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.