As the conflict in Ferguson, Missouri continues into its fifth day, we see a disturbing narrative unfolding. But based on the knowledge and documentation we already have, there are some observations I’d like to make.
First, the police shooting of Michael Brown needs to be vigorously investigated by state and Federal authorities. Witnesses and police are providing contradictory testimony, and this needs to be examined carefully. Either Brown was gunned down by police in cold blood or justifiably killed while in the process of attempting a homicide…this is a pivotal issue. And the community has a right to see this justice through in an open, public legal forum.
But then there is the larger question of whether or not the police overreacted against protesters with excessive use of force. Now here is where, from my perspective, things get complicated.
Yes, there were peaceful demonstrations. We’ve seen that. And there seems to have been open acts of civil disobedience. That’s documented too. These demonstrations and like acts are being undertaken by a population that has every right to express itself in order to promote genuine social change. As Americans, that’s our way. In our schools we lionize past activists like Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks for speaking truth to power; for standing up against authority and hatred for the cause of fundamental fairness.
But I won’t just brush away police actions and the concerns of law enforcement. And I’ll tell you why. It is because there is another element in the demonstrations that, frankly, are not making any secret that they’re organizing and arming themselves, and in the process of trying to kill cops.
Over the past few nights, journalists and civic activists have presented dozens of photographs of large crowds of young men gathering together on the streets, creating “Molotov Cocktails” and throwing these weapons at police.
I think it does a real disservice to the public to even use the term “Molotov Cocktail,” because most Americans simply do not know what it means. A Molotov Cocktail is a firebomb, plain and simple. It is a small but highly effective and cruel weapon designed to roast people alive. The weapon is created when gasoline or some other flammable liquid is placed in an empty soda or beer bottle, and a connected rag (usually also doused in gasoline or oil) is lit. The “user” then tosses the bottle towards a target – a police officer in this instance – and then when the bottle cracks the gasoline is released like lava, creating an instant, durable inferno. When you have five or six or ten of these thrown at the same time the effect is, obliviously, intensified. But it takes work and organization to make these crude devices, and those what make them are not exercising some lauded First Amendment right, they’re engaging in murderous acts of combat.
So in one respect, I can see how people, viewing this situation from afar, feel that that the police are overreacting. But not in every instance, not by a long shot. Amongst these protesters are people – right now at least dozens of them – who are actively, intensively attempting to slay police officers. So how are police supposed to react to this sort of situation? Or are they just expected to sit there and, like in a scene right out of the Spanish Inquisition, be incinerated alive?
And please don’t reply by saying that this is some minor detail, that it is somehow “besides the point.” These well documented actions will go on to haunt all the other protesters, because later, when they press their criminal and civil cases against the Ferguson police in courts of law, the police will cite these specific events in defending their decisons. And it will leave judges and juries in a quandary and create a lot of reasonable doubt in favor of law enforcement. Bottom line: you don’t have the right to actively attempt to murder police officers. It’s not noble. It’s not in the tradition of progressive nonviolence. It’s not the legal, acceptable or decent way to promote social change in America.