This weekend’s post was written by my partner, outlining some of the things he thinks we can learn from the situation in Ferguson.
The world’s eye is on Ferguson, Missouri following the police shooting of an unarmed black teen. Questions of racism, mass civilian protests, and para-military reactionary violence hold the nation’s social media spotlight, in spite of reluctant media coverage.
The news has made a point of selectively reporting on the rioters who loot and destroy property, as if that justified the presence of snipers aiming their guns at civilians. Never mind that people go on crimes sprees all the time without prompting law enforcement to resort to armored tanks and riot gear. They ask us to believe that it’s necessary to shut down schools, enact a curfew, and bring out the arsenals over a few Molotov cocktails and broken storefronts.
But when the police are taking cameras away from reporters and citizens and arresting individuals just for protesting, the claim that police response is focused on rioters and looters rings hollow. There is a fundamental difference.
Protesters raise their hands in front of police atop an armored vehicle on Wednesday in Ferguson. St. Louis Post-Dispatch, J.B. Forbes/AP
The scene in Ferguson is not just some small number of criminals who hate and oppose police. Thousands of ordinary citizens congregated to employ one of the dearest human rights in the history of humanity: the right to protest and petition the government for a redress of grievances.
And the police retaliated with teargas, smoke bombs, and rubber bullets. Ferguson PD came out with helicopters, armored vehicles, and military-grade assault weapons, essentially enacting martial law.
And we rightly recognize that this is unacceptable.
The nation responded with a wave of outrage, and following public demonstrations all across the U.S. in solidarity with Ferguson, things seem to be settling down. Yet this shouldn’t be the end of our action.
We must ask difficult questions. Why did these abuses occur? How did the country arrive at a place where it was possible? Who is responsible?
For when police fail to limit their response to the actual criminals and criminal actions, instead removing all constitutionally guaranteed freedoms from every single citizen in an entire city, they have not simply failed as a police organization. They have sunk to the level of the criminals they supposedly despise and fight. And this is more than disturbing.
Yet the near-unanimous social opposition to the police’s actions is slightly surprising. An even more stringent martial law was enacted in the Boston manhunt for the bombers, and the nation’s response this time is fundamentally different. Instead of largely supporting the removal of every citizen’s rights, an entire city (and the nation with them) is protesting the injustices.
This objective contradiction leaves us to wonder what impetus and justification caused these police-state actions. The police do not wake up one day and shoot an unarmed black teenager. A government cannot suddenly seize the power to attack its own citizens, punish them for exercising 1stAmendment rights, indefinitely detain them without probable cause, or suppress them.
Everyone wants to identify different culprits. The nation points at the Ferguson Police department. Some point at Presidents they didn’t/don’t like. Others raise their voices against an oligarchy run by corporations. Still others blame Congresses for passing bad bills or being generally inept.
We decry racism where we find it. We can castigate a media that kowtows to their owners. We throw our hands up in despair.
But to find the nearest complicity, we need look no further than the mirror.
We have turned blind eyes to comparatively minor violations of freedom that paved the way for incrementally larger ones. These have occurred piecemeal over decades, sometimes in secret, but usually, largely with America’s approval as citizens exchanged freedom for a sense of safety.
We trusted President Obama not to use his new power – to execute or detain US citizens without probable cause – against us. We believed the TSA’s promises that their disregard for due process is necessary for our protection.
We allowed the NSA to surveil and record innocent US citizens as long as they kept the terrorists at bay. We turn blind eyes to the FCC as they censor public speech. We were convinced by our leaders that curfews and martial law were the only way to catch the Boston Marathon bomber.
We’ve been lulled into complacency over the violations of our rights and privacy for years…until we get a glimpse of the repercussions of letting go of the Bill of Rights. We watch in horror as a fundamental shift occurs, from our government and its citizens together facing an outside enemy—to our government facing its citizens, who have become its enemy.
And it was inevitable. For when people voluntarily relinquish their human rights, abuses naturally follow.
Let Fergusun be a lesson. We must be vigilant. We must be active. Freedom is not something to take for granted. Let this tragedy be the wakeup call for us to protect each other’s rights from the ever-reaching arm of power. The government can only be of the people, by the people, and for the people if the people maintain that balance.