Ferguson highlights the best and worst of us
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., August 17, 2014—America’s got issues. Many of them are highlighted by the events unfolding in Ferguson, Missouri. Media, the police, and citizens: all have demonstrated an unpleasant side and some, at least, have rushed to judgment and refused to listen to the facts. But others have shown the best of the American spirit.
On August 9, Michael Brown was shot by police after he was stopped and questioned because he and another man were walking down the middle of the street, blocking traffic. The news spread quickly on Twitter. Then the national media got involved.
Michael Brown was identified as “unarmed black teenager Michael Brown.” The clear purpose of this kind of reporting is to engender an emotional response. It did. Predictably, MSNCB host Al Sharpton showed up to stir things up more. Jesse Jackson likened the shooting to a state execution.
Such hyperbole isn’t aimed at calming things down. Are Sharpton and Jackson just trying to stir up hatred?
The mayor of Ferguson, as well as other local community leaders, don’t think Sharpton is being helpful.
Mayor James Knowles said, “I have the concern that we’ll lose sight of this young man and the tragedy and become clearly a national spectacle, instead of focusing on this young man and the issues at hand. Sometimes star power is not always a good thing.”
“You’re not going to accomplish anything in the streets screaming. There’s a lot of serious issues that need to be discussed and those have to be discussed with people at a table talking to each other, not screaming at each other.”
There’s a voice of reason. Neither Jackson nor Sharpton have been received with open arms. Jackson was reportedly booed and Sharpton heckled. Clearly not everyone is buying what they have to sell.
The police haven’t reacted well, either. Police have become militarized in recent years, egged on by the Department of Homeland Security and surplus military equipment from the Iraq and Afghan wars. Their initial response included heavily armed policemen with armored vehicles, tear gas and rubber bullets.
By the end of the week Gov. Jay Nixon called in the State Patrol and ordered a curfew. The Ferguson police released the name of the officer as well as surveillance video of Michael Brown robbing a convenience store and pushing the clerk aside. Brown was 6’4” and almost 300 pounds. He towers over the clerk.
Did the media change their headlines to read, “bully and thief Michael Brown…?” No way. Despite clear video, they still wrote, “alleged thief” and hastened to point out that the police officer who stopped Brown did not know that Brown was the thief. The officer apparently had heard a report of the robbery, though, and the stolen cigars from the store were found on Brown.
But even among the media there are voices of reason. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch is doing incredibly good on-the-scene reporting.
Citizens, too, have rushed to judgment, protesting the shooting well before any facts were known. Worse, the situation has led to looting. How exactly does trashing the convenience store that Michael Brown robbed help anyone other than the looters?
Doug Giles, never one to shy away from controversy, has written a piece titled “9 Things to think about before you start rioting and looting.” His point? Things may not be going well in this country and people are ticked off, but before you take to the streets about Michael Brown—or anyone else—it’s not a bad idea to have some facts on your side first.
The police, after their initial show of force, have stood by while the looting was going on. Shop owners have stood guard with their weapons while the police watched. Note to advocates of disarming the public: this is why you don’t.
Finally, and most encouragingly, Ferguson citizens are taking control and doing the right thing.
For example, Rebecca McCloud with Sonlight Missionary Baptist Church in East St. Louis was at the burned-out QuikTrip store Friday. She said she was organizing rides to bring volunteers to the streets to guard businesses.
“We’re going to take the community by force,” McCloud said of her and her fellow volunteers’ efforts. She meant that in a good way.
And she’s far from the only one. So many volunteer cleanup workers showed up at the hard-hit Ferguson Market and Liquor that the business was turning some away.
There you have it: the good, the bad and the ugly in America. The American spirit is one of ordered liberty, of justice and the rule of law. It is not a rush to judgment, nor the heavy-handed use of force, nor the incitement to riot and looting.
The American spirit will prevail.