Another Saturday Night In Ferguson

Thursday night saw a calm return to the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson.  It didn’t last long.

Hours after Gov. Jay Nixon of Missouri imposed a midnight-to-5 a.m. curfew on Saturday in this small city, a group of protesters defied the order and violence flared briefly on Sunday morning, after a week of demonstrations over the killing of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer.

A clash between the protesters and dozens of police officers in riot gear began less than 30 minutes after the curfew took effect and ended about 45 minutes later with the arrest of seven people, all charged with “failure to disperse.”

The justification was that there were some people engaged in violence:

Protesters tossed at least one bottle rocket, the police said, and at the sound of apparent gunshots from a restaurant down the street, demonstrators scrambled to safety.

So the rights of all were terminated with extreme prejudice.

The protesters had moved toward the line of officers — some of whom rode in armored vehicles — and chanted : “We are Mike Brown! We have the right to assemble peacefully!” invoking the name of the 18-year-old who was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer.

“You are violating the state-imposed curfew,” an officer told the demonstrators as rain, heavy at times, passed through the area.

Governor Jay Nixon figured he had it all under control by bringing in Missouri State Police Capt. Ronald Johnson, who showed the sound judgment to honor the rights of the community by walking with them.  As calm returned to Ferguson, the governor apparently thought he had it all under control.  He jumped the gun.

Despite an earlier pledge by Capt. Ronald S. Johnson, the state Highway Patrol commander whose is overseeing security in Ferguson, the police eventually began firing both smoke grenades and some tear gas.

And rubber bullets. Not at the people engaged in the purported wrongdoing, unless you consider violating curfew worthy of getting shot.

The initial curfew announcement came in midafternoon on Saturday, when Governor Nixon declared a state of emergency here.

“This is not to silence the people of Ferguson, but to address those who are drowning out the voice of the people with their actions,” Mr. Nixon, a Democrat, told reporters and residents at a Ferguson church Saturday. “We will not allow a handful of looters to endanger the rest of this community. If we’re going to achieve justice, we must first have and maintain peace.”

Except silencing the people of Ferguson was exactly what he was doing.  In the name of order, Nixon locked down a community.  Gone were the police in regular uniform. Back were the soldiers in camo, MRAPs and heavy armaments.  Gone were the rights of the community to protest the killing of Michael Brown by Police Officer Darren Wilson. Back were the warriors to silence them.

Mr. Nixon added: “This is a test. The eyes of the world are watching.”

And indeed, they are.  They should be.  But the test goes both ways, a point that appears to have eluded Governor Nixon.  This is a litmus test of constitutional rights, and to the extent Friday night suggested that the governor of Missouri got it, Saturday night must be graded as a failure.

Some will see the curfew, the shutdown of Ferguson, as a perfectly reasonable exercise of force to silence a community because of the criminal conduct of a few.  After all, it could be argued, it’s the duty of the government to restore order, and when confronted with some looters, extreme measures are required.  Order above all.

Others will see that the government, through the use of dictates and fiat, has stolen the rights of Ferguson citizens to do as every American is assured by the Constitution. To peaceably assemble. To protest. To express their anger and have their voices heard.  They will see this curfew, and the warriors who enforce it, as a subjugating force.

Those of the former ilk will blame the handful of looters.  The peaceful protestors shouldn’t blame the police, but those who commit crimes under cover of protest.  Of course, there are always some in society who engage in crime, and it’s generally viewed as the nature of policing that they deal with them directly, and not subjugate everyone because of the few.

But there is a bigger, a far more fundamental, issue at stake.  Some guy named Nixon decided that respecting the constitutional rights of the citizens of Ferguson is too high a price to pay for the possibility, perhaps the likelihood, of some criminality.  Better to suspend the Constitution for all than suffer the crimes of a few.

One side says order must be restored at all costs.

The other side says the Constitution must be honored at all costs.

Which side are you on, boys? Which side are you on?

11 comments on “Another Saturday Night In Ferguson

  1. Dissent

    I’m totally disgusted listening to Gov. Nixon this morning as he attempts to justify the curfew by elevating protection of property to the same importance as right of assembly and freedom of speech.

    And then there’s the CNN reporter in Ferguson who described last night’s curfew violators as “teens and 20s” who were “there to incite violence.” That some were armed has been reported by a number of news outlets, but would it have gotten to that if not for the outrageous curfew and trampling of 1-A rights?

    It’s way past time for law enforcement to release the autopsy report and get the focus back on the killing of Mike Brown and not those protesting his killing. Law enforcement has incited all of the problems that they claim to want to address. Enough, already.

