Why A Curfew In Ferguson Is The Wrong Choice

Governor Jay Nixon has instituted a state of emergency in Ferguson, Missouri, and enacted a curfew between the hours of 12 and 5 am. This is completely unacceptable, and a furthering of the brutality which we have already seen since Mike Brown was killed last week. Recognizing that there has been looting, rioting and vandalism, these crimes are specific to those that have committed them, and if the state wants to punish them, they should not punish others as well. Not only this, but they have no right to constrain persons to specific locations without first getting a conviction.

If Governor Nixon is intent on punishing the looters, the vandals, and the rioters, so be it, but only through the appropriate means of due process of law. Innocence until proof of guilt is still a fundamental right, and that doesn’t change just because Governor Nixon and his subordinates have woefully and abusively mishandled this situation from the beginning. The rights of the people in Ferguson (both those who have committed crimes during the protests and those who have not) don’t cease to be because it’s a certain time of the day, nor because the situation is difficult for the state to handle. In the entire course of human ethics, ends have never been a justification for means, and that hasn’t changed over the course of this week.

Morality is not about producing the “best” result, it’s about doing the right thing. Using and initiating unlawful force isn’t okay in the interest in preventing other unlawful force, and that doesn’t change because the governor of some state signed a slip of paper. Enforcing a curfew under threat of violence, kidnapping, or fine is a claim to own the persons placed under the curfew, which the state has no right to. Just like any person anywhere else, the people in Ferguson have a right to their own persons and property, and have a right before the state to dispose of these things however they wish, at whatever hour they wish to. If Governor Nixon is interested in resolving the mess which his administration has both caused and made worse through their brutality, he’s welcome to do so, but not through further aggression.

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Ferguson Shouldn’t Be About Race

A protestor throws a lit can of tear gas back at police in Ferguson, Missouri.

 To call the situation in Ferguson, Missouri over the last few days serious would be a gross understatement. There’s a lot going on, a good deal of misinformation, and an abundance of race related discussion. However, race should not be the issue here. The level of melanin in the skin of the victims or aggressors isn’t really all that relevant when it comes down to it. The real issue at hand is the use of force and the way in which the state aggressively expands its powers and takes away individual rights in the face of a potential crisis.

What do we know so far about this situation? First, we know that Mike Brown is dead at the hands of a member of the Ferguson, MO police department, shot and killed on Saturday. Whether the officer used lethal force justly or not is something we don’t know and won’t know for a while.

Second, we know that some of the residents of the town went out looting and rioting on Sunday, causing unnecessary damage to the property of persons who had nothing to do with the killing. We know that this is wrong.

Third, we know since then that there have been huge militarized police forces in the town. We know that these forces have refused people the right to peaceably assemble on a number of occasions. We know that they have repeatedly used tear gas on non-violent protestors, sometimes on people in their own yards. We know that they have used rubber bullets on other non-violent groups. We know that an LRAD sound cannon was used on a group of non-violent protestors. We know that the airspace has been restricted. Plain and simple, this is a de facto institution of martial law, accompanied by extreme and unnecessary violence to maintain it. We know that the police in the town have arrested members of the press, and fired tear gas on camera crews before dismantling their equipment.

This is not about race, it is about excessive and illegitimate use of force. No person who has not committed acts of aggression should be faced with any force, but this is what routinely happens.  No person should have their right to free speech limited by the state, members of the professional media or otherwise. No person should have tear gas fired at them in their own backyard (or anywhere else for that matter) when they have committed no violent crime.

This problem isn’t about race, it’s about the clear and present fact that the American state is completely out of control. The crisis in Ferguson not a glimpse into a potentially horrific future, it’s a current picture of state brutality and lawlessness. This is what happens when there is a monopoly on the legal use of force. If you give a group the right to use force to get what they want, turns out they’ll make use of it, even in situations in which they ought not to. After all, they’re human too, and just as subject to faults as the rest of mankind. It is clear that the tendencies of the organizers are not always good, nor are they often good. The situation in Ferguson may be deescalated soon, and we should certainly hope it is. Even so, we shouldn’t be quick to forget it. The police brutality in Ferguson is not about race, it’s about yet another abuse of power, and it has to stop.