Understanding What’s Happening in Ferguson

By Carla Murphy Aug 12, 2014

If you’re catching up on the shooting of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown by a Ferguson, Missouri, police officer, the day’s must-read is this exclusive Trymaine Lee interview with Brown’s friend. It describes 22-year-old Dorian Johnson’s last image of Brown. With police brutality and the apparent cheapness of black life making national news again, reaction and commentary are coming at a furious clip. Here are a few items to guide you through the noise.

As my colleague Jamilah King wrote yesterday, Michael Brown’s shooting did not occur in a vacuum. Besides racial profiling, police shootings and lack of transparency surrounding their investigation has for the past few years been a subject of local concern. According to a January 2012 Post-Dispatch analysis, "St. Louis officers fire their guns at a higher rate than those in many other metropolitan forces…. And unlike many other departments, St. Louis has no third party checking the process." 

What’s up with the PD’s tank-like vehicles and full-on riot gear? Local police departments all over the country, according to a June New York Times article, have been tricking themselves out with surplus Iraq and Afghanistan war gear, blurring the line between police officer and soldier. Welcome to the new normal.

Creative push-back against mainstream media portrayals of young black men as thugs or criminals came via trending hashtag #IfTheyGunnedMeDown. But see, too, Journal-ism’s interview with a top Post-Dispatch editor concerning newsroom diversity. Ferguson’s PD may be overwhelmingly white–but so too are area newsrooms. It raises questions about local media’s responsibility to not only cover the accretion of abuses leading up to Brown’s death but to measure and track the community’s growing unrest. 

Over on The South Lawn blog, guest columnist S. Lorén Trull gets personal and responds to one popular question asked after suspicious police shootings: why don’t victims just comply?

And finally, on Medium, organizer Melissa Byrne explains, "How the [Ferguson] police are doing everything wrong and how it’s dangerous for everyone." Be sure to check the solutions that round out Byrne’s 7-point don’t list, including:

Sending in the dogs. On the evening of the murder of Mike Brown, the police responded to the first wave of community anger and protest with German Shepherds. First, for historical reasons it is wrong for white police officers to show up in a predominately black community with attack dogs at a protest. Secondly, over policing creates an environment where anger accelerates.

Dressing up in riot gear. You don’t wear your party shoes if you don’t want to dance. When the police dress up in their riot gear and plastic shields, they are sending the message that they are ready to fight the crowd. 

Those links should get you started. Feel free to add your own must-reads. See you back here tomorrow.