I watched in horror last night as an overly militarized county police force overreacted and over-responded to protesters grieving the shooting death of an unarmed 18-year-old at the hands of a police officer just a few days ago.
Folks in Ferguson are unhappy, and rightly so. A young man — a young, African-American man in a community that is almost 3/4 African-American — was shot and killed by a member of the community’s police force, a police that has but three African American members. The circumstances are under investigation, and conflicting reports of the how and why are, as one would expect, out there.
There’s plenty to be said about that, plenty to be said about an American justice system that has biases clear to anyone who doesn’t benefit from them. I’m not gonna wade into that morass just now though. I have another morass in mind.
Mike Brown was killed on Saturday. On Sunday, protesters gathered, and later in the evening, some of them went into riot mode, breaking store windows and looting and damaging police cars. On Monday, tactical officers with the St Louis County Police Department were on hand from the start, wearing more body armor than some American soldiers get in war zones and carrying weapons that would make the Bundy crew green with jealousy. Needless to say, things didn’t go well.
Michael Brown’s body (after being unlawfully shot) was left in the street for four hours…. pic.twitter.com/JBq9FuKcZw
— jayme (@JaymeThacker_) August 14, 2014
Angry protesters challenged police, and the police fired tear gas at the protesters. It happened again on Tuesday night. And then on Wednesday, an even larger police presence took to the streets. As on the other days, the protest during the day was peaceful, but tactical officers were an ominous presence in helmets, body armor and armored vehicles. The Ferguson police chief asked but did not order protesters to confine their protests to daylight hours, but he repeatedly said there was no curfew in place. Two reporters — national reporters — were temporarily detained that afternoon when they didn’t move quickly enough to leave a McDonald’s when police barged in and ordered everybody out. They were released when the police chief called and asked what the hell was going on.
— Sam Stein (@samsteinhp) August 14, 2014
Somebody, somewhere threw a rock, or a bottle, or a brick. Somebody else tried to light a wick for a Molotov cocktail. Somebody else saw a gun. And it was on. Police went all out with crowd control, using sound bombs, piercing sirens, flash bangs, tear gas and bean bags.
— David Carson (@PDPJ) August 14, 2014
— Cassidy Moody (@CassFM) August 14, 2014
It was the Middle America equivalent of Israel’s response to Hamas’ homemade missiles. Wanna further piss off angry people? Respond to them angrily and with excessive force.
Today, it’s early yet but there’s been a sea change in Ferguson, Missouri. Gov Jay Dixon finally came to town, after, I suspect, federal officials told him to stop ignoring a serious situation and be the governor he was elected to be. He relieved the St Louis County Police Department and its chief, Jon Belmar, from command of the security in Ferguson, replacing them with the Missouri State Patrol and a captain, Ron Johnson, who grew up in the area.
Johnson promptly ordered no tear gas, no gas masks, no excessive body armor, no tanks, and, while we’re at it, let’s escort a march and I’ll walk with it.
Highway patrol captain Ron Johnson is leading protesters on a march through Ferguson. A corner turned? pic.twitter.com/ewytjhz2uP
— Jon Swaine (@jonswaine) August 14, 2014
This is how it’s done. I have no idea what will happen as the sun sets in Ferguson tonight. I hope this one powerful move will make a difference. This country has more problems we think aren’t problems than we can shake the proverbial stick at, but there’s just no sense in antagonizing an already agonizing situation. And that’s what went on in Ferguson for the first part of the week. There’s plenty that needs to be discussed around this, but the kind of adversarial response that officials obviously thought was a good idea is precisely the wrong idea. People need to be heard, they need to be respected, especially when they’re grieving, when they’re scared and angry and hurt.
— Ryan J. Reilly (@ryanjreilly) August 14, 2014
They don’t need a paramilitary police force staring at them down the scope of an assault rifle. That’s a sure fire way to tell them they don’t matter, which, of course, only confirms what they already knew.
Completely dark in #ferguson now, no choppers, no major police presence. Still a crowd and lots of honking from cars passing by.
— Conetta (@BmoreConetta) August 15, 2014
All killing is wrong. All killing is murder. It doesn’t matter whether you or I think there is a justification for it. There is no justification for it. If we think there is, we’re part of the problem.
The problem is that some of us think others of us are less deserving of living. Whether we believe in god, or gods, or spiritual teachings, or gurus, or nothing at all — not one single human being has the right to make that determination.
Killing is wrong. Killing is murder. To cause the death of another human being is murder, it’s wrong. It’s the ultimate form of aggression, and aggression is a way of life we must put aside. Now.
