Live from Ferguson: The Police Presence Is Still Making a Bad Situation Worse

Could the cops just this once, as a show of good faith, bug out? Not all of them, of course. Just make a show of sending the SWAT teams home or removing the overwhelming police presence from the center of West Florissant Avenue?
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Chez Pazienza
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Could the cops just this once, as a show of good faith, bug out? Not all of them, of course. Just make a show of sending the SWAT teams home or removing the overwhelming police presence from the center of West Florissant Avenue?
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There are a lot of good stories here in Ferguson right now. Walking the streets you happen upon dozens upon dozens of deeply philosophical and intensely passionate conversations about racism, police violence, and simply what it means to be black in America at this moment and what it's meant throughout history. One elderly woman marching yesterday told me that she fears for her grandchildren now the same way she once feared for her sons, all of whom managed to make it out of their teen years and into adulthood without being shot or put in jail. Normally it would be shocking to hear someone celebrate the clearing of expectations so depressingly low, but understanding what many black people face in communities like Ferguson helps you to also understand why overcoming such astonishing adversity should be considered at least a minor victory.

Maybe this is naive but last night, with the crowd rather thin and community leaders once again directing the demonstrations -- and from a practical perspective, with businesses having boarded up and temporarily shut down after those first couple of nights of unrest -- you had to wonder whether backing off would be the best thing police could possibly do. If you added up the police and the media, you'd almost certainly have a larger number than that of the protesters themselves. And so I thought more than once: could the cops just this once, as a show of good faith, bug out? Not all of them, of course. Just make a show of sending the SWAT teams home or removing the overwhelming police presence from the center of West Florissant Avenue? Yes, anything could happen, as I've documented for two nights now -- and not even the worst nights that have been seen so far here in Ferguson, by a long shot -- but wouldn't it be a smart show of community policing as well as a savvy political move to make the statement that the people on the ground were adult enough to be allowed self-determination?

There's been trouble over and over here, much of it caused by agitators who long specifically for a confrontation with the cops -- some of whom aren't even from Ferguson. (Don't even get me started on the white libertarian anarchists who, as they've done before so many times, continue to hijack this event and use it as an excuse to air their many anti-establishment grievances.) That said, even though the police themselves should take their fair share of the blame for their often indiscriminate use of force during these protests, there are moments here with the cops and the protesters come together. I've seen it myself; it truly is not all antagonism on the ground night after night. There are a lot of demonstrators who appreciate the work the police do, they simply fear the latitude they have to subjugate and kill black people, often with what appears to them to be impunity. And the constant police oversight here may be exacerbating the problem rather than alleviating it. Last night it really did look as if a decision to responsibly draw down the law enforcement presence would have been viewed as a welcome olive branch in this struggle.

I mentioned last night my cynical view of the media and believe me that's one honed to a knife's edge from more than two decades of working as a journalist, much of it in broadcasting. There are so many people with cameras, microphones and notepads wandering the streets in Ferguson right now that you wouldn't be faulted for believing there are no singular, personal stories of interest left to tell. (Dave Barry once put it best: You can tell the press has run out of things to say when it begins interviewing other members of the press.) But the media attention actually is a story in itself because we've seen this sort of thing time and time again in the wake of a tragedy. It's always the same: the media descend and suck the suffering dry like some emotionally vampiric xenomorph, then leave once there's no agony left to report on. There are a lot of activist journalists who are here because they believe each and every detail of this is worth broadcasting to the world as it serves a particular agenda -- an agenda that's very valid in this case -- but there are plenty of others just looking for "great TV," as my old end of the biz has always called it. Hopefully the awareness this story is raising about the dynamic between cops and the black community and the somewhat frightening militarization of the cops themselves is enough to counteract some of the unseemliness of a media machine suddenly swarming over this town and essentially waiting to see if it eats itself alive.

Barring a grand jury indictment, or lack of one, this will probably be my last full day here. More reports to come.