Ten days after Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen, was shot and killed by a white cop, the problem in Ferguson, Missouri, is pretty clear. The people doing the protesting don’t trust the police. And the police seem intent on showing that the protesters are right — that there’s no reason at all anyone should trust them.
Every night, the two sides meet in what eventually turns into a showdown. Tear gas gets fired. Stun grenades are tossed. Guns are leveled. The protesters eventually disperse.
Everyone remains angry. And the cycle repeats.
It can’t keep going this way, but it does. And we’re left to wonder how the dream — or is it the myth? — of post-racial America comes to a full stop at an obscure St. Louis suburb.
The Missouri governor has called in the National Guard, to little immediate effect. The Washington Post has a great look at the mostly peaceful protesters — and how so-called “militants” have arrived from out of town to join forces with the “peaceful,” the “elders” and the “looters.”
Meanwhile, when the cops are not breaking up protests, they have been intentionally targeting the press — three arrests to this point and three near-immediate releases — as if they’re trying to show they don’t have play by any rules, even those penned by James Madison.
Among those who haven’t made any impact is President Barack Obama, who called for calm and restraint from all sides. If anyone was restrained, it was Obama, who has had unhappy experiences — and some mediocre beer — when he gets involved in issues of race.
In his remarks, Obama discussed the reasons for mistrust of the police in black communities. And he lamented the fact that young black men are often subjects of fear.
Obama also said he was sending Attorney General Eric Holder to the scene and avoided the question of whether he might go himself.
Let’s just say, none of it helped.
What Obama might have said was that it was on the cops to make this right — to get out all the information they can and as quickly as possible. We don’t know what happened the day Michael Brown was shot. What we do know is that the cops aren’t telling us what they know about that day.
And so …
We had a dramatic reading Monday night from CNN’s Jake Tapper, a Washington insider who is not exactly your wide-eyed radical, who was on the scene. If you were watching and waiting for the nightly confrontation, you saw the crowds taunting the cops, and you saw the cops were back in force with all their military hardware. The Ferguson curfew was no longer in effect — one more failed attempt at bringing calm — but the cops were telling everyone to leave anyway.
Which is how the showdown begins, as Tapper reports, via Mediate:
“I want to show you this, OK? To give you an idea of what’s going on. The protesters have moved all the way down there … they’re all the way down there. Nobody is threatening anything. Nobody is doing anything. None of the stores here that I can see are being looted. There is no violence.
"Now I want you to look at what is going on in Ferguson, Missouri, in downtown America, OK? These are armed police, with — not machine guns — semi-automatic rifles, with batons, with shields, many of them dressed for combat. Now why they’re doing this? I don’t know. Because there is no threat going on here. None that merits this. There is none, OK? Absolutely there have been looters, absolutely over the last nine days there’s been violence, but there is nothing going on on this street right now that merits this scene out of Bagram. Nothing.
"So if people wonder why the people of Ferguson, Missouri, are so upset, this is part of the reason. What is this? This doesn’t make any sense.”
It doesn’t make any sense. And who knows when or how it will end.
They tell us now that Ferguson was poised to explode. It’s an inner-ring suburb that has experienced dramatic demographic change — moving in just a few years from majority white to majority black. It’s an old story. Minorities move in, and whites move out.
But in Ferguson, the power structure has remained the same. Mostly white government. Nearly all-white police force. And mostly blacks being arrested.
And when Michael Brown is walking in the center of the street with a friend, a white cop, Darren Wilson, tells them to get on the sidewalk. They refuse. And somehow from there, Brown ends up dead, having been shot six times. There have been two autopsies, and a third is coming, but the story doesn’t seem much clearer. The closest there is to an account from Wilson comes via an anonymous caller to a St. Louis talk-radio station.
It was only a few days ago that Capt. Ron Johnson, the state trooper brought in to replace the St. Louis County police chief, looked as if he might be the person to calm the situation.
And he did — for one night. Johnson, an African-American from the area, said all the right things about demilitarizing the area. He marched alongside the protesters.
And then the next day, the local cops — without telling Johnson, and maybe to sabotage him — named the officer who shot Brown and, as a bonus, released the video showing Brown strong-arming a store clerk while he stole some cigars. It immediately was seen for what it was — a Trayvon-Martin-like smear on Brown. Then came the leak of pot in Brown’s system.
Everyone is still angry. And whatever comes next, the cycle seems like a sure bet to repeat.