Why are Ferguson cops so completely out of control?
The situation in Ferguson is spiraling out of control and, as anyone who has been following the story can attest, it’s because the police are thoroughly committed to stomping the protests out with a show of force. From the way they’re carrying on, in fact, you start to get the strong impression that they don’t quite believe that the people of Ferguson are free people who are allowed to be outside in their community if they damn well please—indeed, according to the best eyewitness to the Mike Brown shooting, the idea that there’s something unsavory about people, black people anyway, merely existing outside in their own communities is the mentality that allegedly caused the altercation that led to Brown’s death in the first place. The Ferguson police understandably want to convince America that their officer shot Brown not because he had a racialized panic episode that caused him to unleash on two young people that weren’t doing anything wrong, but the fact that they can’t help but freak out in the face of a bunch of peaceful protesters (and yes, racist trolls this post will inevitably attract, I know that 100% of the protesters haven’t been peaceful, but that doesn’t excuse the militant tactics applied to the 99% who are) suggests the opposite: That their police force, which is largely white, has an aggressive and fearful attitude towards the mostly black community they police, and therefore they fly off the handle at the people they’re supposed to be protecting with little or no provocation.
Why is this happening? I’ve seen a lot of people point out, correctly, that the most baffling thing about this is that the cops are dumb, dumb, dumb. The sad fact of the matter is that if they had allowed the protests to happen peacefully and not met the protesters with a bunch of loaded guns stuck in their faces, this story would have likely died down, especially with Iraq at the front of the news cycle. It’s a depressing fact, but true: Despite the hard work of many activists and journalists to make police state overreach an issue, it never seems to get top priority in the world of politics or media. Instead, the police decided to escalate this and provide journalists and people on the ground with an endless number of shocking images of police aiming loaded weapons at the heads of people with their hands in the air, police dressed to the nines like an invading army meeting people who have picnic baskets and are singing and dancing, police arresting journalists in McDonalds and an alderman in his car. They single-handedly turned this story into a front page one that’s at the top of the news hour. If the intention was to make this shooting story go away, well, this is the most incompetent display of all time.
(I have mixed feelings about this for sure. I mean, it’s great that these protests have reached the front page. I am, however, incredibly worried about the safety of the people on the ground who are having to face these out-of-control cops. Their bravery is inspiring. The fact that they have to be brave is infuriating.)
So why are the cops overreacting, when that very overreaction is backfiring on them so badly? They clearly can’t help themselves. That’s the only logical explanation. They’re so overwhelmed by their sense of entitlement to shut the protests down that they can’t think straight. Before I took a mental health break from Twitter last night, I caught this great insight from Elon James:
— Elon James White (@elonjames) August 13, 2014
Time for some blunt talk: Right wing America has spent the past six years passing around paranoid urban legends that push this notion that Obama is trying to organize some secret “takeover” of the country, often involving fears that conservative white people will be rounded up into camps and other such nonsense. The racist paranoia of this is often subtextual but unmistakeable. Even for conservatives who know that these urban legends are hooey, the narrative that “they” are trying to take “our” country away is firmly ensconced. It’s part of every Sarah Palin word salad rant. It’s the source of the word “Obamaphones”, even though phone subsidies date back to Reagan. It became very blunt with Todd Starnes freaking out over Obama saying the blandest possible thing about the situation.
First Obama speaks out for the Harvard professor – then Trayvon – and now Michael Brown. I’m sensing a pattern…
— toddstarnes (@toddstarnes) August 12, 2014
That tweet is a perfect encapsulation of right wing thinking on this issue: Equating the inclusion of black Americans with some kind of “takeover”.
Six years of whipping yourself into a paranoid frenzy is a lot of years. I don’t even know if it’s possible for a mostly white—and with 99% certainty, mostly conservative—police force to meet a crowd of mostly black protesters in a calm, rational state after spending six years wallowing in this kind of paranoid thinking. If you’ve been waiting on tenterhooks for the violent “takeover” that right wing email chains have been predicting for years, is it even possible to see a bunch of peaceful protesters for who they are? I’m guessing not. No, you’re going to think the mythical war has finally come, and you’re going to act like it.