Reaching Out and Learning

The shooting and resulting protests in Ferguson, Missouri (and across the country) have raised troubling questions. How could the police officer have shot an unarmed person nine times? Why is the Ferguson Police Department 25% African American when Ferguson is 75%? Why do protestors burn and loot when they are protesting a perceived injustice?

Many reasons are offered. The community has more than a fair share of economically challenged citizens. “The Police force is racists.” “Laws are enforced differently depending upon the race of the offender.” “Michael Brown was a common thief a bully, and got what he deserved.” Hmmm.

Questions first.

  • Why would Officer Darren Wilson shoot so many times? There could be any number of reasons, from panicked to necessary action to subdue a violent suspect. One item, however, which must be considered is “training”. Police officers are trained to use deadly force if they believe their life is endangered. Police, unlike the old Western movies, are not trained to “wing” the suspect and then capture the outlaw for subsequent trial. Training is set by Police Administration and consequently they have played a role in this tragedy.
  • Why does the Police force not mirror the racial make up of the community? Generally speaking, police jobs are considered good jobs in terms of pay and benefits. When communities experience a shift in racial makeup, no current member of the force is likely to want to give up their good job just on racial considerations. Police Administrators as well as local government leaders play an important role in facilitating this transition.
  • Why do protestors resort to looting and violence? One must be clear that all protesters are not looters. Looters emerge from just about all racial groups when there is a suspension of law and order. The question remains can looting and violent protests be avoided? The answer again falls to Police Administrators and City Officials who have engaged in community outreach programs and developed methods effective in direct dialog with the community.

Answers next.

  • Ferguson is an economically challenged city. While Ferguson is not a wealthy community, most protesters were not committed to violence or looting. Unfortunately, massive street marches, especially those met with excessive police resistance, give cover to those who are prone to looting and acts of violence.
  • The Police force is racists. Hmmm. Maybe, maybe not. The evidence presented in Michael Brown’s case would suggest that Office Wilson was enforcing valid and reasonable laws. (Shooting Brown nine times is a question.) Once again, sufficient community relations training would seem to have been lacking.
  • Laws are enforced differently depending upon race. Maybe but probably not in Ferguson. The Ferguson community needs to focus upon what’s happening in Ferguson, not greater St Louis or some other city.
  • Brown was a thief, bully, and got what he deserved. Hmmm. Really? Even if these allegations were true, America is a land built upon the rule of law. Vigilante action has no role. Avoiding another Ferguson needs to focus upon community involvement and communication with law enforcement. No unarmed person needs to be gunned down, especially with multiple gun shots when other less lethal means were available.

Michael Brown experienced bad luck. He was responsible for bringing on some of it. And maybe a different officer, or an additional office with Officer Wilson may have used non-lethal force. Once Brown died, however, the lack of communications and community relations became exposed. It was too late to avoid a suspension of law and order.

The big question is that since Ferguson is not unique, will other similar communities take action now and minimize the chance of another shooting and protest?

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