Show Me, Ferguson

Missouri’s nickname is the “Show Me” state, an ironic message to the police in Ferguson. Oh yes, they are showing who they are, in vivid combat colors.


They are showing plenty of force, but they are not showing the pieces of Michael Brown’s killing to show they haven’t brought this anger on themselves. 

They haven’t “shown” the identity of the officer who killed 18-year-old Michael Brown. They haven’t “shown” the autopsy report with the number of bullets pumped into his body by the unnamed officer. They haven’t “shown” why they didn’t bother to interview Dorian Johnson, the 22-year-old with Michael Brown who watched him gunned down in the street. They haven’t “shown” any recognition of what they’ve done here. Or why people just won’t behave the way they want them to.

There is a brief window of opportunity for the government of Ferguson to seize the story, to show why one of theirs didn’t murder some unarmed kid in cold blood.  They let that window slam shut, choosing to leave a void where they should have had a narrative.  This is a shocking failure, as it’s not hard to come up with a story of minimal detail and marginal credibility to take control of the killing.

The official attempt was tepid at best, that there was a struggle for an officer’s gun in a police car, and “shots were fired.”  It was a disgrace to the police playbook, with no claims of prior criminal history, drug-crazed superhuman strength, selling untaxed cigarettes, fear for the officer’s life, whatever. The problem was that there was nothing to support this pathetic story.  Too many inexplicable “whys,” and nothing remotely approaching answers.

They abandoned the narrative. They went dark. Nothing could be more condemning than for the police to have nothing to say in justification of the killing of Michael Brown.  The absence of a story is the worst story possible.

Then MSNBC spoke with Dorian Johnson, and he offered to fill the void:

The officer demanded that the two “get the f—k on the sidewalk,” Johnson says. “His exact words were ‘Get the f—k on the sidewalk.’ ”

After telling the officer that they were almost at their destination, Johnson’s house, the two continued walking. But as they did, Johnson says the officer slammed his brakes and threw his truck in reverse, nearly hitting them.

Now, in line with the officer’s driver’s side door, they could see the officer’s face. They heard him say something to the effect of, “what’d you say?” At the same time, Johnson says the officer attempted to thrust his door open but the door slammed into Brown and bounced closed. Johnson says the officer, with his left hand, grabbed Brown by the neck.

Johnson’s recounting of the initiation of the encounter has the earmarks of truth. The detail. The color. No sanitizing of their own actions.

After firing a shot while sitting inside the cruiser, the officer faced Michael Brown in the street, Brown’s hand in the air, and he executed him.  The police in Ferguson didn’t bother talking to Johnson.

This could show that they had no interest in speaking to a witness that wouldn’t help their story, but more likely, this shows that they already knew what the story was.  After all, they have the unnamed officer.  Just because we don’t know what he had to say doesn’t mean they don’t.

Few will come out and say it, but the media has its story of what happened to Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO.  A cop gunned down a young black man in cold blood in the street because he thought he could.  Miffed at the disrespect, impulse took over and adrenalin kept him shooting until Michael Brown, hands raised, fell to the pavement.

Then came the second story of how a police force, without any story to offer, pulled on its combat boots and took to the streets to quell too much sadness, lighting the fire of fury instead.  The images, a collection of which are posted by Mark Draughn, show a people under siege.

This is the story, that in a poor suburb of St. Louis, a combat force has seized control by violence and fear to overcome the natural reaction of a community to the murder of one of its children.  They showed them. They showed us.  It’s all there to be seen. Look at it. Not even the cops can muster an excuse.

As Radley Balko said, with such stunning simplicity when he offered the New York Times image above on twitter, “America.”

22 thoughts on “Show Me, Ferguson

  1. Michael McNutt

    Really what can you do to bring police/government forces back under control? We have reached the point where I feel the more outrageous behavior and tactics they show might spur actions that finally put an end to it either with ballot or barricade(s).

    1. SHG Post author

      Sometimes, it’s best to let the shit hit the fan and spray all over the place so that people realize what the problem is and that it needs to be fixed.

      1. Jim March

        Long-term, technology is going to bail us out. Cameras are going to get smaller and stream video wirelessly via Bluetooth or it’s successor to a cellphone with a serious data connection that will pipe the feed up and out to a remote server. Once this kind of tech is common as fleas the police will have to get the message that it is “game over” as far as being able to lie and be taken seriously.

