14 Aug 2014

Mike Brown shooting: Obama urges ‘calm’ in Ferguson

If you’re wondering why Ferguson, Missouri, suddenly looks like a war zone, it’s not only got to do with the aggressive stance of the county police but also their weaponry.

The American Civil Liberties Union has done work on the militarisation of the police in the US. In June, it estimated that 500 ex-military armoured vehicles are now parked up in the garages of American police. Various US newspapers are reporting that Ferguson police (all 53 of them) now have two armoured vehicles and nine utility trucks, gifted them by the United States Department of Defense free of charge.

So, it’s not only the bonfire of racial relations in the US, and the violent death of this unarmed black teenager, which is inflaming tensions in Ferguson. It’s the tactics and equipment chosen by the police to deal with the fallout.

President Obama has just spoken, urging healing and calm. He’s spoken of the need to recognise one American family, and a set of common values. And required an open and transparent investigation of what happened. Oh, and he mentioned that there’s no excuse for excessive force by the police, and how journalists should be able to do their jobs.

In truth, we don’t know what happened to Michael Brown. But those who are protesting on his behalf say we should – there should have been more transparency – rather than the rush to deny and contain.

His friend, Dorian Johnson, makes a compelling eyewitness. He describes Michael and himself on their way home from a local shop, when they were stopped by an aggressive police officer, who unprovoked, opened fire on both of them. He gives heart-breaking testimony of watching his friend fall to the ground.

The police say their officer was assaulted, and shots were fired when Michael tried to grab the officer’s gun.

The governor is on his way to Ferguson, with the president’s blessing. Both the state and federal attorney generals are now on the case. There are rumours that the county police may find themselves replaced in short order by other authorities (the national guard, or state police).

Amid all this heat, and smoke, I’ve just watched our story about A-Levels’ results day in the UK. All those voices of excitement, and anticipation of what comes next, what you might become, of doors opening. Michael Brown was meant to start college this week. It’s right and just that questions be answered to explain why and how it is that he didn’t get to do that.

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