I have been immersed in the killing in the Middle East for the duration of its current incarnation. It is ugly, and painful. And that’s just from my desk in the safety of my own home. Imagine those who are there.
Killing is wrong. Killing is murder. Calling for the deaths of others is no better — it is the same aggression, the same delusion that some of us are more deserving than others. It is wrong.
Part of my immersion has been to monitor social media from the region. Social media has long been a haven for anonymous threats of violence, and this war is no different. Except that many of the threats are far from anonymous.
These threats come from anger, which comes from fear, which comes from being bombarded by killing, which comes from that belief that some of us are more deserving of life than others. There’s nothing at all wrong with anger, or fear, but killing and threats of killing … are wrong. And believing that we are somehow more deserving than others is the biggest delusion of all.
I can’t say there would be no fear and no anger without killing and threats of killing. That would be a lie, and I won’t lie to you.
But we must defend ourselves, some of us say. No “must” about it. We choose to fight violence with more violence, and if it isn’t obvious just by looking at the tit-for-tat nonsense between Israel and Hamas that such a strategy is a failure, then we’re suffering from a profound lack of connection with reality.
Killing children is wrong, killing women is wrong, killing the elderly is wrong. I can’t say it enough. Killing anyone is wrong.
Killing is wrong. Killing is murder. And please don’t start talking about abortion right now. That’s a different issue entirely, and I’m not interested in talking about it right now. I’m interested only in talking about this fatal, pervasive disease so many of us have willingly contracted. It’s called aggression.
It’s aggression when we kill. It’s aggression when we wound. It’s aggression when we wish someone dead. It’s aggression when we call names. It’s aggression when we hate. It’s aggression when we think we’re better than someone else. It’s aggression when we think we’re less than someone else. It’s aggression when we think someone … some ONE … is wrong.
It’s all the same, differing only in degrees. It starts with believing there’s a difference between us and someone else — that is the source of aggression, the primordial aggression, so to speak. But of course, you say, we’re all different, and I say, on the surface. At our very cores, we are all the same. We are all beautifully, wonderfully human. We all … are.
Some of us are desperately trying to maintain a connection to our prehistoric tribalism. That’s all nations are about, and many religions too. Tribes. Us. Them. The other. From that comes aggression. From that comes a forgetting of who we really are.
When we fail to begin at that very basic beginning, we get the world we have today. It is not human nature to behave like this. It’s learned behavior, taught to us by people who play up the fear, who stir up the anger, because they feel it themselves and they can’t imagine that it isn’t true for everyone. And if it’s not, well, then. You’re one of them. The others, the ones we fear, the ones who make us angry.
There’s nothing inherently wrong about anger or fear. They’re emotions, like any other. We don’t have to like everything that happens. And we don’t have to engage in the same behavior that we don’t like.
We can’t seek help for this in religion, even those that say things like “Thou shalt not kill,” because those religions also say they are the only true religion, setting up the aggression that leads to killing.
And killing is wrong. Killing is murder, whether done in a dark alley or an open battlefield. War is nothing more than mass murder. And it’s wrong.
There is one way to stop this madness. One simple, elegant way. It’s this: Stop. Just stop. Don’t demand conditions, don’t wait for the others to stop. Stop now. Stop firing weapons, stop calling for the death of other living, breathing humans, stop the name-calling, stop the hating, stop thinking that somehow you are better than someone else because you are not.
And neither are you less than anyone else.
And when you stop, step back and look at what you became because of unbridled aggression. Don’t think of why it happened. Just look at what happened. If you try to explain it, if you start to say “but”, stop. Sit still. Stop the stories in your head and look, really look. See those people you think of as “other”, see them as people. Real people. Just people. Stop the stories you tell yourself about them. Let that go. See their fear, their grief, their pain. Really see it. It’s hard, and it’s gonna hurt. Let it.
Now ask yourself this: Is this the legacy you want to leave on this earth? Is this the story you want your life to tell? This ugliness will not go away. It will be a stain on your psyche whether you acknowledge it or not. Do you really want to feed it? Because I tell you now, what you put into the world is what you get out of it. If you really want to seed the world with fear and violence and blood and death and hatred and anger, then that’s what you’ll get in return. It will never end.
I’m nearing the end of another weekend. Tomorrow I’ll again immerse myself in this sickness. I want it to end, and not with a “ceasefire” that is anything but and one side declaring victory. I want all sides to declare victory over war and hatred, over aggression.
It can happen. And it starts with us. The actual combatants aren’t going to stop until they look around and see there’s no longer any public support for their behavior. So tell them. Tell them all.
Killing is wrong. Killing is murder.