It should be obvious that there are problems between the police and the residents of Ferguson, Missouri, and it should be equally apparent that the abhorrent police practices of killing unarmed black men, whether intentional or accidental must be avoided. The violence that has erupted after the murder of an 18-year-old robbery suspect by a white police officer cannot be condoned, but it can indicate that the police still have a lot to learn about good policing. Despite observations from a distance, it does not take much to see what is wrong.
The facts as noted reveal much, and can be an immediate teaching lesson. The population of the city is 67 percent black, while the police force is 93 percent white. The mayor is white while the city council is also 93 percent white. There are no black members on the school board. These are obvious areas of disconnects, that are not easily remedied.
The behavior and actions of the police can be remedied much easier, and it may go a longer way in avoiding future incidents of racial conflict. Some research has shown that behaviors are altered when actions are recorded. A simple procedure would be to ensure that the police all wear cameras. This would be likely to influence their behaviors and perhaps reduce the propensity to kill unarmed black men, which is a practice that should be avoided.
It is difficult to justify firing multiples of shots to the head to deter an unarmed attacker and there can be questions as to whether this constitutes an act of self defense. Despite the immediacy and emergency of the situation, good police practice and not killing unarmed black men can be demonstrated where suspects can be immobilized by shooting in the legs or arms.
Displaying an overwhelming amount of military type force, as was done, does not help, and does more harm than good. Armored cars on the streets, tear gas, pointing and threatening with rifles, detaining journalists and peaceful protesters, are seen by many observers as severe overreactions. It is true that cops face serious risks but it may be for this very same reason that relations between the police force and the community must be improved. Several U.S. cities have been successful at this very issue, and have seen a dramatic reduction in both the amount and types of crimes that have been committed. Examples are Philadelphia, Baltimore and Alexandria, where the police were actually involved in distributing Thanksgiving turkeys to homes in the community.
It is counterproductive and perhaps detrimental to encourage an environment where the citizens distrust the force, whose mission is supposed to be to serve and protect. Citizens are very likely to fear rather than trust and fear, and are likely to feel contempt and more distrust. The authorities must act urgently to begin a transformation and it may involve replacing some of the officials. Order can be restored when the trust is rebuilt and more attention can be paid to the welfare of the citizens who may now be economically deprived.
The investigations that are currently underway should be vigorously pursued but it may only serve to provide more evidence of the racial gulf that exists. It may not be easy to bridge the gulf but it can start with good police practices that avoid the killing of unarmed black men.It is a disturbing pattern that occurs too frequently and attempts must be made to prevent police from killing men like Mike Brown and others.
Opinion by Dale Davidson