We’ve been told for days now that that the reason there was rioting in Ferguson is because protesters were “provoked” by militarized police. I agree with some of my colleagues that cops should look like cops (see Kevin’s excellent piece here), and it is deeply unsettling to see police atop armored vehicles training weapons on protesters. On the other hand, there is no justification to throw projectiles at police, no matter what kind of uniforms they are wearing or what kind of vehicles they have, nor is there any justification for destroying or stealing other people’s property.
Now, we’ve had a real world test of the “provocation” thesis. The highway patrol came in with a much softer and friendlier posture and it seemed to work Thursday night in reducing tensions, but it didn’t last night. Shamefully, the cops evidently stood by while looters destroyed and stole things. We’ve heard an awful lot about the function of police in our society the last few days. Well, how about this as a function? Protect the property of innocent people.
Looters ran out of shops with boxes stacked in their arms up to their chins. Behind them lay overturned shelves, spilled goods and wrecked displays. All the while, police stayed back by their armored vehicles and observed but did not stop them.
Three Molotov cocktails pummeled the roof of a Domino’s Pizza, burning a hole, before firefighters put the flames out.
What did Tanya Littleton did to deserve getting looted, and getting abandoned by the people who are supposed to protect her?
Owners of the raided stores expressed frustration that police, looking on nearby, didn’t stop the looters.
“I understand that you’re not safe either, but you still have a job to do now, and now you’re not doing your job,” Tanya Littleton, owner of the looted Feel Beauty Supply, said about police in an phone interview with CNN.
The beauty store’s floor was littered with broken glass and merchandise, video from CNN affiliate KTVI showed. Looters took off with hair extensions worth at least $200 a bag, Littleton said.
“We’re shut down for a while. It’s not safe, and the police are doing nothing about it,” she told KTVI.
Here’s someone else who was mystified:
Jay Kanzler, lawyer for Ferguson Market and Liquor [more about this store in a minute], said police did nothing to stop the looting in town.
“Don’t know why the … police didn’t do anything. They were told to stand down and I don’t know why,” Kanzler said.
Store owners had to take matters in their own hands:
Also targeted was Sam’s Meat Market and Liquor. After hearing that people grabbed chicken, bacon and spirits from their store, the owners arrived with guns and stood outside, warding off any further raids.
This is what happens when you let your policing be dictated by MSNBC.
The other argument we’ve heard a lot recently is that the protesters were further “provoked” by the police not releasing the name of the officer who shot Michael Brown. Yesterday, they released his name. What did that get the cops? Nothing. Because they supposedly released his name in a “provocative” manner by also making public video that appears to show Brown stealing cigars from Ferguson Market and Liquor and manhandling a clerk. It turns out that this petty robbery had nothing to do with the stop of Brown, which the chief of police had to belatedly explain.
No one is going to give the Ferguson police awards for crisis communications, but it is certainly true that Brown’s theft and how he behaved during it is relevant information. It lends credence to the idea that he would have violently resisted an officer, although, of course, it doesn’t tell us anything definitive. Still, at this point, we should want all the information we can get about the shooting and the people involved in it.
So, what was the response last night to the release of the video? To go and steal from Ferguson Market and Liquor. More from CNN:
Looters began Saturday’s pillage at the Ferguson Market and Liquor store, which has become part of the case surrounding Brown. Shortly before Brown was shot last week, police say, a man fitting his description allegedly stole cigars and roughed up a store clerk as surveillance cameras recorded….
More than two dozen people blocked off the store with cars early Saturday, then officers commanded them through loudspeakers to free it up.
Instead, bottles flew, mayhem erupted, and looters ransacked the store, which the owner had boarded up. It was the first of at least three stores raided….
About an hour later, about a dozen people lined up to block Ferguson Market and Liquor’s entrance, saying they were keeping looters out. But before sunrise, looters returned there for a second round.
This is how the kinder and gentler police got treated, per Reuters:
Some protesters threw bottles at riot gear-clad police who had ordered the crowd to disperse.
Of course, most protesters in Ferguson are peaceful and some of them, as noted in the report above, tried to protect Ferguson Market, to their great credit. But we shouldn’t have to rely on peaceful protesters to try to restrain looters.
The first obligation of the police is to preserve public order. In Ferguson, they aren’t doing it. First, they gave in to the mob on the Internet and cable TV, and last night they gave in to the mob on the streets. This isn’t justice and it isn’t peace.