Ferguson’s rioting is now yesterday’s news, except that Eric Holder is going to investigate the crap out of it to get justice immediately, while Fast and Furious is apparently a cold case. But I think it’s important to bring this up before it’s totally forgotten.
Among the complaints about the Ferguson situation was “the militarization of police”, which is an argument I’m pretty skeptical about. People seem to pine for a past that didn’t quite exist, demand that cops facing Molotov-throwing rioters still act like Sheriff Andy Taylor, and seem to miss that the reporters aren’t filming the crowds as much as the cops – and missing out on the crowd helps to miss the point.
First off, a quick photo of the “good ol’ days” before the police had rubber bullets and tear gas and sirens and MRAPs and flak jackets and before Tennessee vs Garner (where cops could apprehend by fire) and before Miranda rights:
This is from the Harlem Riot of 1964:
In that particular incident, there was protesting, rioting, and looting. Given the situation at the time, the guy on the ground could be any of those, and the police could be quelling a disturbance where he’d just attacked someone, or they could be racist thugs in uniform beating the crap out of an innocent man for getting “uppity”.
But those guys are also dressed pretty normal for the time.
These people in Ferguson are not:
If you watched more than a couple minutes in, you saw “protesters” wearing helmets and gas masks. Here’s a screenshot from 1:03 of a “protester” putting on their helmet & gas mask:
That’s escalating a situation.
Among the handful of people yelling, there are also a dozen people there to record an incident that they are precipitating. There are agitators there with cameras specifically to instigate – that’s why they brought gas masks and helmets.
The police there were dealing with rioters, looters, and arsonists across the city. The police are trying to disperse a crowd that started aggressive and is getting worse and they’re using non-lethal crowd control techniques that are being neutralized by some agitating “protesters” who came ready with countermeasures.
You can hear the self-important glee in the voice of the man recording the incident. He’s one of those folks who gets off on the confrontation, because it puts him at the front lines of what he thinks is important – but it’s a situation he’s working to create so he can applaud himself further.
In his own mind, he’s putting his life, and talent, on the line.
What’s really going on is he’s just making the situation worse by escalating it.
No one looks at that video (or any of the rest of it that shows the “protesters” in Ferguson) and says “gee, I want that in my neighborhood”, or thinks “well, that sure showed the police that they should review their procedures, policies, and institutional culture that led to the shooting of Michael Brown and the community is concerned that there should be an impartial review of the incident”.
The militarized protester is armored for the confrontation, and armed with the camera to record the confrontation he precipitates in order to show he’s the victim and justify the beliefs he brought in to begin with.
There are as many people recording as there are with their hands up yelling. They’re brought in by the lure of cameras and the feeling of attention, while that helmeted, gas-masked agitator is using them to prop himself up.
And then of course there are the people throwing firebombs.
A lot of the actions on the part of “protesters” is contingent on police response being very restrained. “Restrained! They teargassed those people!” Yes, restrained.
Unlike in other nations (like Colombia, above), our policemen do have rules, and are held accountable.
That’s why police in the US work to use crowd control that has the least likelihood of causing permanent harm, while preventing personal and property damage in the community the police are hired by. They ultimately are supposed to be there to serve and protect – and for every rioter there are several people in their homes who would like to go to the store tomorrow and not find it burned down.
The protester who’s gone out to confront police with a helmet and gas mask is, again, working to negate the police ability to use crowd control that’s relatively harmless. They want confrontation – whether as an instigator for their own ego purposes as above, or for their own ideological ends. They want an escalating conflict where their weapon is their camera and where they have a mob to do violence for them, and where they can stay and outlast police tactics until the police have exhausted peaceful options.
Clausewitz’s most famous quote was: “War is merely the continuation of politics by other means.”
For some, escalating their politics to conflict, especially with a police force that is duty-bound to protect its city and maintain order, is a win-win. If the “protester” militarizes but with the focus on generating a narrative rather than taking ground, he gets his propaganda victory every time the police are forced to act. He points his camera at the police and not at the broken windows, burned shops, or at the people hiding inside their homes while riots run on their streets. He ignores the people who can’t get to their homes, can’t get to their workplaces, can’t get to stores for food, can’t go outside without fear of a mob – he ignores those in favor of his own political ends. He gets a sympathetic national media to report his story while ignoring the people terrorized by his actions and the actions he instigates. The instability he brings destroys communities and he rewrites the narrative to blame his ideological foes – the police, the business owners and citizens of the city who left – everyone but the person responsible for the violence of the conflict – the militarized protester himself.
It’s asymmetrical warfare and it’s quite effective.