On Ferguson, Michael Brown, and Sanctioned Murder in America

Michael Brown was murdered by the Ferguson Police Department. There is no other word that can sufficiently describe killing an unarmed man, especially one who didn’t have a criminal record. Witness Dorian Johnson stated that an officer whom the Ferguson Police refuses to identify pointed a gun at Brown’s head instead of containing the situation with a cool head. Brown was executed. The civilians rightfully protested. Now the police fire upon everyone with rubber bullets and tear gas.

The only detail that the police has revealed about the unidentified officer is that he was treated for swelling on the side of his face, but this is a woefully insufficient explanation. Just as instituting a no-fly zone “TO PROVIDE A SAFE ENVIRONMENT FOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ACTIVITIES” is a betrayal of the essential trust needed between police and citizens during a volatile time. Just as the Department of Defense’s militarization of police departments turns jurisdictional resources into a cruel cartoonish joke. Just as police muzzling and arresting veteran reporters like The Washington Post‘s Wesley Lowery as he was trying to piece together the maelstrom, with the preposterous rap of “resisting arrest” applied to a fair and innocent journalist holding his hands up high and terrified, is a desecration of civility, understanding, and free expression.

Murder. There is no other word to describe what happened to Michael Brown and what is now happening to our essential liberties. Just as there is no other word for what the New York Police Department did to Eric Garner in July; homicide was, after all, what the New York medical examiner concluded.

We wouldn’t have to use the word “murder” if these purported upholders of the law were responsible enough to own up to their mistakes or if our elected officials displayed swift and peremptory leadership. But they can’t. President Obama issues hollow statements. Governor Jay Nixon has displayed gutlessness and incompetence with his unfathomable silence. (Nixon broke his Marcel Marceau routine on late Wednesday night, asking for calm and urging “law enforcement to respect residents & press,” well after the time for conduction had passed.) The baleful mess in Ferguson, Missouri, especially harrowing in this YouTube video showing excessive force on peaceful protesters, has demonstrated that the American system is broken, that we are a nation that refuses to learn from its mistakes and that prefers to remain in denial about its deadliest problems.

We are now at a crucial point in history — one just as important as the epoch before Miranda rights were established — where we must understand that we have the power to say no, to not accept further abuse of police power, and to demand accountability and responsibility from callous ruffians who believe they can get away with sanctioned murder under the “serve and protect” lie. Because if we do not, we will come to take on yet another barbaric regularity of American life, one that an entire generation could grow up accepting without ever knowing another way.

[8/14/14 UPDATE: On Thursday afternoon, Governor Nixon pulled the St. Louis Police Department from Ferguson, replacing them with the Missouri Highway Patrol. MHP Captain Ronald Johnson has been overseeing operations with a cool head. Lowery reported that Johnson marched in the largely peaceful protest, with Johnson saying that he will tolerate neither looting nor “citizens not having ability to speak their minds” or having their rights violated. This is a much-needed and exemplary step in the right direction. The question now is whether the bad cops who attacked journalists and protesters will be named and brought to the appropriate justice.]