I suppose it's inevitable that Sunday commentary lags the week's news. Even my own Sunday piece (coming your way later today) was written back on Thursday, and though I touched it up this morning, it now seems like a dispatch from another planet. So it shouldn't be surprising that only two of the New York Times' columnists, and exactly none of those in the Washington Post, mention the ongoing events in Ferguson, MO. But it is disappointing.
So let's just go straight to Leonard Pitts.
All last week we had reports of news photographers being ordered to stop taking pictures and reporters being tear gassed. One officer reportedly took a TV camera and pointed it to the ground. Add to this police refusal until six days after the incident to name the officer who shot 18-year-old Michael Brown, and the picture that emerges is not one of transparency.The Ferguson Police Department would be ecstatic for there to be a return to "order." That way, they could go back to shooting people in the street and charging the people they beat for bleeding on their uniforms.
Let us hope that between the time of this writing and the time of your reading, the fighting in the streets of Ferguson is done. It makes no sense to compound tragedy with tragedy.
But let us also understand: The mere restoration of order is not the same as peace. If events in Ferguson prove nothing else, they prove the status quo of police harassment, and no accountability is untenable and intolerable. And what happened to these two reporters should be instructive to those whose reflex in such matters is to accord police the benefit of even overwhelming doubt.
Ross Douthat gives a history of how we initiated the the Police War, starting with the origin of SWAT.
In an era of riots and hijackings, the SWAT model understandably spread nationwide. But as the riots died away and the threat of domestic terror receded, SWAT tactics — helicopters, heavy weaponry, the works — became increasingly integrated into normal crime-fighting, and especially into the war on drugs.How strange is this this Sunday? How about this: Ross Douthat is the only columnist to devote all of his precious inches to the most pressing story in the nation, and he's also the only one to be 100% right.
This was phase one in the militarization of America’s police forces, as described in Radley Balko’s essential 2013 book on the subject, “The Rise of the Warrior Cop.” Phase two, in which the federal government began supplying local police with military hardware, began in the 1990s and accelerated after 9/11, under the theory that Islamic terrorists could strike anywhere, and that it might take a cop with a grenade launcher to stop them.
... And it’s a path to potential disaster, for cops and citizens alike. The “S” in SWAT was there for a reason: Militarized tactics that are potentially useful in specialized circumstances — like firefights with suicidal terrorist groups — can be counterproductive when employed for crowd-control purposes by rank-and-file cops. (The only recent calm on Ferguson’s streets came after state cops started walking through the crowds in blue uniforms, behaving like police instead of storm troopers.)
... for decades we’ve been equipping our cops as though the Symbionese Liberation Army were about to come out of retirement, as if every burst of opportunistic lawlessness could become another Watts, as though the Qaeda sleeper cells we feared after 9/11 were as pervasive in life as they are on “24” or “Homeland.”It was never time to give them these "toys" in the first place, but it's definitely way past time to pull them away.
And this is where it’s ended: with a bunch of tomfool police playing soldier, tear-gassing protesters, arresting journalists and turning Ferguson into a watchword for policing at its worst.
Time to take their toys away.
Serge Schmemann also touched on the Apolice Now mentality,
The millions of dollars of military equipment on display along Ferguson’s West Florissant Avenue — including a $360,000 BearCat armored truck, helicopters and most of the body armor worn by police officers — was clearly not designed for crowd control.I suppose it was inevitable that the War on Terror, like the War on Drugs, would become a War on American Citizens. In fact, it was from the beginning. And in any War on American Citizens, America's minority communities are the front line.
On the contrary, the police, with their assault rifles, combat helmets and armored vehicles, only further angered the crowds. It was only when Gov. Jay Nixon finally sent an officer of the state’s highway patrol to take charge, and Capt. Ronald S. Johnson, an African-American native of Ferguson, sent the heavy armaments away and started talking to the protesters, that the passions ebbed.
The images of militarized police taking aim at people they are sworn to protect has put a spotlight on the programs that have enabled police departments across the United States — including many small ones, like Ferguson’s 53-strong force — to acquire combat gear. Much of it has come from Department of Homeland Security grants dispensed since the “war on terror” was declared in the wake of 9/11.
