The events in Ferguson, MO have gotten out of control in the aftermath of the tragic shooting death of teenager Michael Brown at the hands of a local police officer. Last night while President Obama and Hillary Clinton partied in Martha’s Vineyard, the police in Ferguson wielded automatic weapons for crowd control on the fifth consecutive night of protests. Matthew Ygelsias has a more articulate take:
Crowd control is a normal complement to any modern protest. And as I remember well from the late-Giuliani days in New York, crowd control sometimes gets heavy-handed when relationships between the police and the community are strained. But you do crowd control with horses, batons, and shields, not rifles. You point guns at dangerous, violent criminals, not people out for a march.
There is a fine line here. Police have one of the hardest and most dangerous jobs in America. Far more often than not they deserve the benefit of the doubt. Clearly the reports of some looting and vandalism at night required the police to respond. However, the police in Ferguson are making it harder on the vast majority of America’s cops who are quite competent by signaling that peaceful protests will be met with guns and tear gas.
Where are all of the conservative defenders of the First Amendment when it comes to the people in Ferguson?* People have a right to peaceably assemble and petition their government for a redress of grievances. Furthermore, freedom of the press shall not be infringed. That apparently doesn’t apply in this case as two reporters were arrested last night with no charges.
Civic literacy is needed in moments like these so we have a playbook for how to act. Police need to still respect the rights of citizens and protests have to remain peaceful. When a reporter asked Ferguson Police Chief about the arrest of the two journalists, he responded that the officer was, “probably somebody who didn’t know better.” Ignorance of the law is no excuse whether it is citizens or police. I pray that public officials intervene to prevent this from continuing another night.
Matt Impink is a former US History Teacher and Education Policy Advocate. He is currently a Graduate Student at IU’s School for Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA) in Indianapolis and curates the Civic Blog. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and tweets @mrimpink.
*Update: GOP Senator Rand Paul wrote an interesting essay defending Ferguson protesters from a conservative perspective.