Even if the police in Ferguson, Mo., are the brutal occupying force alleged by the protesters there, what do local shop owners have to do with it?
In the wake of the police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in disputed circumstances last week, rioters burned down a convenience store and looted sporting-goods and auto-supply stores, among other businesses.
The Brown family, to its credit, appealed for calm, but the unrest has continued in Ferguson, with nightly confrontations between police and protesters. The majority-black suburb of St. Louis is becoming the nation’s latest hyper-racialized melodrama. President Barack Obama has weighed in twice already, and the usual commentators and activists are already making Ferguson a byword for official racism.
We don’t know what happened in the prelude to the fatal shooting of Michael Brown. His friend says the teenager was shot by an officer in cold blood after a dispute with the cops over walking in the middle of the street. The police say there was a struggle in the police squad car and an attempt to take the officer’s gun.
The Ferguson police have done themselves no favors in what is now, inevitably, a no-holds-barred public-relations war. In response to protests, highly militarized teams have been deployed with equipment better suited to fighting the Islamic State than controlling potentially unruly crowds. There is a long-running trend, ably documented and critiqued by Radley Balko of the Washington Post, of local police forces acquiring surplus military equipment wholly inappropriate for domestic police work.
The Ferguson police also have been ham-fisted and high-handed in dealing with the press, appearing in one video to deliberately tear-gas an Al Jazeera camera crew and, in another instance, arresting and briefly detaining two reporters for the offense of not leaving a McDonald’s quickly enough.
All that said, there would be no routine confrontations between cops and protesters if the protesters weren’t inviting them. Ferguson officials have, reasonably enough, urged people to protest during the day, and daylight demonstrations have been peaceful. It is at night, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch notes, that protests take on their edge of “defiance and lawlessness.”
No one has a First Amendment right to block streets and throw things at cops, or the right to complain if the cops move to stop such acts.
Once protesters are throwing projectiles, cops aren’t going to look or act like the friendly neighborhood officers out of Norman Rockwell paintings. Even if they aren’t tricked out in military gear, riot police never appear cute and cuddly. Would the critics of law enforcement in Ferguson really be happier if the cops were controlling crowds with horses and batons?
We’re told that the military style of the cops is “provoking” the protesters. But these sorts of flare-ups over controversial shootings by police have been a part of American life for a very long time. They happened long before any police department thought to buy military equipment, and would happen even if police were deployed on Segways and carried cap guns for protection.
The formula for calm in Ferguson is very simple: Let justice take its course. Too many people are already vested in not letting that happen.
— Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via e-mail:[email protected]. © 2014 King Features Syndicate