The Militarization of the Police and Ferguson, MO

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.

Police stand watch as demonstrators protest the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown on August 13, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. (AFP Photo / Getty Images / Scott Olson)

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.

14 thoughts on “The Militarization of the Police and Ferguson, MO”

  1. 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.

    I vote for fully autonomous death-droids, like ED-209 from Robocop.

    “Return to your homes – you have 20 seconds to comply!”

  2. The US version of the Riot Act is:
    Whenever the President considers it necessary to use the militia or the armed forces under this chapter, he shall, by proclamation, immediately order the insurgents to disperse and retire peaceably to their abodes within a limited time. [10 U.S. Code § 334]

    Notice, the President has not done anything to proclaim the Riot Act is in force.

    I thought we had facial recognition software, police records of all twitter and e-mails in the vicinity, and databases of all the perps. Document, filter for the bad actors, and arrest the next day.

  3. “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.”

    Perhaps, but i would be very interested in the demographics of the National Guard units deployed. I would be willing to bet that a very high percentage of the member would be law enforcement personnel and while the different uniform may initially help settle the situation in the long run I don’t think it will make much difference. Cops are gonna be cops and that will bleed thru.

    1. Actually, when mobilized for something like this, the “first responders” such as Police and Firemen are exempt from these call-ups. The theory is that taking them away from their primary duty in a situation where the guard is in a supporting role is counter-productive to solving the problem at hand.

    2. While I was in the TNARNG few of the troops were cops. The recruiters did not like taking cops or firefighters because of the problems of calling them up. During my 3 years I knew exactly one cop and one firefighter in the Guard.

  4. When I was in the Guard, I would have hated to be called up for such duty. Lucky for me, the CALARNG had (has?) many MP units to handle such chores.

    Paul

    1. Paul – during the riots surrounding the Rodney King incident actually the CAARNG was deployed, consisting of (primarily) the Infantry Brigade that is or was part of the force structure. Their involvement is relatively storied. They in one case fired on a vehicle which blew through a checkpoint (obviously with military hardware). Their involvement intoned an attitude of “don’t mess with the military guys” by the rioters. Also during these events one will usually find civilian police stationed with deployed military assets ostensibly to address civil rights concerns not always included in training.

    2. When I was in, the CALARNG was mostly the 40th Inf. Div.(mech.). Likely the Infantry Brigade was used because it was closest/handiest. Also, as was pointed out, the MP units were likely already engaged as civilian cops.

      Paul

  5. Fuel Air bomb Ferguson, MO. Takes out the looters who justify their actions on something NOT connected and the law enforcement folks who are so badly handling this event. Say goodnight Gracie.

  6. Crowd Control – what bayonets are made for…

    … Does our military even train with bayonets any more?

    1. Bayonets like in the Detroit riots and (I believe), the Watts riots? There was a short hiatus from bayonet training but was rather quickly re-instituted.

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