Hot Air Weekend Editor Jazz Shaw believes that pointing out police militarization – not just in Ferguson, Missouri but everywhere – is “a rather rapid rush to judgment and lacking in larger context.” He is flabbergasted that “one local disturbance has turned into a national demand to defang the police.” And he wants everyone to know that he finds this trend of thought insulting to first responders, because “police departments in cities and towns of all sizes have been equipped with more modern, military style equipment for quite some time now and they don’t seem to be converting the rest of the nation into a series of oppressive death camps.”
Ignoring Shaw’s obvious attempt to “Godwin” the conversation into the abyss, perhaps it might be a good idea to answer his objections charitably, providing the larger context he desperately seeks, starting with Ferguson.
The most obvious statement to make at the outset is that neither jaywalking nor suspicion of petty theft nor running away from cops are crimes punishable by death anywhere in the United States. The fact that Mike Brown was killed for one of those three things is outrageous, and people were rightfully angry about it. But that isn’t everything at work in Ferguson. The demography of the town is telling.
According to data taken from the US Census Bureau and a handful of news reports, roughly 64 percent of Ferguson’s population of 21,203 – 14,290 people – are black, yet its mayor, James Knowles, is white; five members of its six-person City Council are white; six of its seven school board officials are white; and out of the 53 sworn officers on the Ferguson Police Department, three – three! – are black.
There’s more. According to the Missouri Attorney General’s office, even though white people in Ferguson are statistically more likely to be found carrying “contraband” on their persons during police searches than black people, the latter are six times more likely to be stopped in their vehicles by local PD, 11 times more likely to be searched and 12 times more likely to be arrested.
Mike Brown’s murder served as a catalyst for an extensively racially profiled, harassed and disenfranchised population to attempt to fight back. And this is not an isolated incident. 2014 has seen several high profile cases of cops killing unarmed, nonviolent men of color, from Luis Rodriguez in Moore, OK to Eric Garner in Staten Island, NY. There have been four such cases in August alone, according to Josh Harkinson for Mother Jones.
Yet Jazz Shaw believes that those arguing against militarization of police, such as Radley Balko, Rand Paul and numerous others, are simply pining for the good old days of policing, or as he puts it, “the era of the lovable flatfoot, twirling his baton and wagging a finger at the precocious kid about to steal some penny candy.”
He wants soldier cops to protect him from riots such as the one in Ferguson (which was, for context, one night out of over a week of protesting and being battered by the riot squads) or the Rodney King riots from 1992. Protect him. He wants soldier cops to patrol the streets in full regalia at all times, in all communities, to protect him and those like him from school shooters, black people, and/or anyone else who dares break the necessarily conservative social contract he has created for us all.
“Before you’re too quick to demand the ‘demilitarization’ of the police,” he writes, “you might want to remember who it is that stands between the neighborhood you have now and South Central L.A. circa 1992.”
We remember. And we want full demilitarization, followed by complete abolition, of not only the Ferguson Police Department but all police, everywhere.