. Yes, Black Americans as a whole are more likely to live in poverty, suffer high unemployment, lack sufficient basic education, are stopped and questioned by Police Officers at a disproportional rate when compared demographically to Whites, and over 48% of Black families do not have a male presence, either a father, a father figure, or a responsible, available, engaged male in the family unit. These are sad facts but they are facts nonetheless and it is difficult to launch efforts and initiatives aimed at these eroding, destructive forces when the harsh reality also includes the rate of Black on Black crime of every category and the pernicious antagonism between the Black community and the Law Enforcement Community (LEC).
A PREPONDERANCE OF BLUNDERS
ITEM ONE: THE PROSECUTOR
It will be argued in criminal justice classes, Police Academies, in academia and the LEC at large what precisely was the etiology for the eruption in Ferguson last night especially given the months official had to prepare. It is often awkward to critique another LEA from afar and from a “Monday morning quarterback” stance. That aside, there were plainly obvious a few major errors made by all involved from the Prosecutor to the Ferguson PD and beyond.
Bob McCulloch, the St. Louis County Prosecutor, the son of a Police Officer killed in the line of duty by a Black man when he was 12 years old, was from day one very obviously not up to the task. While we must err to the side of the 12 members of the Grand Jury who did their due diligence and deliberated in good faith based on the evidence and testimony they were exposed to over the last three months, we can question some of the particulars McCulloch chose to present even though he himself noted that some of the witnesses “made up” testimony while others “heard things from other people” prior to testifying. If there were ant suspect witnesses, witnesses that did not pass the bar of credibility, it is fair to ask the Prosecutor why he opted to have them testify, under oath, before the Grand Jury.
Even more problematic than the manner in which the Grand Jury appears to have been conducted was McCulloch’s inexplicable rationale for making the announcement at 8 o’clock PM local time and delivering an odd soliloquy that could have easily been interpreted as a defense of PO Wilson. There is not proof that McCulloch steered the Grand Jury in the direction he wanted it to go but some of his actions that have come to light do raise concerns particularly his unprecedented 20 minute summary to the media. One could reasonably assume a prosecutor sitting on the hottest case in the United States for three months would have been far more adept and skilled when delivering the Grand Jury findings knowing the potential for serious trouble was at hand.
ITEM TWO: THE POLICE
Leaving Officer Wilson aside for the time, the 54 person Ferguson Police Department was never and could never have been prepared for the widespread civil disobedience they encountered last August in the days and weeks following the shooting death of 18 year old Michael Brown. From the most basic, rudimentary tasks to be conducted at a crime scene, particularly a shooting “death by Cop” crime scene, were bungled, fumbled and ignored. As the Grand Jury evidence so starkly proves, virtually all involved in the “investigation” as Michael Brown’s body lay in the street, either did not know what they were doing or were being willfully negligent. Yes, these are harsh assertions yet a reading of the Grand Jury transcripts contain so many self-incriminating statements by those on the scene and at the Ferguson Police HQ, that it boggles the mind. There was gross, florid negligence; a complete failure to secure the crime scene, the physical evidence and Officer Wilson’s post-shooting actions and statements that any Law Enforcement Officer (LEO) no matter their personal opinion on the events in Ferguson must concede that the ineptitude – be it a lack of proper training or a failure to follow precise protocols – is inexcusable. The Ferguson PD has a joint mutual aide agreement with the St. Louis County PD and they should have immediately contacted the larger LEA to preserve and begin the investigative process at the scene.
ITEM THREE: THE PROTESTORS
In deference to honest, open debate, those Ferguson residents who began marching and protesting immediately after the shooting were voicing real hurt, frustration, and sadness. Those hot August nights initially were violent interactions between members of the community and Law Enforcement. It was a moving site to see as mothers pushed their infant children in strollers with their hands in the “Don’t Shoot” posture that became the indelible symbol for the entire reactionary movement. But, as is always the case, others – outsiders – poured into Ferguson with the sole objective of creating trouble, making havoc and looting. Nothing says you support a specific cause more than looting local businesses, right?
Again, open debate insists we must be willing to examine the issues at hand from all sides. While Officer Wilson testified that he feared for his life and has “no regrets” about the incident and that the outcome would have been the same if Michael Brown was a White man instead of a Black man, when a predominately African American community is policed by what is virtually an “All White” Police force, there exists a natural antagonism if not flaming distrust; an unavoidable rift in which every citizen/police encounter can be assessed through the prism of race and skin color.
As a broad spectrum of mostly young New Yorker’s marched and blocked traffic last night to express, interchangeably, their collective anger at and frustration with a Police/Criminal Justice system that is inherently and deeply flawed, perceives people of color as “less than”, commits atrocities and acts of murder with impunity on members of those communities, the powers that be do not have the ability to dissuade them of those core beliefs. Every time a White LEO shoots or otherwise engages physically with a person of color, to the protestors and other like-minded people, it is a criminal incident for which the police Officer must be “punished”.
ITEM FOUR: PUNISHMENT
The Black community is quick to call for punishment for every LEO that has ever been involved in a “Black on White” confrontation no matter the circumstances and details. Their calls for “justice” often prove to be nothing more than the cause of the day. Yes, there are without question some isolated reasons that the Black and Latino community can be skeptical of Police accounts of one incident or another. Unfortunately for everyone, only the Police Officers who patrol our streets, housing projects, drug and crime infested neighborhoods know what the denizens of the night look like and what they are capable of.
