Last night, the protesting crowds in Ferguson, Missouri, heard shots and dispersed without a fight around 1:30 in the morning. The Verge reports that there were no violent confrontations with the police. The looting and vandalism that took place on Sunday night didn’t happen. The riot gear, armored trucks, tear gas and rubber bullets did not return. With such a deteriorating situation, one might expect things to fall apart at any moment. So what happened?
It wasn’t all peaches and cream. Many in the protesting crowds did feel that things might take a turn for the worse. People got loud and rowdy. Some spun their back tires on the streets. Many were drinking and smoking weed, some behind the wheels of their cars. The police did show up again, but protestors forced them back to their cars, which then retreated to their staging area. They did not return with their militarized equipment, though that was expected.
Is it possible that this needed to happen? Heaven forbid that the police not returning with a militarized presence that’s intended to make people afraid should actually have a calming effect on a protesting crowd, especially when a big part of what that crowd is protesting is police brutality and harassment.
The Verge quoted Charles Brooks, one of the protesters, as saying:
“And at the same time, I’m tired of being abused by the police. We all are. It’s created a separation and a distrust between the neighborhoods and the police.”
After explaining that officers had once thrown him up against a fence, detained him for no reason, and showed up in someone’s backyard at a funeral for a friend for no reason, he said, “It’s harassment plain and simple.”
And it is. Ferguson’s police force is almost entirely white. Much of the police forces that have shown up to try and contain what’s happening in Ferguson are primarily white. Ferguson, however, is primarily black, and residents feel (rightly so) that the police harass them because they’re black, and because they know they can get away with it.
So trying to disperse the protesters with a show of military-style force just makes matters worse, not better. Eventually, people get tired of being afraid. The fear turns to anger, and they start fighting back. Police need to be sensitive to that, not only to maintain relations with their communities, but also for their own safety. A delicate situation requires delicate handling, and this, because it’s based on massive distrust of the police, is a delicate situation. This is something that Missouri State Police captain Ron Johnson may understand. He did say there would be no tear gas last night, and there wasn’t.
What did eventually make the crowd disperse last night? It was a man by the name of Malik Shabazz; someone that the Southern Poverty Law Center has called out for his openly racist, anti-white rhetoric, and for being an anti-Semite. He told the crowd:
“We love y’all. Now go the f**k home.”
Why did that work? The Verge spoke with Shabazz and asked. He said:
“You gotta talk to ‘em in a language they can understand, otherwise they gonna bug. And tonight we just got to a point where we had to shut it down because if we didn’t, we know it’ll be on the news tomorrow that somethin’ happened and it’ll mess the whole night up.
We’re demonstrators. We’re against the police. We’re for Michael Brown. But we also know that the world is watching us. And we also know that the president told them to back off of us. So if police back off and chaos and madness and violence occur, then they’re gonna blame it on us.”
Who knew? That’s proof right there that their police chief’s statement about the tear gas being the protesters’ fault is not only wrong, but that his iron fist is making matters worse, not better.
h/t The Verge