        1. Anonymous

          Technology rarely solve larger societal problems. It may occasionally transform one societal problem into another one. It may give you temporary release. It will not turn a group of people with unhealthy tendency to use force into peaceful tree huggers. If the cops are the problem, then the cops will learn how to work around cameras and usb. Maybe they will learn how to hack them or fake the signal. Maybe they will learn how to move the body so the camera will not cover critical piece of action.

          Maybe they will learn how to use them in such annoying ways, that citizens will beg you to remove cameras.

          Technology may help you or be part of the solution, but it will never bail you out of a big problem.

        2. Jake DiMare

          It saddens me to report, as one of SJ’s resident commenting technocrats, the Ferguson police this very evening are violating constitutional rights and assaulting woman and children with rubber bullets and flash bangs in clear view of multiple cameras.

        3. George B

          Technology will NOT bail us out. What may bail us out is cops being held to the same laws as their victims; ergo being arrested, jailed, bailed [not OR], tried and convicted by a jury. And then sentenced to real time the GrayBar Hotel, not 2 days of home confinement.

          We could (and maybe should??) have a separate thread on why it is seemingly so impossible to convict cops even with direct video evidence, such as the John J. McKenna case.

      2. Jesse

        The cops down there seem to be trying their best to put the fan on “high”. Hopefully their continued attempts at invoking what appears to be ad-hoc martial law will be their undoing.

        This might be what you would consider ‘from within’, but wishful thinking tells me that the Ferguson PD needs to have a higher authority simply shut it down, as they are making that city far less safe and more violent by their current actions. Tell the officers to leave their weapons on the front desk, park the cars, padlock the doors to the station and tell them to go home.

        1. ExCop-LawStudent

          Police don’t understand that concept, they understand control, and they have the tools to implement that control in a very heavy handed way. All one has to do is to look at the comments at PoliceOne to see what their mindset is, and no, they are not putting on a front. They really believe that BS.

          I am becoming more and more convinced that we are nearing the tipping point, and things will get much worse. I hope that I am wrong.

  2. John Barleycorn

    There is no reason to assume that just because Al Sharpton has crossed the Mississippi River with an entourage that he has landed in a hamlet that has a full time Police Public Relations position esteemed one let a PBA spokesperson.

    Ferguson has 54 commissioned officers and 18 civilian support staff. Small by most urban suburb standards.

    They do have their own jail though which is not so common for a hamlet of their size.

    Its supposed to be eighty degrees and sunny this afternoon in Ferguson but the weekend forecast is calling for thunderstorms.

    But I guess you don’t really need a weather man to know which way the wind blows.

  3. DHMCarver

    The more I read about this story, the more sick to the stomach I become. Coming from a city and state where the police are inordinately trigger-happy (and lapel cameras have become suddenly unreliable whenever there is a police shooting), a piece I read this morning on the shooting in Ferguson struck home. The piece was in The Root (for those who don’t know it, The Root is an on line news site focusing on issues affecting the African American community), entitled “If There Are Good Cops Out There, Prove It”, by Albert L. Butler. In keeping with your no links policy, I will recommend it to SJ readers with the hope that they search for it on the internet to read in full. [Ed. Note: Link added, because I can.] With your indulgence, I will quote the following from the heart of the piece (no offense taken if you wish to cut the long quote from my comment):

    “No press conferences denouncing the actions of a few bad apples. No open letters putting the bad guys on notice that abusing the color of authority will not be tolerated. No public petitions demanding action from higher-ups and local government—and absolutely no change in police-union leadership. Sure, there are the requisite pressers after an incident by a police chief and possibly the mayor, but nothing from the rank and file, nothing from police groups and associations.

    “The Blue Wall of Silence is deafening.

    “What we do hear are plenty of excuses—police brass and city officials all but tripping over themselves to get to a microphone to announce, ‘We thought he had a gun,’ ‘She refused to comply’ or ‘The suspect had priors.’

    “And before you know it, the police officer in question is the victim and the whole incident becomes the community’s fault or the parents’ fault, until finally it falls on the person in the hospital or the morgue, and now this person is responsible for his or her own condition. And then there’s the catchall phrase you hear from police commissioners everywhere:

    “ ‘Being a police officer is stressful.’”

    I wholeheartedly agree with what you have posted in the past about SJ not becoming a forum for cop-bashing, and for the sympathy you often show for officers. But I think we would all agree that it is well past time for the officers themselves, starting from the top of the hierarchy, to show that such conduct is over the line. For while there may only be a few bad apples, there are a lot of other apples who are staying silent in the face of the actions of their colleagues. At what point does silence equal complicity?