    1. SHG Post author

      The rationalizations either work or don’t based on one’s innate bias. Even the point that the situation is the outgrowth of law enforcement mishandling the situation is something that matters or not based on whether the “real problem” is the violence happening now or the murder of Michael Brown, the need for order now or the need to respect the constitutional rights of those who aren’t engaged in violence.

      Ferguson offers a remarkable litmus test; I fear we’re in the minority of a population far more concerned with safety and order at the expense of everything else.

      1. Dissent

        Yep. Let’s face it, Scott. We’re dinosaurs. But even so, it’s distressing how little our society seems to have learned from the 60s and 70s. Some may blame 9/11 for the populace becoming more complacent about expanding govt and law enforcement powers, but the bottom line is that if we don’t stand up for civil rights, who the hell will?

  2. st

    The guv says the community must be subjugated because Order.

    If the guv really wanted order, he could have Darren Wilson arrested, booked, and bailed. That happens all the time when private citizens use a firearm to defend life or property. It happens even when there are no injuries, or no shots fired (“brandishing.”)

    It’s true that one’s bias will determine what rationalizations are accepted. I can’t speak for people living in Ferguson, but as someone who doesn’t have a costume and a shield, it looks to me like the guv is protecting the ability of government agents to shoot anyone at any time, for any reason, or no reason at all.

    It’s not about subjugating an entire community because of the actions of few. Its about subjugating the community to protect a single man, the man who murdered Michael Brown.

    1. SHG Post author

      I think you may be right: arrest Darren Wilson, prosecute him in a fair trial, and see whether Ferguson returns to normal. What are the chances?

  3. st

    Which chances? Arresting Wilson? A fair trial? Ferguson returning to normal?

    I won’t speculate on the odds. But I can hope that things don’t return to what currently passes for normal, in Ferguson or anywhere else. Something has to change. Policing in the U.S. has gone completely wrong.

  4. Nigel Declan

    What continues to strike me as odd is how many media outlets, despite the fact that it has been essentially conceded that Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown, are seemingly reluctant to identify Wilson by name. Even if they do, as the NYT piece you cited eventually does, it was only used once in the 14th paragraph, despite there being earlier references to “a white police officer” and “the Ferguson officer.”

    I don’t know whether this is simply a consequence of earlier articles having been written without knowledge of the shooter’s name, a decision to try and somehow prevent retaliation against Wilson or some form of fealty to law enforcement, perhaps not to endanger their relationship with the local boys in blue. In any event, it is disappointing that the officer’s name is not used in the same manner as the name of any civilian shooter would have been in a similar situation (of which there are many examples in the not-too-distant past, left unnamed in deference to your earlier comments on using certain names in unrelated posts).

  5. ShelbyC

    Perhaps the police were using empirical data to determine which protesters where more likely to loot.

    1. SHG Post author

      More highly effective empirical use of race, apparently.

      “Shoot at the black guys. Yeah, the black guys.”

    2. John Barleycorn

      “Protestors” don’t loot. Looters loot.

      I would argue that the protestors were more instrumental in preventing the escalation and spread of the looting which occurred than the police were.

      Perhaps we should give the protestors guns and badges?

      Protestors are quick to call out the criminal element within their ranks. The police could learn a thing or two here.

      Protest is more a game of patience and presence. Remember us? We are here! Something is amiss dear powers that be, figured we would let you know.

      Ironically protest happens everyday in the halls of power it just goes by a different name.

      So another damaged young man was added the pile the other day so “we” can feel safe at night and dream of “our” tomorrow today. Meanwhile for some “inexplicable” reason thousands have shown up in the street. WTF huh?

      What’s up with them “crazy” protestors? Doesn’t everybody know that in the year two thousand and fourteen brazen daylight tobacco theft, jaywalking, insufficiently respectful adolescent retorts to authority, or heavens forbid even fisticuffs when left unchecked in and of themselves or worse yet in any combination, will certainly devolve into mayhem and murder if not confronted with an unflinching, fearless, and instinctively vengeful iron fist from our first line defenders every time.

      Stay on the fucking the fucking sidewalk and move along kids before your guilty glare and sassy tongue “justifies” another stop and frisk adding yet another misdemeanor to you back for this or that.

      Just because a corner clerk won’t shoot you, for your thieving sins, if you got no gun doesn’t mean that now and then some scared and angry cop on a bad tour won’t put you dead in his sights because he knows he can even if you just don’t run.

      But be sure to know he might even take you if he’s got you on the run.

      Go back to bed America the governor will declare a state of emergency if need be to put the “kids” back on the flicking sidewalk where they belong.

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