Last Saturday, no one outside of St. Louis knew Ferguson, Missouri, existed — until Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer. Details remain sketchy. Witnesses say Brown was not confrontational with the officer. The police say otherwise and on Friday released a video of someone believed to be Brown stealing cigars from a convenience store. Brown was 18 years old, set to start college in a matter of days and had no prior criminal record. Now he's dead at the hands of a white police officer, and the Ferguson Police Department took five days to release a name and have yet to address what will happen to the officer. The people want answers and they're not getting any.
In the wake of this tragedy, the city of Ferguson found itself on the brink of anarchy. Protests demanding justice for Brown's life were met with hostility from local police and that hostility bred more tension. After one peaceful night once the state highway patrol overtook security, Friday night brought more violence and more looting. Was the looting a one-time fallback into anger over the way the police department handled the release of the video?
This week, there were two very different protests happening within city limits. Yes, were are accounts of looting and outbreaks of civilian violence. Those incidents were met with rubber bullets and tear gas. There were also groups of mostly peaceful protestors, exercising their rights and holding court on the streets, demanding justice in no uncertain terms. Those people, angry at the situation in which Brown is far from the only person of color to be treated more harshly than his Caucasian counterpart, were being met with a similar response. Earlier in the week, a lone bottle was flung at cops in riot gear atop armored vehicles. No damage was done, but tear gas filled the street like the entire city block was on fire.
Even more disconcerting: There were MRAPs (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles) in the streets of middle America, and they arrived before the National Guard showed up. Why does a police force in a suburban St. Louis town need such heavy machinery? Why would any police department need such equipment, especially one that, according to reports from local news affiliates, has already shown extreme hatred and prejudice toward its African-American citizens?
Ferguson PD remains adamant that everything they've done was within the law. But what law were they using? And how can we hold them to task with those claims when they spent the better part of a week stopping the press at the city limits and turning them around?
During the madness, a story unfolded on Twitter as two reporters, Wesley Lowery and Ryan Reilly, were arrested for "trespassing" when a SWAT team descended upon a local McDonald's where the men were eating lunch and filing stories. A SWAT team? In a McDonald's? Either someone was salty over a flubbed drive-thru order or they were specifically targeting the press. Hours later, after being booked and put in jail, the reporters were released with no explanation. According to The Washington Post's Lowery, an officer told them they should consider it a "favor" from the chief that they were released.
Racism is still clearly alive and well in Ferguson and beyond. According to USA Today, while African Americans only make up two-thirds of the Ferguson population, they make up nine out of 10 arrests. This needs to be addressed, but is it possible we have an even bigger issue on our hands?
America has had a rough decade, and we're having a hard time dealing properly with the anger caused by burst housing bubbles, decade-long wars and all the rampant intolerance in our country. However, all things considered, things are supposed to be better. After all, bathrooms aren't segregated and no one is being lynched because of skin color or sexuality; our troops are home (for now); employment is on an upswing. But we're still angry, still frustrated. And we seem to have no idea how to deal with it.
Proof of that inability to handle our emotions is on every newscast, in every domestic violence report. From Sandy Hook Elementary to Santa Monica College and everywhere in between, we've witnessed an unleashing of anger. Of course, this harkens back to our continued calls for a better mental health program. There's still a trend of aggression plaguing our country.
We are a nation made up of passionate ancestry, overrun with things worthy of being bitter about. We are severely polarized politically. We are being browbeaten by both Murphy's Law and, apparently, martial law. Life feels infinitely worse than we thought it would be when we looked ahead 15 or 10 years ago, and that's worthy of frustration and anger.
But we need to get our act together. We need to remember conflict resolution class, remember that things used to be worse and yet our police forces did just fine without armored vehicles and while under the watchful eye of our nation's media. We need to let Ferguson be a lesson in how not to deal with our anger and not a foreshadowing of what's to come.
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