Commentary: How Police Officers in Ferguson Failed Their Citizens

The local police in St. Louis County have been stung by national criticism of their militarization in dealing with local citizens.

Posted: 08/14/2014 05:11 PM EDT

The television coverage depicts tear gas being hurled at demonstrators and smoke bombs being detonated amid citizens. These are not scenes from Gaza or the Ukraine. Instead, this is the carnage taking place in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, where police officers are confronting citizens who are seeking to demonstrate their anger and frustration over the death of Michael Brown, an an unarmed 18-year-old student.

The death of Brown, a college-bound, African-American teen, is shocking and outrageous in its own right. However, the response of St. Louis County police to a deeply held desire of citizens of the largely Black Ferguson to vent their frustration has added a good deal of fuel to the fire.

Another factor is the utter failure of the police in St. Louis County to provide any information on the results of their findings so far, including the number of bullets fired at the young teenager (as though that fact would usurp the effectiveness of an investigation). They also have refused to release the name of the police officer who shot Brown.

The police in St. Louis County and in Ferguson have behaved badly. They have treated local residents like an occupying force, much like what one would see in a war zone. They matched the presence of citizens simply attempting to demonstrate with the kind of military presence one would find in Iraq.

Before long, the overzealous force of the police department extended to the media. And the local police wound up arresting two reporters — one from the Huffington Post and another from The Washington Post — for doing nothing more sinister than sitting in a McDonald's.

According to the journalists detained, the arresting officers continued to urge the journalists to "stop resisting arrest," although both insisted they had no such intention.  

Meanwhile, the scenes from Ferguson bring back images of Bull Connor’s attempt to shut down Black demonstrators in another era. They have been obscene, shocking and scandalous.

None of this has been lost on President Obama, who interrupted his vacation in Martha’s Vineyard to address the situation in Ferguson. The president condemned lawlessness and looting that followed the day after Michael Brown’s killing. On the other hand, he made clear that the local police carried their share of blame.

The president said he was “deeply concerned” about “the deployment of military equipment and vehicles” to combat protesters in Ferguson.

On Thursday, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon announced that the Missouri Highway Patrol will now be in charge of the security operations in Ferguson. One can only hope that this will begin to make the difference in reshaping the relationship between the police and the community that it purports to protect.

Follow Jonathan Hicks on Twitter: @HicksJonathan

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(Photo: AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

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