There are three types of people shaping the situation in Ferguson. Let’s start with “the good.”
For all the chaos flooding our TV screens, the community activists working to cool tensions have offered hope. They’re on the front lines of the protests. To be sure, many are angry at what they regard as absent justice. But they’re subduing that impulse in the cause of peace.
Also good are the majority of police officers. For all the negative reporting (more on that in a moment), the majority of officers are behaving with restraint. Led by Missouri State Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson, the police have turned detractors into partners. Moreover, they’ve established a tense but effective relationship with those peacefully protesting Mr. Brown’s death. And they’ve prevented rampaging criminals from destroying Ferguson. Ron Johnson deserves special praise. Balancing security alongside humility, Johnson has restored the moral credibility of the officers. Today, there is far less sympathy for those using Mr. Brown’s death for personal gain.
This leads us to “the bad.” The worst are the criminals. Let’s be clear: Peaceful protest and violent looting aren’t the same thing. Where the former pursues a better society, the latter seeks advantage from social chaos. These criminals care nothing for Mr. Brown or for the innocents they use as human shields. They are thugs, plain and simple.
Still, it’s also true that a minority of police officers have fallen short. The use of tear gas as a first resort, the failure to distinguish between agitators and bystanders, and the selective leaking of information have invited unneeded controversy. While Captain Johnson appears to have stopped these acts, the freedom to protest policing is of profound importance. The First Amendment is first for a reason.
Then Ferguson has “the ugly.” While there are predictable culprits here — those such as Al Sharpton — who see Mr. Brown as a prop for self-aggrandizement, a minority of reporters have also deliberately become part of the story. Sending out snarky tweets, or calling for human sacrifices upon the altar of rage, the temptation of revolutionary politics has, for some, become overwhelming. A current of self-righteousness is undeniable. For these reporter-cloaked-pundits, the protest story has become peripheral to personal experiences of being gassed. Instead, they’ve decided Ferguson is their Les Misérables moment.
In the end, Ferguson carries lessons for us all. Just as conservatives must realize that most community organizers are public servants undeserving of derision, liberals must accept that most police officers are courageous citizens doing challenging but critical work. Most of all, we must recognize that the situation in Ferguson isn’t black and white.