Violence escalates in Ferguson

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Nikilesh Thapa

On August 9 of this summer, an 18-year-old black teen was shot and killed by a white cop in Ferguson, Missouri while walking down a street with his friend. The victim, Michael Brown, had recently graduated high school the previous week and was set to start at a technical college. Following Brown’s death were weeks of protests, not only in Ferguson but also around the U.S.

The day after his death, protestors took to the streets with hands in the air, their rallying cry, “Hands up, don’t shoot!” The gesture stemmed from what witnesses claim were Brown’s final actions before Officer Darren Wilson riddled his body with bullets. But, looters soon derailed the peaceful protests by destroying nearby businesses— prompting police use of riot tactics, including tear gas and deployment of military equipment. As protests continued throughout the following weeks, so did the police response. Nearby counties’ forces were called in along with SWAT teams to aid in the dispersal of unruly protests.

Several incidents of improper police responses were reported including the arrests of journalists, forceful evacuations of news crews and tear-gassing of peaceful protestors— among them Missouri State Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal. After several days of violent protests, Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and called in the National Guard to diffuse the situation. Finally, on August 21, the National Guard began to withdraw as the Missouri Highway Patrol took back control citing several days of peaceful of protests.

In total, countless arrests were made during the protests and numerous incidents of excessive police force occurred. Lieutenant Ray Albers, a 20-year police veteran, recently resigned after videos surfaced of him pointing semiautomatic rifle at protesters claiming that he would kill them. Furthermore, another officer was fired from the force after Facebook comments surfaced in which he ranted that the “protesters should be put down like a rabid dog.”

Following the police investigations into Brown’s death, President Obama also dispatched the Attorney General to conduct a separate investigation into Brown’s death. In light of the countless stories emerging out of Ferguson, the Department of Justice should broaden their investigation to scrutinize the use of force by the police. In fact, the Ferguson police department has recently been sued for $40 million in a suit claiming that they used extreme force.

While it is crucial to recognize the excessive police response, it is paramount to understand why protests started in the first place— to express frustration at our justice system and the treatment of minorities in this nation.

According to the United States Census, Ferguson’s population is 67 percent African-American, while its police force is 95 percent Caucasian.  92 percent of the total 2013 arrests made in Ferguson have involved African-Americans. Unfortunately, the sad reality is that Ferguson is not an isolated case; people of color, especially African-Americans, are disproportionately impacted by the United States’ Criminal-Justice system all over the country.

As reported by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, one in three black men will go to prison in their lifetime. Furthermore, African-Americans are 3 times more likely than their Caucasian counterparts to experience the use of force during a police encounter. Just this July an asthmatic black man was killed when NYPD officers put him in a chokehold after being erroneously targeted after breaking up a fight.

Many often make the claim that we live in a post-racial America, one in which racial prejudice is devoid and there is true equality. But, the events that transpired in Ferguson evidently prove otherwise. Although facts continue to emerge and the entire story is not yet clear, it is essential to address the racial divide of this nation in order to prevent another Ferguson.