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“A Collective Failure”: The Crisis Of Leadership And Confidence In Ferguson, Mo.

Michael Brown was shot and killed by Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9. The unarmed 18-year-old’s body laid in the street for more than four hours. Ever since that fateful Saturday afternoon, there have been protests about the way Brown was treated and the way African Americans in general have been treated in the St. Louis suburb. The most dramatic and revealing were those that erupted the evening of Aug. 13. Demonstrators were met with a militarized police force that lobbed tear gas at them, shot rubber bullets at them and arrested journalists. But in the chaotic nighttime scene three people were missing: Gov. Jay Nixon (D), Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III and Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson.

As their city and state and their police forces ran roughshod over the First Amendment rights of demonstrators with the entire world watching, those three public officials were nowhere to be seen. Their inexcusable absence that night, the lack of leadership it exposed and the subsequent bumbling efforts to show control might explain why there was so much hysteria leading up to tonight’s announcement that Wilson will not be charged in Brown’s death.

My view of their actions is certainly colored by my 16 years in New York City. Whenever anything big happened or was about to happen in the Big Apple or the Empire State (from snow storm to terrorist attack), you were guaranteed to see the mayor, the governor, the police commissioner and every relevant city and state commissioner squeezed behind a podium to give anxious New Yorkers an update. Both in word and presence, those public officials at least gave the impression that someone was in charge. Someone was accountable. Someone was speaking for them. Nixon, Knowles and Jackson (especially Jackson) have consistently failed that basic test of leadership.  The leaks from other local law enforcement agencies throughout the various investigations served to exacerbate tensions.

In the three months since Brown’s killing we have come to learn that their collective failures are just the tip of the iceberg of problems in Ferguson. My colleague Radley Balko reported extensively on how municipalities in St. Louis County, Mo., profit from poverty. “If you were tasked with designing a regional system of government guaranteed to produce racial conflict, anger, and resentment,” he wrote, “you’d be hard pressed to do better than St. Louis County.” The inherent mistrust of police, the grand jury process and the motives of elected and law enforcement officials that we have seen from blacks in Ferguson can be traced back to the Balko’s observation.

The Post’s Wesley Lowery is back on the ground in Ferguson just as he was on that tumultuous night in August. When I asked him whether Nixon, Knowles and Jackson had a local presence now that wasn’t being captured at the national level, his reply came quickly. “Not at all. There is no leadership from electeds on the ground. None,” he said, explaining his assessment came from “dozens of interviews” and his personal observations.  “This is a disenfranchised populace – they don’t vote for their elected leadership, and don’t feel represented by them, so why would they turn to them for leadership now?”

After his 20-minute presentation of the grand jury decision and the evidence supporting it, St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCollouch acknowledged that the killing of Brown opened old wounds and urged protesters to “continue the demonstrations, continue the discussions” to ensure this doesn’t happen again — soothing words from a public official that are of no comfort to a community that was hurting long before Wilson shot and killed Brown on a hot summer day.

 

By: Jonathan Capehart, Post-Partisan, The Washington Post, November 24, 2014

November 30, 2014 Posted by | Darren Wilson, Ferguson Missouri, Michael Brown | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Usual Sorry For Your Loss”: Ferguson Police Chief’s Sad Excuse For An Apology

It took four hours for the police in Ferguson, Mo., to remove the body of Michael Brown, the unarmed teenager killed by a police officer, from the street where it lay. It took the police chief nearly seven weeks to issue an apology to Mr. Brown’s family. His videotaped comment was late, oddly staged and very unclear about what exactly he was apologizing for and why (apart from perhaps a desire to keep his job).

The videotape (http://nyti.ms/1BceEnw) by the police chief, Thomas Jackson, was bizarre in many ways. Appearing before an American flag and what looks like a city flag of Ferguson, he was not just in plain clothes instead of his uniform but he was wearing a golf shirt.

He started by talking about how the shooting of Michael Brown had sparked a national “conversation” about race and the role of the police “in that conversation.” Well, no. It sparked angry protests that were met by police armed to the teeth with automatic weapons, armored vehicles and tear gas. It sparked some rioting and looting. And it sparked outrage among African Americans around the country and not just in Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis that is heavily black but has a town government and police force that is almost entirely white.

If that is Mr. Jackson’s idea of a conversation, I’d hate to see his idea of an argument.

Mr. Jackson allowed that Mr. Brown’s death was “the central issue that brought us here today.” And he said to the slain teenager’s family: “I’m truly sorry for the loss of your son. I’m also sorry that it took so long to remove Michael from the street.”

Please note: He’s not apologizing for the actual killing of Mr. Brown. He’s just offering the usual “sorry for your loss” that police offer people whose loved ones are killed – say in an automobile crash. And as for his apology for the four-hour delay in which the boy’s body lay on the street, that seemed pretty conditional too.