Jamelle Bouie normally of Slate is running this week in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
The most striking photographs from Ferguson, Mo., aren’t of Saturday’s demonstrations or Sunday night’s riots; they’re of the police. Image after image shows officers clad in Kevlar vests, helmets and camouflage, armed with pistols, shotguns, automatic rifles and tear gas. In one photo, protesters stand toe-to-toe with baton-wielding riot police, in another, an unarmed man faces several cops, each with rifles at the ready. ...Can you ask around St. Louis and find white residents who are still saying obnoxious things about the citizens of Ferguson? Absolutely. But you can also find much, much more sympathy than you might think -- and a visit to the streets of Ferguson will show you some white St. Louisans are present and accounted for.
This would be one thing if Ferguson were in a war zone, or if protesters were violent — although, it’s hard to imagine a situation in which American police would need a mine-resistant vehicle. But an episode of looting aside, Ferguson and St. Louis County police aren’t dealing with any particular danger. Nonetheless, they’re treating demonstrators — and Ferguson residents writ large — as a population to occupy, not citizens to protect.
Come inside to see what the rest of punditry has on their minds...
David Kirp reminds those who want teaching to be run like a business, that they're in the wrong business.
Today's education reformers believe that schools are broken and that business can supply the remedy. Some place their faith in the idea of competition. Others embrace disruptive innovation, mainly through online learning. Both camps share the belief that the solution resides in the impersonal, whether it’s the invisible hand of the market or the transformative power of technology.I know you have other concerns -- rightly -- this morning, but read this.
Neither strategy has lived up to its hype, and with good reason. It’s impossible to improve education by doing an end run around inherently complicated and messy human relationships. All youngsters need to believe that they have a stake in the future, a goal worth striving for, if they’re going to make it in school. They need a champion, someone who believes in them, and that’s where teachers enter the picture. The most effective approaches foster bonds of caring between teachers and their students.
Frank Bruni is in Colorado.
In many ways, Colorado is the new Ohio, a political bellwether. The percentage of its voters who chose Barack Obama in each of the last two presidential elections almost precisely matched the percentage of voters who did so nationwide. And nearly all the currents that buffet national politics swirl around the Rockies, which run like a ragged spine through a state that’s both very flat and very tall, bursting with agriculture and booming with high tech, outdoorsy and urbane, a stronghold of the religious right (Colorado Springs) and a liberal utopia (Boulder).Somehow, political battlegrounds seem less interesting this morning. Battleground battlegrounds have the upper hand.
In other ways, “Colorado is the new California,” in Hickenlooper’s words. It floats trial balloons — marijuana being one example, education reforms being another — while other states watch to see which take flight and which wheeze and crumple to earth.
That’s partly because it’s a place without foregone conclusions. The Colorado electorate is divided almost exactly into one-third Republican, one-third Democratic and one-third neither of the above. So conservative and liberal proposals alike are pushed in the Legislature and put before voters; discussion isn’t proscribed by the one-party dominance that you find in a red or blue state.
Aaron Miller goes to dreamland to imagine a Hillary foreign policy, circa 2008.
During her term as secretary of state, Clinton talked a lot about “smart power” — elevating diplomacy and development alongside military might. Now, she is distancing herself from the foreign policy of the president she served, telling the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg that “great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.”And either one of them would have been far better than the other option in 2008. By now, John McCain would have either run out of countries to bomb, or simply run out of bombs.
But what if she had been the one in the Oval Office since 2009? How different would her foreign policy be from President Obama’s? These questions are clearly more than a thought experiment. If she runs in 2016, potentially the first secretary of state since James Buchanan to ascend to the White House, voters will want to know the answers.
...on substance, Clinton’s policies would probably not have diverged fundamentally from the ones the president pursued while she was his secretary of state or those he has embraced subsequently. Indeed, Clinton could never have become Obama’s top diplomat and functioned so well in that job had they not been largely on the same page in terms of how they saw the world and what America should do about it. They both are transactors, not ideological transformers — smart, pragmatic centrists largely coloring inside the lines in a world of long shots and bad options. In other words, there’s no need for them to “hug it out” on foreign policy.