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Posted by on Aug 15, 2014 in Culture, featured, Life, Society | 7 comments

Ferguson

I’m not going to say too much about this. There is plenty of news available and you can read whatever stories you want to find if you look hard enough.  For example, at least one Fox News outlet was claiming that multiple officers had been injured by automatic weapons fire from the protesters.

Anyway, I’d just like to say a few general things that I observed through this whole mess.

There are some really stupid people in charge of other people who have access to military grade equipment and a complete lack of empathy.

My father-in-law was a police officer, a police lieutenant, and a police chief. But even without his background knowledge, I know enough that you don’t send in heavy assault rifles on a relatively peaceful protest. Unless there are active shooters in the protest, call it a riot now, then there is no need for assault rifles except to cause fear or deaths. And causing fear in this situation is bad.

People who are afraid are unpredictable. If the protesters decide that they are going to be killed anyway, then they might just be willing to take some losses to get those rifles and then the situation is completely gone.

Handguns can be holstered. While visible, they are obviously not threatening in their holster. But an assault rifle is painfully obvious, even if slung over the shoulder. It’s a menacing weapon that most people see in news footage of wars, battles, and in movies where they are used to kill people.

The weapons that launch rubber bullets, wooden bullets(!), and stun bags are equally menacing. They have larger barrels and if it’s frightening to look down the 5mm barrel of an assault rifle, it must be really scary to look down something that’s a 12 guage up to 1.5 inches in diameter.

These plus tear gas and flash-bangs[1] are NOT police weapons of first resort. I wouldn’t even consider them second resort. These are the things that come out when you’re dealing with an actual riot. Where there are dozens or hundreds of people that are actively trying to injure other people, including police officers, destroy property, or just cause mayhem.

Assault rifles are the absolute last resort. What the police are saying when those come out is that of you are in that crowd, then you very well could be killed.

This shouldn’t be how the US does things. I mean, even the Ayatollah of Iran was making snide comments about police actions in the US.

Another thing that came up, disturbingly frequently, was the idea that the people of the town were lazy, shiftless, thugs who just wanted to loot, destroy and that the kid deserved getting shot… apparently because he was black.

I understand that in the US, I and my family, are in a very different position than the families in Ferguson. I seriously don’t like it. I think it’s wrong that my kid could steal a car and (provided he didn’t crash it) would probably get little more than a slap on the wrist. But a kid with a different skin color could pick up a toy gun in Walmart and get shot to death.

There are many groups and locations within the US that see no problem with that situation. I think it’s disgusting. I’m actually a fan of the Which Picture Would They Use meme. Basically, the police and news outlets will try to use images that best support their position. And that’s on both sides.

But that’s not why I like the meme. It’s because it shows that everyone is a real person. They do good things, they do bad things. They do helpful things, they do stupid things.

If we start to look at people as people instead of abstractions like the color of their skin or what they wear or whatever, then we can begin to feel empathy for them. We see them as people, not as faceless thugs or skinheads or whatever else.

In an atheist group on Google+ the other day, someone posted about the various religions killing each other off in the Middle East. One of the comments was “Good, I hope they kill themselves and that’s the end of their religion.”

And we see that an atheist can be as much of a jerk as anyone else.

I’m a big fan of Humanism. We are all humans and we deserve respect. I don’t hate the people in the Middle East. I hate what their religion has made them become. I don’t hate the people of Ferguson. I hate what poverty, rejection, and fear have created as them… instead of them.

I once dealt with a young man who was trying to be a gansta thug. Alone, he was a nice guy. Very sharp… and a much better student than he led on. But his dad was in jail for gang related crimes. His uncles were forcing him into gang activities. The sole income for his mom, himself, and his younger brother was the drugs he sold.

Being a thug was a survival mechanism. It’s not a good one, but what choice did the kid have.

We can talk about choices all we want, but we aren’t him. We didn’t grow up in a family of gang members. We didn’t grow up knowing that we were considered undesirable by the majority population.

I am reminded of the kids whose lunch trays were taken and thrown out by a cafeteria worker (note, that’s just one incident, there are dozens just like this) for not having enough money.

I remember one school worker telling a kid, “you have to learn a lesson”.

That kid and that kids parents’ learned a lesson all right. They learned that they and their children are not worth 55 cents.

It will be very, very hard to correct this problem, because the kids growing up right now are dealing with this. Adults are very, very difficult to change. And they are the ones teaching the kids these things. Not necessarily the parents, but any adult.  Think about what kids are seeing about Ferguson right now.