Arm chair critics, aggrieved liberals, and all the multicultural, African American scholars throughout the land should roll one night in an RMP with two Officers charged with enforcing the law in their particular sector. What they might likely witness would make them scared; sick to the stomach with fear of the sheer raw violence that ensues often even in the most non-confrontational encounter. Streets that hum with the hustle and bustle of commerce, of people going to and from work, of children coming back from school and playing on the sidewalks and in the streets in the light of day, become transformed later in the small dark hours of the morning when they more resemble an alien landscape defined by shadows and corners that may or may not conceal a life or death threat. And during the in between moments those very same Police Officers render assistance to the sick, answer the call of the battered women and children, emergency scenarios of every type, and comport themselves in the truest nature of public servants.
What many of the residents of Ferguson and activists who insinuated themselves into the fray there have long called for “justice” for Michael Brown when, in reality, they want to have Officer Wilson punished; they seek the completion of the ancient “eye for an eye” maxim based not on facts but on perceptions. PO Wilson has become the convenient scapegoat representing every White Law Enforcement Officer everywhere who has ever had a contentious interaction with a Black person.
ITEM FIVE: PASTORS, PREACHERS AND PUNDITS
Sometimes it is stunningly striking how “men of the cloth”, Clergy members approach volatile events and the issues that often are behind them. While in one instance they call on their congregants’ better nature and plead for reasoned and rational peaceful responses to troubling incidents in their communities, they can, in the very next breath utter words from their pulpits that only serve to further the divide between Black and White, between Law Enforcement and the communities they minister to. It needs to be mentioned that many inner city members of the Clergy seek to set the proper tone in defining their congregants and the children of such in their sermons and lessons concerning the proper way to interact with the police.
Yes, there are many of every race, color and creed who stridently complain that no one should have to “teach” their children how to interact with members of the LEC. They have a point but it is a dull point, not capable of penetrating the reality of hostility and anger deeply held by the young members of the community. Pop culture has a guilty role in this dynamic as they continue to glorify and celebrate “Thug Life”, “Old School Gangsters”, and remain continuously devoid of any measure of social responsibility. Those who will protest and assail this claim are ignoring another aspect of reality.
Then, of course, there are the pundits, the “Professional Black’s” and “Professional Liberals” who are all too willing and able to stoke the flames of discrimination, oppression, and prejudice no matter what the facts may be. These are often the shrillest voices on any issue that even has a shadow of a connotation of racism in Police relations with the Black public. They have high profile platforms from which to elaborate, pontificate, and proliferate their own views, as a means leading to an end that enhances their own public profile while adding to their personal wealth. These exploiters are the worst of the worst yet they continue to prey on their own community while blatantly appealing to the lowest common denominator in the hearts and minds of their captive audiences.
ITEM SIX: PERCEPTION
As sure as the sun rises in the east the perceptions regarding all the events in Ferguson reflect the sharp polarization between Black America and White America. In many ways the images from last night served only to cement the deeply held convictions of each side. Black America reacted to what they see as an indifferent Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice system in which their lives are not valued, where it is nearly impossible to get fair treatment and that the Police can due as they please with impunity. White America sees the flames in the night and roaming crowds looting and ravaging the very same neighborhood in which they live, work and worship and call those perpetrators “animals and savages”. Such harsh words in and of themselves help perpetuate the worst of perceptions on both sides.
Human perception is based largely on previous experiences that have been reinforced time and time again. From our own unique perch we assess the world around us and have a natural affinity for circumstances and events that comport with our perceptions. This makes it very difficult to have any kind of “open, honest” debate about such an emotionally charged atmosphere as events play out in Ferguson. The distrust on both sides of this Black and White equation seems to remain intractable.
Many in White America express frustration about the state of race relations today. Those of a certain age recall the riots that plagued the Deep South and larger Northern cities prior to the Voter’s Rights and Civil Rights Acts. Others express a level of disgust noting the years of Affirmative Action, racial quotas in some workplaces, and housing and now have little to no sympathy for the plight of the Black community. Yes, the Black community in some of the largest urban areas has advanced minimally over the last 50 years and the reasons for this stagnation are many and varied but this is not the time to explore them. We can take some of them as tacit proof that Black America faces obstacles White America does not. Yet, there is never a good reason to act up in a violent manner; arson, looting and widespread civil disorder, as we have previously noted, have no place in society and are more than counterproductive for those who perpetrate such activities.
Tomorrow the damage in Ferguson will be surveyed as the remnants of last night’s fires smolder in the rubble of were thriving businesses. The Ferguson PD and the other LEA involved on the ground last night review their tactics and strategy going forward. Tomorrow and all the tomorrows to follow People on both sides will either be willing to move on or they won’t. The LEA’s will conduct “after action reviews” to identify where and why they allowed last night to get so far out of hand. Hopefully leaders and others from the Black community will evaluate what the proper path ahead is. There are certainly acceptable ways to express anger at “the system” but it will not be found in the hearts and minds of those who seek anarchy and violence. This is the time for all the self-appointed Black Activists and leaders, preachers and pundits to step up to the plate in an effort to enact initiatives geared towards positive change; the kind of change that helps bridge the divide. The proof will be in what tact the Black community opts for. People of goodwill exist on both sides and it will be incumbent upon them to steer the discourse. The status quo will only lead to the next Ferguson.
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