Many of those on the streets of Ferguson, Mo., have legitimate concerns about police conduct and the possibility of wrongful force regarding Officer Darren Wilson’s fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown. Unfortunately, Ferguson also has become a huge electromagnet for professional protesters who bounce from one focus of fury to the next.
These permanently angry people starred in anti-globalization demonstrations in Seattle, Miami, and Cancun. They screamed themselves hoarse as Governor Scott Walker curtailed the special privileges of the Badger State’s unionized government workers. This mob moved on to Occupy Wall Street — where they turned Zuccotti Park into an open toilet and rape camp — and Occupy Oakland, which featured vandalism and arson.
And now they are in Ferguson. Amid shuttered storefronts, padlocked school yards, and deployed National Guardsmen, this scene threatens to become the Super Bowl of mass public outrage.
The looting and rioting began in Ferguson last summer, soon after Wilson shot Brown. The initial narrative was as painful as it was clear. A ruthless, perhaps racist, police officer cut down an unarmed, college-bound “gentle giant.”
But things soon became clouded.
Brown was not so gentle after all. A security camera caught him stealing cigars from a convenience store. Brown then shoved a clerk who confronted him before he fled with the merchandise. In a recently released audio tape, a Ferguson police dispatcher told officers about a “stealing in progress” last August 9 at 11:53 a.m. Another dispatcher soon added that the suspect was a black male who had stolen a box of Swisher cigars. “He’s with another male. He’s got a red Cardinals hat, white T-shirt, yellow socks, and khaki shorts.”
As the store’s surveillance video confirms, the dispatcher’s description perfectly matches Brown’s attire as he swiped those smokes.
As the St. Louis-Post Dispatch reported, Officer Wilson answered this call at high noon and proceeded to Canfield Drive to investigate.
What happened next is highly in dispute.
Did Brown die due to Officer Wilson’s brutality or because he mortally threatened the cop, who responded appropriately and within the laws of the Show-Me State? This is precisely what a grand jury is trying to determine, even at this writing.
These police-dispatch recordings undermine the notion that Officer Darren K.K.K. Wilson was trolling around Ferguson looking for a young black man to kill just for laughs. At a minimum, this fatal encounter was triggered by the police department directing officers to find someone who fit Brown’s description and, moments earlier, ripped off cigars from a store and then strong-armed its cashier.
Meanwhile, firearm forensics and autopsy results on Brown seem to support key aspects of Officer Wilson’s account of events.
None of this has deterred protesters, who already are blocking traffic and otherwise sowing pandemonium. Since the grand jury has yet to decide whether to indict Officer Wilson, these rabble rousers essentially are attacking testimony and deliberations.
A protest website called NoIndictment.org has targeted 61 locations for street actions in and around Ferguson. These include the Ferguson City Hall and St. Louis Justice Center. These are logical venues for public expression. But this list also includes the corporate headquarters of Anheuser-Busch, Boeing, and Olin, as well as the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Powell Symphony Hall, and the Peabody Opera House. What do those places have to do with anything?
NoIndictment.org initially targeted Barnes Jewish Hospital, Cardinal Glennon’s Children’s Medical Center, and five other health facilities, but the protest groups have lifted the bull’s eyes from those establishments.
Several worrisome signs already have emerged from this steaming pressure cooker.
Some protesters are wearing Guy Fawkes masks. These were popularized in the entertaining and disturbing 2005 film V for Vendetta. Popular among anarchists, the masks recall Great Britain’s Gunpowder Plot, in which Fawkes tried to blow up the British House of Lords in 1605. Today, these masks help demonstrators anonymously conduct mayhem.
Also troubling is this protester’s comment: “Rioting and looting are the tools of those without a voice.”
Scariest of all: The FBI arrested Brandon Orlando Baldwin and Olajuwon Davis in the St. Louis area on Friday. These two members of the New Black Panther party reportedly bought illegal guns as well as explosives that they planned to convert into pipe bombs as part of their Ferguson-related activism.
The FBI should infiltrate violent and seditious groups in and around Ferguson; the feds otherwise should let the grand jury do its work at its own pace. Grand jurors should feel zero pressure to satisfy the deadlines of demonstrators or journalists. If they need until January to render a decision, so be it.
Until then, Obama, Holder, and other officials should explain to Americans what a grand jury is and how it works. A grand jury hears witnesses and weighs evidence that no one else has seen and perhaps never will. Thus, they can reach conclusions that confound outsiders but conform to the facts, evidence, and laws that they have considered.
It also cannot be said too often that a St. Louis County grand jury in 2014 is not a subcommittee of the Mississippi Ku Klux Klan in 1954. Three black Americans reportedly are on that grand jury, along with nine white citizens. This approximates that jurisdiction’s ethnic make-up: According to the 2010 Census, St. Louis County is 23 percent black and 70 percent white.
Those inside the grand-jury room are not a lynch mob. Those outside the grand-jury room should not behave like one. The grand jury’s decision should be respected. Those who disagree should do so respectfully.
“In the end, it rings hollow to cry ‘no justice, no peace’ when you are rioting or looting,” George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley wrote in this morning’s USA Today. “There can be no justice if it is merely the result of demonstrations rather than demonstrated facts. Otherwise, the scales of justice become just one more object to throw through the window of an appliance store.”
It would be wise and prudent for everyone embroiled in this controversy to repeat this mantra:
“What would Martin Luther King do?”