I’ve seen this on dozens of message boards. “You can’t trust cops.”  That is often followed by, “unless you’re white”.

Just like the religious and the atheists and politicians and lawyers, there are good cops and bad cops. And the bad cops make it very difficult for the good cops to do their job.

We hear about the church protesting a gay wedding. We rarely hear about the millions of church-goers who are fine with gay weddings.

But as long as the news promotes the bad apples (in the name of ratings), then we (as a society) will tend to think abstractly about people. All atheists are evil. All Christians are fundamentalist idiots. All priests are child molesters. All blacks are gang-bangers.

But none of that is true. Not a single bit of that. All of them are people. And some are those things, but most aren’t. They just want to live their life in peace.

It’s up to everyone else to help achieve that peace.

 

__________________________

[1] Also called stun grenades. Grenades that give off very bright, high intensity flashes of light and very, very loud explosions, but no shrapnel. They are designed to incapacitate.

 

  • Rob

    Remember a few years ago, when our political leaders wanted to stimulate the economy, so they handed out a lot of cash to cities, etc? A lot of that money went to police departments to buy weapons, armored vehicles etc. Also, as I recall, some of the equipment is getting passed down to the police from the military, and also by Homeland Security. (I’m speaking off the cuff here, so exact details are open to challenge.)

    So, now we have heavily armed and armored police. Typically, if you have equipment, you want to use it. So, carry the guns. Show up in armored vehicles. The cops love it.

  • Doc Bill

    You probably saw the video taken by the WaPo reporter rousted at a McDonalds. The little peckerwood cop was all decked out in is GI Joe outfit, but was obviously clueless as to what he was doing. Complete Napoleon complex going on there. He could push people around, that’s what he was trained to do and that’s what he did. Because he could.

    One of the county police “leaders” was interviewed about the Al Jazeera “attack” and he said they saw the reporters but not clearly because of the lights so they fired off a tear gas canister anyway. Yeah, “couldn’t see them clearly so they shot anyway.” This is the result of watching too many action movies and playing too many video games, then given tanks and GI Joe outfits. These buffoons thought they were in a movie. Too bad they didn’t watch a movie about Kent State instead.

    What they should have done on a hot summer’s night was to hand out cold water and pizza and worn t-shirts, no guns. The police manufactured the confrontation. To serve and protect, bah! Who was the sniper on top of the armored car protecting?

    What needs to be done is to dismantle the entire county police paramilitary unit. They aren’t good at being police and they aren’t good at playing GI Joe. What a mess.

    • SmilodonsRetreat

      yeah, the police action in the McDonald’s was completely wrong. I spent a lot of time examining the details of why it was wrong.

      They were detained for trespass. Except trespass is a very specific set of rules and regulations, none of which were violated, therefore no trespass. Missouri (except for KC) is a no ID state. You don’t have to provide ID unless you are arrested and charged (not merely detained.

      Police cannot remove you from a public or private place that you have permission to be in (people are assumed to have permission in a business). Even if there is a threat of eminent danger, the police can warn, encourage, and heavily suggest, but once you’ve said “I’m staying”, then they cannot force you to leave.

      I really want to know what the “45 seconds” was about too…

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Pieret/100000023960330 John Pieret

    One possible aid would be that all cops have to wear video recorders which cannot be turned off (or, if they can be turned off, doing so is a fireable offense if a significant encounter is not recorded). Cops are like the rest of us: by turns stupid, clever, hateful, caring, agressive, afraid, childish, and all the other various ills that humans are heir to.

    The deeper question is, why is the reaction to “lawlessness” in Ferguson so much different to what is happening with Cliven Bundy?

    • SmilodonsRetreat

      Because Clive is white and the majority of Ferguson is black (with an almost completely white police force).

      That’s not the only reason of course. Clive was a federal incident, not a local incident. In my opinion, federal law enforcement goes out of its way to prevent things like Ruby Ridge and Waco now… even to the point of allowing criminals to continue committing crimes.

      While local law enforcement, not exactly made up of the cream of the crop, especially in small towns, tend to be hyperaggressive and authoritarian. i.e. I have the power because of my badge and my gun and I can do what I want.

      Of course the entire thing couldn’t have been handled worse if the police department had been trying. There’s a long litany of failures from the officer on the street all the way to the chief.

  • Void Walker

    I’ve been following this story quite closely. It’s truly frightening how quickly military-like factions can form, and even more so how violent and ignorant their motivations for forming.

    • SmilodonsRetreat

      Yes, but slightly more so for me is the numbers of people who support the police officer involved in the shooting and the militarization of the police.