Looking More Deeply Into Ferguson

LAND1-master675A recent article by Dan Berry of the New York Times pointed out some of the deeper impacts on not only the Ferguson community, both black and white, but also the Ferguson police.

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“Just 11 weeks ago, on the morning of Aug. 9, the Ferguson Police Department was an unremarkable Midwestern force, with 54 officers — 50 of them white — in a city of 21,000 that is two-thirds black. By nightfall, it had been transformed into something approximating the occupying force of a white power structure.

“Since then, frustration from years of racial profiling and harassment, perceived and real, has poured out. Ferguson has become a flash point, its police department now a symbol of jackbooted oppression.

“Some of the actions taken by the Ferguson police after Mr. Brown’s death certainly fueled the ensuing outcry: leaving the body in the street for several hours, for example, and using heavy-handed force during the protests, at which hateful things were said from both sides of the so-called skirmish line.

“But there is another side to this tragedy’s aftermath. It is not the only side, or the opposite side. Just another side…

“These days, Ferguson police officers say that they live as though someone out there intends to do them harm. They no longer wear their uniforms to or from work. They vary their routes back home. A few have relocated their families.

“Even a simple stop for a soda at the Circle K has become unsettling, because of what the police describe as social-media talk about catching Ferguson officers off guard at the convenience store — and shooting them in the head.

“’You are constantly wondering,’ Sgt. Mike Wood, a Ferguson native, said. ‘I know I didn’t sign up with Burger King, but….’

“One afternoon this month, Sergeant Wood, 57, and Officer Gregg McDanel, 53, sat just down… The two men have a combined 45 years with the Ferguson police, but they say that not once in all those years did they have cause to wear a riot helmet — until now.

“Now, they have become accustomed to standing in riot gear outside their workplace, where, they say, a small number of protesters have occasionally tossed bottles, rocks and words intended to goad. One night included the muzzle flash of a gun, they said.

“Officer McDanel, who handles the evidence room, said that for the first time in his career, his wife had cried as he walked out the door, headed for work.

“Late last month, a Ferguson officer was shot in the arm after coming upon an apparent break-in at the new community center. As dozens of officers, including Sergeant Wood, assembled at a nearby staging area, so did dozens of protesters, guided to the location by social media. Some, he said, shouted sentiments like ‘How does it feel?’ ‘It was sickening,’ he said.

“Into the station came Sgt. Harry Dilworth, 45, a 21-year veteran. As one of the few African-Americans on the force, he said, he has been targeted for particular abuse. ‘I’ve been called a racist,’ he said. ‘A racist!’ An Army reservist, he has done two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, and the habits he acquired overseas serve him well these days in Ferguson. He sits farther back in his car seat, so that his body is blocked by the door post. At stoplights, he leaves space between his car and those around him. He watches his rearview mirror. ‘We have to adapt to the inherent threats,’ he said. ‘Back in July, I didn’t have a gun at my front door.’

“Sergeant Dilworth said that these precautions were necessary because, several weeks ago, activist hackers made public the names and addresses of Ferguson officers, with the promise ‘to wreak hell on our lives.’

“’I’ve canceled everything electronic,’ he said. ‘I almost went to a rotary phone.’ Now, Sergeant Dilworth sometimes directs officers to set up perimeters of safety on what would have been routine calls. He also reminds them not to react to words, recalling one encounter in which a protester confronted an officer and screamed ‘about what he was going to do to his wife and daughter.’ ‘I told him not to listen to that garbage,’ he said.

“’The community itself, they’re supporting us,’ the sergeant added. ‘But that small microcosm of protesters is starting to wear on them. They’re tired.’

“Weariness defined the face of Chief Jackson, 54… Before his appointment in 2010, he was a decorated officer who spent 30 years with the St. Louis County Police Department… an active community volunteer; and a gifted tenor who sometimes sang at St. Louis Blues hockey games. Since Mr. Brown’s death, though, Chief Jackson has come to personify a small Missouri department ill-suited for the spotlight. His videotaped apology last month — to the Brown family for the handling of the body and to peaceful protesters who felt unjustly stifled — came across as too little, too late. ‘There’s only one narrative out there,’ the chief said. For example, he said, people believed at one point that the police had set fire to a memorial to Mr. Brown. In fact, Sergeant Dilworth tried but failed to save it. (‘Only one person tried to thank me,’ the sergeant said. ‘Out of 50.’)

“The chief said people should not forget that some of the protests over these past two and a half months have been violent. ‘The reality was, it was a deadly-force situation,’ he said. ‘And nobody got hurt.’ But Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum in Washington, said that the Ferguson Police Department was paying a price for failing to develop a stronger relationship with its African-American constituency. ‘They’re trying to build trust from a defensive position instead of having done it beforehand,’ Mr. Wexler said. ‘They have a difficult job.’

“That job will not get easier anytime soon. The expectation in the basement police headquarters is that if the grand jury indicts Officer Wilson, there will be unrest, and if it does not indict Officer Wilson, there will be unrest.”

To read the full article, CLICK HERE.

What happened in Ferguson?

CLICK HERE for a well done overview.