Failing the sniff test

Lessons learned – so far – in Ferguson
Could Euclid, Maple Heights, Garfield Heights be next?

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When the Freedom Riders attempted to desegregate Montgomery, Ala. in May 1961, Police Commissioner L.B. Montgomery let the assembled segregationist mob first beat up and then chase away the dozen reporters present at the bus depot.  Once the media was absent, the mob then attacked and viciously beat the Freedom Riders.

Older Americans, and those of us with a sense of history and justice, can’t help but recall this when reading accounts that the police in Ferguson, Mo., attacked members of the media  and destroyed their video cameras earlier this week.

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City officials and the assembled police forces — from Ferguson, St. Louis and elsewhere – have failed the sniff test. From the moment a white Ferguson Police Department officer shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown, an African American in a predominantly African American community, nearly a week ago, police and city officials have acted with dogged determination to cover up the incident and close ranks under the guise of public safety.  This cascade of ever-greater “public safety” steps, militarizing an already-tense situation, are all too reminiscent of the tactics segregationists employed in the Civil Rights era of the 1960s.   

From the onset, police explanations of Brown’s slaying don’t seem to be accurate. Multiple eyewitness accounts state that Brown was in the middle of the street, holding up his hands and saying “don’t shoot,” as he was gunned down. The Ferguson Police Department’s report, which claims that the officer shot Brown after the teen had disobeyed an order and initiated a scuffle, apparently has no corroboration whatsoever.

Additionally, Ferguson has failed to properly communicate in this crisis. At the bottom of this piece is a link to a blog from a retired safety chief, and his experienced observations are titled “Deafening Silence in Ferguson.”

Let’s look at a few facts:

  • Michael Brown was unarmed
  • Brown was shot multiple times
  • Police barred any community access to the first public event, a Sunday news conference, following Brown’s shooting
  • Nearly a week after the incident, police and other officials are refusing to offer additional basic details of the incident, such as the name of the officer involved. (NOTE – Name was to be revealed on Friday, August 15, but that has not happened as of the publication of this post. We did hear a new story — that Michael Brown was a suspect in a convenience store robbery — on Friday, however.)

The acronym DWB, driving while black, aptly applies to Ferguson. A 2013 Missouri Attorney General report shows that blacks are nearly seven times as likely to be stopped by police in Ferguson than whites. They are twice as likely to be arrested in traffic stops.

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Ferguson could be Euclid, Ohio. Or Maple Heights, or any ‘first-tier’ suburban community in America where the population has changed from a white majority to an African-American majority, but yet the vast majority of the power structure is still in the hands of whites.

In such cities, elected officials and their safety forces bear a huge burden. They should be taking extra steps in community engagement, community communications, and in preparedness for crisis situations.  

They should also be working assiduously to become more just communities.  Back in 2007, the City of Euclid was found guilty of violating the U.S. Voting Rights Act. It took more Justice Dept. legal action, but eventually both the City of Euclid and Euclid School Board developed just ways of publicly electing leaders. African Americans now serve on both the school board and City Council there.  This could help ensure that a similar tragic situation doesn’t ensue. As we learned (or thought we’d learned) from 50-plus years ago, the U.S. Justice Dept. SHOULD intervene and take action when civil rights are being violated.

Finally, of course one cannot condone looting and violence that stemmed from this tragedy. However, if the Ferguson Police Dept. and City of Ferguson had been doing their duty of community engagement in the years and months before August 8-9, perhaps little or none of this violence would have resulted.

Instead, our nation is watching 1961 replay, sadly, in 2014.

* * * * *

 As a follower of Jesus Christ, I’ve asked myself “what should I do” in such a situation.  This blog is one response.

Asking for action is a better one.  I’ve sent an email to the Attorney General of the State of Missouri and the U.S. Department of Justice, asking them for a full and fair investigation into this shooting.  Links to the web sites are at the bottom of this email, if you wish to do the same thing.

 Here’s the third thing – President Obama, the appointment of a presidential commission to examine and improve race relations in the U.S. is LONG OVERDUE. High-minded people of all races and creeds, studying and working together, can certainly come up with some great solutions to the racial issues which are still causing serious damage to our nation. Mr. President, having your daughters Sasha and Malia living in a far less prejudiced and more just country would be a terrific legacy.

Additionally, Scripture from Romans 13 and Philippians 4 comes to mind. Read the chapters if you wish.

SOURCES (pictures in this blog are from two of the sites below)

http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/highwayhistory/road/s27.cfm

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/1ac38722-23c4-11e4-8e29-00144feabdc0.html#slide0

 http://ago.mo.gov/VehicleStops/2013/reports/161.pdf

http://fromtheperiphery.com/?p=62

http://www.chiefb2.com/2014/08/13/deafening-silence-ferguson/

LINKS IF YOU TOO WANT TO CALL FOR ACTION

MISSOURI:  http://ago.mo.gov/contactus.htm

US DEPT. OF JUSTICE, EASTERN MISSOURI:  jan.diltz@usdoj.gov

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