The fiasco in Ferguson, Missouri this week began with the shooting death of a teenager named Mike Brown, at the hands of a police officer. Because brown was black and the officer was white (we assume, although so far he has escaped identification), there will be a predictable Red Herring tossed into the discussion by members of a particular sect of the political right. They’ll probably dig up a photo of Michael Brown in some “thuggish” pose. If he ever smoked pot or got sent to the principal’s office, they’ll throw that out there too. The implication being, what, that he just deserved to die on general principle? I don’t know.
Members of a particular sect of the left will focus on the racial dynamics. They’ll say that if Brown had been white, he would not have been shot. This may or may not be true in this specific instance (though it seems likely, we’ll never know for sure), but the history of police violence and harassment of black Americans is overwhelming and continuing.
However, the goings on in Ferguson, Missouri since Saturday, when Brown was killed, have transcended his character or his race. The municipal government in Ferguson, Missouri has launched a wide-scale armored offensive against its own citizens and, by close and immediate association, the Constitution of the United States. The as-yet empty and timid response by the governor of Missouri, Jay Nixon, and the president of the United States, Barack Obama, can be taken as a quiet endorsement of a fascist police state, and an open invitation to police nationwide to attack their own citizens and suppress dissent with the threat of deadly force.
In short, the municipal, state and federal governments seem to be daring the people of Ferguson, Missouri to use the Second Amendment of the Constitution to defend their rights to the First and Sixth.
Let’s go chronologically, beginning with what happened Saturday afternoon.
1. The United States Constitution, Amendment Six: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.”
Michael Brown enjoyed none of these.
Brown was executed in the street by an agent of the State of Missouri without having been arrested or charged with a crime. The police account of the story and the eyewitness account of the story differ in only one way — the police say Brown shoved the officer inside the police cruiser and went for his service weapon, whereas eyewitnesses say that isn’t true. Either way, what happened next was that the officer drew his weapon, Brown fled and the officer shot him. Brown — who was unarmed — was wounded and raising his arms in surrender when the officer shot him dead in the street. Nobody disputes this.
Insofar as the Constitution is concerned, it doesn’t matter what illegal activity Brown may have been suspected of doing, but for the record, the officer initiated the confrontation because Brown and his friend were walking in the street as opposed to the sidewalk.
The law allows officers to use deadly force to save their own lives, but that is plainly not what happened in this instance. Brown submitted himself for peaceful arrest, at which point he could have been charged with whatever (Jaywalking? Resisting arrest?) and enjoyed his Constitutionally guaranteed right to a trial.
Instead, a single Ferguson police officer detained, charged, convicted and executed an unarmed teenager and has not yet even been identified.
2. The United States Constitution, Amendment One: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Wednesday, police in Ferguson arrested two journalists, one from the Washington Post and the other from the Huffington Post. Officers said they were under arrest for trespassing at an open McDonald’s, at which they were customers. And that’s just the employed reporters.
It doesn’t begin to describe the First Amendment abuses by police in Ferguson. They have pointed rifles in people’s faces and demanded they shut off their camera phones. They have thrown tear gas into crowds of peaceful protesters and onto private property. They have shot innocent people with rubber bullets. They have thrown tear gas at television news crews and dismantled their equipment.
They have done so much of this that individual instances of it are hardly even worth detailing. It is obvious this is the municipal government’s intentional, tactical response to protest in Ferguson, Missouri.
On Monday, police were protecting people and local businesses from a riot. That was Monday. Since then, the overwhelming majority of aggression and violence has been committed by police, who for the last two days have arrived on the scene of peaceful protests in full armor, pointed automatic weapons at protesters and attacked them with non-lethal weapons.
The message from the government in Ferguson, Missouri is clear: You do not have the right to speak freely, to publish, to assemble or to criticize your government here.
Mike Brown’s death was unnecessary and tragic and the officer who shot him, if there is any justice, will be arrested, informed that he is being charged with murder, and confronted with the witnesses against him in a speedy and public trial.
May the legacy of Mike Brown be that his death was the flashpoint that began a reversal of what had been a slowly and silently expanding fascism in the United States of America.