Ferguson sparks conversations about police militarization, leadership, media

Thursday, August 14, 2014 | 10:25 p.m. CDT; updated 10:58 a.m. CDT, Friday, August 15, 2014

COLUMBIA — Michael Brown, 18, was shot Saturday by a Ferguson Police Department officer. The incident has led to rioting, looting and protests in Ferguson.

Outside events happening in the St. Louis suburb, Brown's death has spurred many conversations surrounding state leadership, police militarization and media response.

Who is in charge?
Many have commented on Gov. Jay Nixon's response to the situation in Ferguson.

USA Today reported Wednesday that Nixon is receiving criticism for what some call his slow response to the crisis in Ferguson. Business Insider reported that Nixon was otherwise occupied at a school board meeting as a SWAT team disbanded protests in Ferguson on Wednesday night.

Nixon tweeted statements, saying the situation was deeply troubling.


Thursday morning, Nixon visited Ferguson to speak with community members.

He said the Missouri State Highway Patrol would take charge of the security situation in Ferguson.

Senator Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., was also in Ferguson on Thursday morning.

In a statement, McCaskill called for demilitarization of the Ferguson police, saying their response had become the problem instead of the solution.

One Twitter user offered a more humorous take on the subject.

Police Militarization

Earlier this summer, The New York Times reported about the influx of military-grade weapons into police departments.

Wednesday night, some took to Twitter to question the militarization of the Ferguson police.

Antonio French, the 21st Ward alderman in St. Louis who was arrested in Ferguson Wednesday night for unlawful assembly, tweeted this photo of the gear being used.

A report from the Riverfront Times out of St. Louis contained accusations that police were using unnecessary force on protesters Wednesday night. Ray Downs quoted a protester who felt crowds were bombarded with tear gas for no apparent reason.

The newspaper also reported Ferguson citizens were sprayed with tear gas in their own backyards.

On Thursday,  The Atlantic's Derek Thompson said militarized police forces should be required to wear body cameras to record their interactions: "A camera pinned to a shoulder is not going to fix all of these problems. But it does offer a simple technological solution to America's warrior-police problem, which has been exacerbated by all the wrong technology."

The New Yorker's Jelani Cobb described his take on what the protests and the police response uncovered: "The message of all of this was something beyond the mere maintenance of law and order: It’s difficult to imagine how armored officers with what looked like a mobile military sniper’s nest could quell the anxieties of a community outraged by allegations regarding the excessive use of force. It revealed itself as a raw matter of public intimidation."

What's in a name?

The name of the officer who shot Michael Brown hasn't been released. According to the Washington Post, the Ferguson Police Department has cited death threats as the reason for not revealing the name.

An article by the Columbia Journalism Review considered the legal and transparency issues involved with releasing the name of the officer who shot Brown. Ferguson police cited part of the Missouri Sunshine Law in defense of their decision not to disclose the officer's name, saying that concealing the name is legal in the face of a clear and present danger.

The hacker group Anonymous released a name via Twitter on Thursday morning, which they claimed was the name of the police officer in question. The group's account was promptly suspended, and the Ferguson police department denied that the leaked name was accurate.

Also on Thursday, the Missouri ACLU chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit to obtain public records related to the shooting.

Around the World
The Daily Dot reported that some Palestinians tweeted tips to Ferguson residents about how best to handle being tear-gassed.

In Missouri, some compared the conflict in Gaza to the one in Ferguson.

The Guardian published a column about the militarization of American police forces. Writer Sadhbh Walshe said data showed Ferguson's crime rate had been falling, and she asked why there were "Iraq-grade trucks" on standby at the police station.

Media Coverage

Many have commented on how the media is covering Ferguson. In an Essence Magazine piece, writer Nikole Hannah-Jones said the media has focused more on looting and rioting instead of the event that started it all: Michael Brown's death. Regarding what happened on Saturday, Hannah-Jones said: "The reliance on law enforcement to provide the official record of a shooting it was involved in is highly problematic. Over and over again, we’ve seen the first reports on police shootings contain errors or just be plain wrong."

In Time, James Poniewozik reported on the media criticism hashtag #IfTheyGunnedMeDown. The magazine said the hashtag is in reference to the photo of Michael Brown that many news outlets used. The photo showed him unsmiling and gesturing at the camera: "It became another racially charged statement in a controversial killing, as outlets illustrated their stories with pictures that — rather than show the dead teen smiling or in a family context — led commentators to call him a 'thug' and thus to suggest that he brought his death on himself."

Those using the hashtag have been tweeting two pictures and debating over which image the media should use.

Press Freedom

Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery was arrested for trespassing Wednesday in a Ferguson McDonald's. According to Lowery's first-person account of the incident, a police report wasn't made for his arrest. Lowery said officers told him to stop video recording and accused him of resisting arrest.

Olga Khazan of The Atlantic wrote about the legal right to video-record police officers: "The arrest and intimidation of journalists for documenting the events in Ferguson is particularly disturbing because it interferes with the ability of the press to hold the government accountable. But actually, anyone — journalist or otherwise — can take a photo of a police officer."

Lowery wasn't the only journalist arrested and threatened. Officers also arrested Huffington Post reporter Ryan Reilly and, according to The Huffington Post, threatened several others.

Supervising editor is Landon Woodroof.

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