Undoubtedly you’ve seen the news of civil unrest, protest marches, looting and rioting in Ferguson, MO, a suburb of St. Louis. Sparked by the shooting of an unarmed black teenager by the police, we’ve seen several nights of violence.
First, we withhold judgment on whether the shooting of Michael Brown was justified or not. We simply don’t know. But as Popehat has pointed out, there is a double standard at work here. Should you or I in our capacity as private citizens shoot someone, you may be certain that our names would almost instantly be released to the public. Further, we would almost as quickly find ourselves facing questioning by the police. Police officers however, can rest assured that their department will not release their names, nor will they necessarily face questioning under anything like the circumstances you and I would. That arrogation of privilege and assumption of innocence to the police goes a long way to fueling suspicion in the community that the police are simply incapable of conducting a fair investigation into their own actions, or that any wrongdoing will be held accountable, either by the involved officer, or the department.
In a pattern that was all too sadly predictable, a “memorial vigil” for Mr. Brown quickly devolved into looting and a frenzied rampage. Because it was so predictable, there was already a heavy, highly visible police presence. And of course, looting and rioting tends to bring an energetic response from law enforcement. Which begets even greater frustration with the police from the community, especially those who have continued to peaceably assemble and protest the shooting of Mr. Brown.
And of course, that has given us scenes of even more heavily armed police with armored vehicles attempting to impose order on Ferguson.
If it becomes necessary to deploy men in soldiers uniforms, with rifles and body armor, and armored vehicles, into a community to restore order, I would suggest that the increasingly militarized police are the wrong people to use.
There’s another body that has a long history of being so used, and indeed is enshrined in our Constitution with the duty to do so- the militia.
Today’s organized, constitutional militia is the National Guards of the various states.
Article I, Section 8, in part:
To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;
To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;
If you are going to militarize the enforcement of the law, use the military.
Every National Guard unit has a mission of addressing civil disturbance, and the training for that mission.
Further, at this point, the police in St. Louis County have shown an appalling behavior, not simply dispersing crowds, but arresting people who are clearly not in any way engaging in civic unrest. Watching this clip from KDSK news, one can only conclude that the TV news crew was deliberately targeted with tear gas to force them to stop filming the police. As I started writing this post, news came that Missouri Governor Nixon has ordered the St. Louis County Police to withdraw, and to replace them with Missouri State Police officers.
Sadly, this will have little or no positive effect, as the community has absolutely no faith that any police agency can be trusted.
The National Guard, on the other hand, is a relatively disinterested party here. Any Guard unit would inevitably become a locus of hate and frustration for some, but for others, perhaps the majority of the community, they would at least be seen as not the same blue line that killed Mr. Brown.