Thanks in big part to social media sites like Twitter, following the #Ferguson hashtag, we've seen a plethora of real-time images. Militarized cops aiming weapons at people's heads as Republican politicians cheer. Protesting citizens are tear-gassed, including young children. A frothing-at-the-mouth policeman shouting, "I'll f'ing kill you", pointing his loaded weapon at a citizen reporter. Though now suspended, one wonders what would have happened if his insanity hadn't been recorded—a First Amendment right that police are restricting in Ferguson.
It's like watching "Cops Run Wild" in real-time.
Bringing in Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson didn't stop the tear gas, nor did it stop the violence against protestors. They've wanted to put a black face on a problem of complete chaos, exacerbated by a government from Gov. Nixon's office down to the missing local mayor and city council. Government efforts are more focused on repressing protest than achieving justice for the Brown family. More and more of the narratives put out by police, politicians and media is about "outside agitators" as an excuse to restrict protest and limit reportage.
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Who pays? The family of Michael Brown, the members of the Ferguson community, protestors, and journalists. Ultimately, we all pay. The people of Ferguson are being treated like enemy combatants. As a black person who has witnessed decades of police brutality against us, watching Ferguson, and what is unfolding there simply re-enforces my lifelong knowledge that I'm never going to be treated like a regular citizen, no matter that my ancestors' backs helped build this nation. The recent Pew study, "Stark racial divisions in reactions to Ferguson police shooting," bears witness to how my brothers and sisters feel. There is a long history of racial injustice in Ferguson. The fires won't be ending anytime soon. Folks there don't trust the local police, and they have no reason to trust the state troopers either. And while it's generally looked at as being a good thing that Attorney General Eric Holder has been to Ferguson, and that the Department of Justice is pursuing an independent investigation, I keep running through a bunch of "what ifs?"
As the focus shifts to the judicial system, there have been no long-term plans being made to deal with the deeply embedded police racism in the area. Bringing in state troopers and the Missouri National Guard is no solution. What if there are no charges filed against officer Wilson? What if he does get charged and brought to trial, but isn't convicted for what many view as the execution of Mike Brown? There have been too many miscarriages of justice to trust the process. As James Baldwin said:
"Well, if one really wishes to know how justice is administered in a country, one does not question the policemen, the lawyers, the judges, or the protected members of the middle class. One goes to the unprotected — those, precisely, who need the law's protection most! — and listens to their testimony. Ask any Mexican, any Puerto Rican, any black man, any poor person — ask the wretched how they fare in the halls of justice, and then you will know, not whether or not the country is just, but whether or not it has any love for justice, or any concept of it. It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have."So, Gov. Nixon, why not bring in as a consultant someone who already has national credibility for respecting the rights of civilians, who is trained to defuse rather than escalate disastrous situations? Someone who sees citizens—especially black ones—as people. Someone who can work toward stopping police abuses that continue, like the gunning down of Kajieme Powell.
—Baldwin, James. No Name in the Street. 1972.
How about Lt. General Russel L. Honoré?
I'm not the only person thinking of this man.
Russel Honore, the Army lieutenant general, who brought some calm to the streets of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina is critical of the police response to protesters in Ferguson, Mo. People in the St. Louis suburb have been protesting the killing of Michael Brown, a teenager killed by a police officer there...Not to treat the people as "the enemy." How ... revolutionary.
You may remember the footage of Honore in downtown New Orleans days after the city's levees fell and there were reports of widespread looting. When he saw the soldiers under his command with their guns raised, he yelled at them: "Weapons down, damn it!"
It was an important moment. Honore made sure his soldiers understood that the people they were encountering on the streets of New Orleans were not their enemy, and they were not to treat them as such.
RETIRED LT. (3 STAR) GENERAL RUSSEL HONORÉLt. General Honoré was a guest of Anderson Cooper's on CNN recently:
Last night Tonya stayed up into the Wee Hours watching CNN Live from Ferguson, Missouri in amazement. To me it is obvious The Ferguson Police, State Police and National Guard don’t have a clue. We kept asking ourselves “Who is in charge? Who is in command? Why the provocation?” I’m still asking these same questions this morning. Every wrong move the Authorities could have made they did. This is a SNAFU of the highest order. Tonya and I both said at the same time, “We need Honoré.” Honoré is retired Lieutenant General Russel L. Honoré. He’s the Man who became a Hero in how he took over and brought order in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. On a whim I called up Lt. General Honoré this morning and asked his opinion, he said “he would do a lot of things differently.” I asked him if he got the call would he be ready to go to work, take command of this dire situation. Lt. General Honoré said “yes.”
The best man in the United States of America to bring peace and order to the madness we have seen nightly is sitting by the phone in Louisiana, watching what we are watching. President Obama, please make that call because the Authorities are in over their heads and its Amateur time. My President, it’s great that you are sending U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to Ferguson but make that call to Louisiana. We need Leaders on the ground who have experience, the skill sets and most importantly the sensitivity to know how to talk to people, have sympathy for the rage, anger and distrust the people feel about the Police of Ferguson, Missouri. Honoré will do the job that needs to be done. Retired Lt. General Russel L. Honoré is the Man with the Plan, he will calm this storm. What is the holdup?
—Spike Lee, Da Republic of Brooklyn, New York
The police response to protests in Ferguson, Missouri, is just making things worse, and officers should put down their guns and allow protesters to speak their minds, says retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, who headed relief efforts in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. "Put a microphone up, put a stage up, put some sunscreen on it so they can come up and talk and express their concerns," Honore said Tuesday on CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360."
Honore said the people are expressing their belief that they can't get justice. They are practicing civil disobedience, so they will do the opposite of anything an armed police force orders them to do, he said.
Honore said he once endured protests in South Korea for a week and a half. Sometimes, the crowd numbered 100,000 people, he said, "and not once did we point a gun at anyone." Honore did not agree with Missouri state trooper Capt. Ron Johnson, who is currently in charge of all police operations in Ferguson. Johnson said his officers were justified in taking action against some protesters who threw bottles and bricks at them.
Honore said police should suit up with proper gear. "The police need to be able to take a hit from water bottles and bricks without shooting at people," he said. He also suggested that grief counselors be brought in, and that lights should be focused on the few blocks where the protests are taking place to avoid the trouble that usually happens only at night.
Thoughts and wishes about what could be in Ferguson are dreams. No one person can change the systemic racism in the criminal justice system. Or the white privilege that allows people to be oblivious of that "talk" that black mothers give their sons.
The problem of police brutality, racial profiling, and racial inequality is not simply Ferguson's problem, or Missouri's problem. It's a national problem. However, long-range solutions proposed by the coalition that has come together to address these issues hold promise.
The last one on their preliminary list is: "The establishment of a law enforcement commission to review policing tactics that would include in its composition leaders/experts from civil rights advocacy groups who represent the most impacted communities."
If that happens, Honoré's name should be included.