It has been nearly a quarter of a century since the bloody “Rodney King” riots ripped through Los Angeles. In the years since those horrific events in 1991, police departments across the country have been faced with numerous racially-charged altercations – including many involving police shootings of civilian suspects. During that same time, American taxpayers at all levels of government have seen hundreds of billions of their dollars spent to improve law enforcement training, procedures, and equipment. But, have we learned anything?
If what is unfolding in Ferguson, Missouri following the August 9th fatal shooting of unarmed, black teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer is any indication, all that training, money and equipment has been utterly wasted.
In less than one week, Ferguson transformed from a small and largely unknown St. Louis suburb into an occupied territory in the middle of a raging warzone. The act that initially sparked this unfortunate series of events -- the shooting death of Brown – was quickly overtaken by an embarrassing series of missteps by political and law enforcement officials. The manner in which these bumbling officials issued conflicting and inconsistent statements and took similarly indecisive actions, serves as a lesson in how not to handle such an incident.
One of these factors, of course, is the danger posed by the over-militarization of civilian law enforcement. This highly problematic process moved into high gear with the 1993 ATF-Branch Davidian confrontation outside Waco, Texas, and accelerated rapidly after the 911 terror attacks. In recent days, many commentators and experts have focused on this very real and continuing threat to our civil liberties (I have written in the past about this alarming problem). Still, the infatuation many local and state law enforcement agencies have with whiz-bang military firepower, vehicles, clothing and mindset shows little sign of abating.