OPINION – Let me see if I’ve got this right.
If you are some redneck G.I. Joe wannabe wearing store-bought camouflage, you can point a loaded semiautomatic weapon at law enforcement with impunity.
If you are black, you assemble to probe the questionable death of a community member, and stand there with hands up, you get pelted with rubber bullets and tear gas.
If you are a cattleman who has refused to pay your grazing rights for decades, amassing a bill in the neighborhood of $1 million, the government will work with all civility through the courts to try to collect its money.
If you are an 18-year-old black man suspected of stealing a box of cheap cigars, you get shot to death in the street.
If you are a belligerent, bellowing old white man with some unknown grudge against the government, you get militia types from all over the West rushing to your home to defend you and your right to protest.
If you are a suburban minority community, you’re on your own.
Still don’t think there is racial inequity in these United States? Still don’t think the specter of hate and intolerance exists?
Now, before I go any deeper here, I must underscore that in no way do I condone violence. I will support vigorous protest and civil disobedience, but will never accept violence as a solution to any problem, whether at the international, national, or local level. I saw and experienced enough of that during the ‘60s when intolerant cops would use Mace and billyclubs to break up peaceful protests and crack a few skulls in the process; when the National Guard killed four unarmed college kids at Kent State; when I saw the “street justice” meted out to Rodney King in Los Angeles by LAPD and the riot, which could have been averted had the police chief acted appropriately, that ensued when those cops were found not guilty of assault charges. Later, of course, they were convicted for violating King’s civil rights and did time in a federal prison, a sort of adult day care facility in Southern California where their hard time consisted of working as groundskeepers at the facility.
While I condemn violence, I have empathy for the anger and outrage overflowing in Ferguson and understand why it has boiled over. An 18-year-old was shot and killed by a police officer for simply walking in the middle of the street. He is alleged to have stolen a $49 box of cigars from a local convenience store, but the cop who fired six rounds into him did not know that, according to the local police chief.
That said, I come from the St. Louis area, not far from Ferguson.
I have family living within a couple of miles from where the foment of racism overflows on a fairly regular basis. Several of my family members have worked for the St. Louis City and County police and nearby departments. I know what they are like when they take off the gun and badge and go off duty, and I am saddened, embarrassed at their attitudes and actions.
It is also terrifying to see the rapid militarization of our police forces. I mean, was there anything more ridiculous than seeing the Ferguson, Mo. police decked out in desert camouflage and military gear in the middle of the United States. Located more than a thousand miles from the nearest desert, what were they hoping to blend in with? More importantly, was there anything more disturbing than seeing these cops sitting behind turrets on assault vehicles on our streets, aiming their weapons at unarmed civilians?
When the feds showed up at Cliven Bundy’s ranch in Bunkerville, Nev., they knew they were walking into an area where a heavy contingent of armed civilians – with more on the way – sat locked and loaded, ready to drop the hammer, or so they said.
At least there were cooler law enforcement heads at the faceoff in Bunkerville. It wasn’t so in Ferguson.
The cops didn’t exercise all of their aggression on the protesters, either, deigning to reel in a couple members of the media who were simply doing their jobs, working peacefully
in a local fast food joint when police busted in and ordered everybody out, roughing up a couple of them and hauling them off to jail. They ordered other members of the media to leave town, dropped tear gas on one crew as it began a live broadcast, and requested the FAA close airspace over Ferguson so news crews would be unable to fly over with cameras.
News media, however, has as much right to that turf as the police working that beat. As watchdogs for the community, it is their job to report, without fear or favor, what is going down on the streets of Ferguson, to be out on those streets, talking to people involved and reporting, not regurgitating the words of a police chief with an agenda to protect himself and his department or spokespersons well-versed in spin. I always discourage reporters from taking comments from spokespeople. Their version will always be crafted to evoke a certain message and put their client or coworker in the kindest light. The truth? It’s often a casualty of spin.
The officer who did the shooting, we are told, is a good cop with commendations. At least that’s what his boss says. We still haven’t seen his file and don’t know if, indeed, he is a good cop or if his jacket contains complaints from the community.
We do know, however, that the Ferguson Police Department is armed to the teeth with military-style weaponry and seems itchy to use it.
This was not a terrorist attack on the city of Ferguson. It was nowhere near the definition of a riot when the police swooped in. Yet the tactics used were rooted in blunt military force, the kind that should be reserved for the battlefield, not used on our own streets against our own people.
There was nothing similar among the protesters in Ferguson and those in Bunkerville. No weapons were drawn and aimed at the police in Ferguson; there were no threats of gunplay, as expressed by the gathered militia in Bunkerville; there was no anti-government rhetoric, unless you qualify “Hands up, don’t shoot” as dissident chorus.
The foreign press is looking upon us with a scant eye. Even the usually reserved BBC is referring to these events as Fergustan.
The people of Ferguson? They are receiving Tweets from residents of the Middle East with instructions on how to deal with tear gas and aggressive force.
And now, the National Guard has been called in.
It is citizens versus citizen soldiers now in Ferguson and it is to the point where even United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon weighed in Monday afternoon, calling on authorities to ensure that people are able to assemble peacefully and urging law enforcement to abide by U.S. and “international standards in dealing with demonstrations.”
Yes, it is that bad.
It all begs the question: Why did law enforcement withdraw when confronted by white guys with loaded weapons at the Cliven Bundy ranch, but become militarily aggressive when facing peaceful, black protesters in Ferguson?
And, of course, where are those militia guys now who claimed they were standing up for Bundy’s right to protest? Why aren’t they on the streets of Ferguson defending the rights of an oppressed minority community?
The answer is as clear, to me, as black and white.
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- Bundy tells of spiritual direction in BLM standoff; STGnews Videocast
- Perspectives: What is the militia?
- ON Kilter: Bundy, revolutionary or rebel? The changing nature of the West
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- Perspectives: An open letter to law enforcement
- Letter to the Editor: ‘Red Dawn’ St. George
Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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