7 Lessons from Ferguson
The outbreak of rioting in Ferguson, Missouri has drawn the attention of the nation – and for good reason. Its toxic mix of racial politics, mass violence, and police malfeasance has created a perfect storm for media and politicians eager for the spotlight.
Today, President Obama gave a surprisingly measured response to the situation, stating, “Now’s the time for healing, now’s the time for peace and calm on the streets of Ferguson.” Meanwhile, Governor Jay Nixon of Missouri traveled to Ferguson, explaining, “We will not get the healing that we all need if the only response from the public is, ‘Y’all just be quiet.’”
The various narrative strands of the Ferguson situation make for jumbled messaging and confused solutions. Here are seven lessons going forward from the Ferguson situation:
The Media Will Always Run With a Racism Angle. On Saturday, 18-year-old black student Michael Brown was shot by a police officer and died at the scene. Police say that Brown pushed the officer into his car and attempted to take away his firearm, prompting the shooting. Witnesses said that Brown held up his hands and was then shot. No full investigation has yet taken place; there is, as of now, no evidence that the shooting was motivated by racism.
Nonetheless, the media immediately leapt into action to suggest that racism lay behind the shooting. The Washington Post ran an article suggesting that “racial questions hung over police.” Why? Because the police department “bears little demographic resemblance to the citizens of this St. Louis suburb.” The article also cited a study from the Missouri attorney general’s office stating that “Ferguson police were twice as likely to arrest African Americans during traffic stops as they were whites.” The media’s favorite game is to suggest that statistical correlation implies racist causation, even when there is no hard evidence to back that position.
Once Racism Comes Into Play, Justice Goes Out The Window. Appearing on Rachel Maddow’s show on MSNBC, race-baiter extraordinaire Al Sharpton explained that only protesting in the streets could prevent racism in the criminal justice system – even though Sharpton provided no evidence of racism in the criminal justice system in this case. Sharpton explained:
53 policemen in a city that is 67% black, only 3 policemen. No blacks on the board of education, white mayor, the white chief of police. The whole city is polarized and it's in that polarization that this occurred…we’ve got to solve the problem and we've got to make the criminal justice system work for people like Michael Brown, otherwise we're not the country that we claim to be.
How exactly pressuring the police for answers before an investigation has taken place solves the problem remains unexplained.
Looters and Rioters Will Take Advantage of Any Racial Situation, Claiming Victimhood. No matter what the situation, those who prey on innocents will take advantage of it to benefit themselves. Looters and rioters have rightly been condemned by virtually everyone across the political spectrum. Nonetheless, a perpetual feeling of communal victimization leads rioters and looters to justify their outrageous behavior, as Deandre Smith, 30, of Ferguson explained as a local QuikTrip burned in the background: “This is exactly what’s supposed to happen when an injustice is happening in your community.” Don Lemon of CNN summed up the all-too-lax position of many on the left toward looting: “I hate when people riot and what happened in Katrina…but when people are put in dire situations, you don't know how they are going to react.
Police Act Far Too Defensively In Their Investigations. One of the justifiable complaints about the Ferguson police lies in their mishandling of the public aspect of the investigation. After originally stating that they would announce the name of the officer involved in the shooting, the police then backed off that position, with chief Thomas Jackson averring, “The value of releasing the name is far outweighed by the risk of harm to the officer and his family.”
As Kevin Williamson of National Review points out, “Here’s a microcosm of the relationship between state and citizen: We know the names of the nine people charged with felonies in the Ferguson looting, but not the name of the police officer at the center of the case.”
Militarization of Police Should Trouble Americans. For years, libertarians have complained about the militarization of our local police. Today, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) summed up their complaints in a column for Time:
The images and scenes we continue to see in Ferguson resemble war more than traditional police action…. Washington has incentivized the militarization of local police precincts by using federal dollars to help municipal governments build what are essentially small armies—where police departments compete to acquire military gear that goes far beyond what most of Americans think of as law enforcement.
Overall, as the National Journal reported today, “Since 2006, the Pentagon has distributed 432 mine-resistant armored vehicles to local police departments. It has also doled out more than 400 other armored vehicles, 500 aircraft, and 93,000 machine guns.”
The images from Ferguson of local police in full military gear disturb many Americans. Ironically, those images disturb many Americans on the left who loudly maintain that the Second Amendment is passé, and that only law enforcement should have access to firearms. We can all agree that law enforcement must have the resources to protect property and lives by stopping rioters and looters. But we should also be able to agree that a fully militarized police presence presents the constant threat of violation of rights.
Advocates of Big Government Will Call For More Authoritarian Solutions. Despite the fact that some on the left realize the threat of militarized police, some of those same folks are calling for more authoritarian government. Today, Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) called for military intervention in Missouri:
President Obama should use the authority of his office to declare martial law. Federalize the Missouri National Guard to protect people as they protest, and people should come together. Reasonable elected officials, community leaders and address what is happening there. If we fail to act, the fires of frustration and discontent will continue to burn, not only in Ferguson, Missouri, but all across America.
Media Mobilize Against Government Overreach Only When Media Are Targeted. The police’s alleged targeting of journalists is certainly troubling. According to the Huffington Post, Ryan Reilly of the Huffington Post and Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery were “arrested and physically assaulted.” Video shows police firing tear gas at an Al Jazeera news crew; as John Nolte writes,
We don't know the full context of what was going on around the scene, but watching police officers dressed in military gear dismantle camera equipment would seem to contradict any excuse that the situation was dangerous. If there's an immediate threat somewhere off-camera, it's hard to believe the cops would take the time to tear down video equipment.
Suddenly, the media began revving up the outrage. Ryan Grim of the Huffington Post stated, “This is what happens when local police are allowed to become para-military units.” That outrage is appropriate. But outrage against government seems to be reserved solely for situations in which the media themselves are targeted. When it comes to federal overreach, the media were significantly less concerned about the IRS targeting conservative citizens than about the Department of Justice bugging the phones at the Associated Press.
The media, in short, consider themselves a special breed of Americans entitled to better treatment than ordinary folk. No wonder reporter Stefan Becket tweeted (then later deleted) this: “Reporters are granted a privilege by the Constitution. Like it or not, their rights being violated rise above that of an average citizen’s.” He then followed that up with, “Sorry, that was stupid. Deleted. My point was that the outsized attention is understandable because the arrest crossed a definitive line.”
The situation in Ferguson remains ugly. Unless we correct the underlying problems with that situation, however, we remain destined to repeat the experience – over and over and over again.
Ben Shapiro is Senior Editor-At-Large of Breitbart News and author of the new book, The People vs. Barack Obama: The Criminal Case Against The Obama Administration (Threshold Editions, June 10, 2014). He is also Editor-in-Chief of TruthRevolt.org. Follow Ben Shapiro on Twitter @benshapiro.