“The time that it took involved very important work on the part of investigators who were trying to collect evidence,” he said, adding that the investigators “meant no disrespect” and were “simply trying to do their jobs.”

He then apologized — actually seeming sort of sincere about it — to “peaceful protesters who did not feel I did enough to protect their constitutional right to protest.”

But it was not that you did not do enough to protect that right, Mr. Jackson, but you sent your small-town trained, big-war equipped cops out to deny them that right with the threat of deadly force.

As I said, I’m not sure why Mr. Jackson made this video. But it’s far too late, far too confused and far too self-serving to matter a whole lot.

 

By: Andrew Rosenthal, Taking Note, The Editorial Page Editors Blog; The New York Times, September 26, 2014

 

September 28, 2014 Posted by | Ferguson Missouri, Law Enforcement, Michael Brown | , , , | Leave a comment

“Building A Public Case”: The Ferguson Police Chief’s Statement Is Only Making Things Worse

Five days after a police officer fired multiple rounds at and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, we now know that the officer’s name is Darren Wilson. Thanks to Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson, we also know that officers believe Brown had just strong-armed a convenience store clerk for a $48.99 box of Swisher Sweets cigars. Jackson provided the incident report from that robbery to reporters in Missouri this morning. He took no questions, suggesting reporters take some time to “digest it.”

Having read it and re-read it and digested it, I find the Ferguson police department’s behavior over the past week even more baffling than I did before.

For the sake of argument let’s assume (a huge assumption) that the Ferguson police are not trying to build a public case for Wilson’s innocence by assassinating a dead man’s character.

Why did it take five days for them to release this information, none of which has anything to do with the circumstances of Brown’s death?

What happened to the box of Swisher Sweets?

Per Matt Yglesias, if Brown was a suspect in a robbery, why wasn’t his accomplice Dorian Johnson arrested and charged rather than allowed to escape and appear in multiple television news interviews?

Was Johnson lying when he claimed that Wilson approached him and Brown not to question or arrest them for robbery but to tell them to “get the fuck onto the sidewalk”?

We don’t know because Jackson says he “cannot discuss the investigation about the attempted apprehension of the suspect in that strong-arm robbery. That goes to the county prosecutor’s office.”

I’m sure there are more questions. This is just for starters. But it smells very bad when a police department refuses to release any information about a deadly officer-involved shooting, unleashing five days of madness, and then reverses course to assure the public that Brown was a menacing, cigar-stealing thug.

I’ve seen a number of people online entertain an obvious but important hypothetical series of events like the ones in Ferguson, only with races reversed. Among the reasons such a scenario is so hard for so many people to fathom is that we instinctually believe protests would be unnecessary if a black officer killed a white kid because justice would be meted out swiftly and transparently.

Do a quick Google search for news stories about a black police officer killing a white teenager and the internet will spit back dozens of stories about precisely the opposite scenario. Michael Brown after Michael Brown.

But you’ll also find the Orange, Texas case of Captain Robert Arnold, a black Ranger who wrongfully killed James Whitehead, a white former Marine. Whitehead barked racial slurs at Arnold, who was responding to an altercation at an auto parts store, but the police insisted the slurs had nothing to do with the use of force. Arnold’s name was released to the press immediately. He was placed on administrative leave following the shooting. A Grand Jury said it lacked sufficient evidence to recommend a prosecution, but Arnold was nevertheless suspended indefinitely because, as police chief Sam Kittrell told Arnold in a letter, “alternative measures on your part would have prevented the necessity of the use of deadly force.”

Perhaps the investigation into the Wilson shooting will proceed just as smoothly from this point forward. Perhaps Jackson will have compelling answers to the above questions next time he meets the press. But nothing we’ve seen so far inspires much confidence that either of these things will happen.

UPDATE: We now have an answer to question number four, above. According to Police Chief Jackson, “The initial contact between the officer [Darren Wilson] and Mr. Brown was not related to the robbery.” Wilson approached Brown and his companion “because they were walking down the middle of the street, blocking traffic.”

In other words, Wilson didn’t know about the robbery at all when the encounter began. Which calls the incident report’s legal relevance to the circumstance of the shooting into question. If the altercation began under totally different pretenses, why try to connect the two? One reason would be to build a narrative that’s consistent with Wilson’s story. If Brown had just committed a crime, and was willing to tussle, and Wilson thought he was dealing with a couple of harmless jaywalkers, then it’s easier to believe that Brown was combative and Wilson was caught off guard. Both things need to be true if we’re to believe Wilson’s version of eventsthat Brown assaulted him, lunged for his gun, and was subsequently shot.

 

By: Brian Beutler, The New Republic, August 15, 2014

 

 

 

August 16, 2014 Posted by | Civil Rights, Ferguson Missouri, Law Enforcement | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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