    1. SHG Post author

      I keep hoping, waiting, for the “thing” that breaks the logjam. I don’t think the “good cop/bad cop” dichotomy is a clear one; some are worse than others, but the cop who watches as the “bad cop” does what he does is a bad cop too, though he no doubt thinks otherwise.

      But the culture of force need so change, and as I’ve tried to say a thousand times and a thousand different ways, the culture must change from within. The harder outsiders push, the tighter the wagons get circled and the more resistant all cops are to interference. Cops must see this and decide this can’t go on.

      1. Jim Majkowski

        There is precedent for culture change imposed from without, even if it took some time to take root and thrive: the desegregation of the U S Armed Forces. But that took a Truman, who are even rarer now than then.

        1. SHG Post author

          While I don’t think it’s an apt analogy, I would view Truman as “within.” He could force it. We cannot.

          1. william doriss

            Not an apt analogy at all. TrueMan was unable to order desegregation in the de facto civilian North. Think Chicago, Philly, New York, Boston, etc. during that era. And even if he did,… without sending in the federal troops, the way Eike did in Little Rock (1958?).
            Lest we forget–I digress–TrueMan dropped the bombs on Japan when our victory was imminent and indisputable. An unnecessary show of force on the international stage, resulting in massive carnage and the ensuing “cold war” and ridiculous build-up of atomic weapons between U.S. and the Soviets. TrueMan failed to intervene or get involved with the “red scare” of the late 40s and early 50s conducted by Nixon and his merry band of loyalty oath takers.
            He sat on the sidelines, insider that he was, and the only man who could reign in the rogue senator from Wisconsin who was making an utter a$$ of himself and his party. McCarthy was finally called on the carpet by TV broadcaster Edward R. Murrow, March 9, 1954. The rest is history.
            The buck never stopped on TrueMan’s desk; it was a classic one-liner, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
            It was a bizarre era in Am. history, during which TrueMan was hardly heroic–the way his predecessor or his successors were. The buck never stopped on his desk, a classic case of political bait-and-switch, or outright Clintonism, as we now know, when Clinton himself was a babe in the Arkansas woods.
            Also, TrueMan tried to take over the steel industry in an unconscionable act of governmental hubris.
            The S.C. at the time, under Chief Justice Robert Jackson, said, No, no, no, not so fast TrueMan: Unconstitutional overreach of executive power. TrueMan failed the lie-detector test of revisionist-wishful-thinking history
            All the best,
            Chief Judge of HarwichC0urt, the C0urt of Last ReS0rt
            (Bring cash, and lots of it.)

  4. Jack

    And it looks like the police shot someone else in Ferguson last night… There seems to be a bit more blood than shit being sprayed all over the place.

  5. John Barleycorn

    The PD from the hamlet on the Mississippi River speaketh of the dangers of candlelit vigils and a confirms that protest is not prayer this afternoon.

    ~~~We ask that any groups wishing to assemble in prayer or in protest do so only during daylight hours in an organized and respectful manner. We further ask all those wishing to demonstrate or assemble to disperse well before the evening hours to ensure the safety of the participants and the safety of our community. ~~~
    Ferguson PD

    Scurry along now Ferguson and do as you are told and keep to the sidewalks especially after dark.

    P.S. The St. Louis Gateway Arch was designed to be a living monument to Jefferson’s ‘vision of greater opportunities for men of all races and creeds’. It literally celebrates expansion and exploration into unknown territory as a means to achieve greater opportunity.

  6. lawrence kaplan

    Just today, by chance I came across the following passage in Thomas More’s Utopia, written in 1515:

    “There seem to be two kinds of justice; one fit for ordinary people, lowly and creeping on the ground, and bound down and fenced in on all sides; totally encumbered with chains and unable to escape; the other kind is a virtue proper to princes; which is more august than the ordinary virtue and hence much freer– forbiden, in fact, to do only what it does not want to do.”

    Wow! If we substitute “police and prosecutors” for “princes,” it seems as if in 500 years nothing has changed!

  7. George B

    > but the cop who watches as the “bad cop” does what he does is a bad cop too,
    > though he no doubt thinks otherwise.

    SHG hit a walk-off grandslam with this. Until cops will stand up for the law, and the citizens, as opposed to those wearing their colors/gang signs, progress will be imperceptible.

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