Police from Ferguson have been in the news continuously since the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson, and are still viewed as under suspicion by many. Often, the police have not come off in a good light, from the catalytic shooting of an unarmed black teen by the older, white police officer, and the harsh handling of protesters, to the lack of an arrest concerning the officer who shot Brown.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, head of the Justice Department, traveled to Ferguson as part of a federal probe to investigate the conduct of Ferguson’s police department. The actions of the police are still under multiple investigations currently.
Indeed, the police department’s conduct landed their actions before the Senate on Sept. 9. In a hearing on the militarization of U.S. police by supplying them with surplus military equipment, senators criticized the lack of oversight in federal programs that has allowed the police to become so over-armed. Senator Rand Paul stated that the arming of the police was “out-of-control,” while Senator Claire Maskill accused the Ferguson police of responding to protesters as though they were “enemy combatants.” That night, the local Ferguson City Council held a meeting wherein they decided on certain changes regarding the supplying and arming of police with military gear. A review board has been established to assist the Ferguson Police Department (Ferguson PD) and improve relations with the public.
Originally, the Ferguson PD had released a very skewed version of the security tape, of what they called Brown’s strong-arm robbery of a convenience store, but this only cast the Ferguson police under still more suspicion, as the longer version of the security footage shows Brown paying for his cigarillos after all. Neither the owner nor an employee had called in the alleged robbery to the police (a customer did). The Ferguson PD got the tape through a warrant, and gave their version of the tape to the public after the Department of Justice instructed them not to do so.
The Ferguson Police Chief claimed that he had received requests for the tape’s release under the Freedom of Information Act, or Missouri’s Sunshine Law. While broad requests were made for information regarding Brown’s shooting, no specific requests were made about the tape. Reportedly the tape was given because of the investigation of Brown’s involvement in the alleged robbery, but Officer Wilson had initiated contact with Brown before he had been aware of the alleged robbery, instead stopping Brown because he had been walking in the middle of the street. Despite releasing the first altered video because of alleged requests, the police report did not release anything about the details concerning Brown’s death, nor did the Ferguson PD release any in-depth information about Wilson. At a later time the police chief changed the account of what had happened prior to the shooting, and claimed that the officer had seen Brown holding cigarillos.
Police in Ferguson are still under suspicion not just by the people they swore to protect but by lawmakers and other U.S. citizens as well. Investigations are still pending, but already it appears that an examination of the police’s actions may have revealed signs of corruption and hostility toward the people of Ferguson.
Opinion by Jillian Moyet
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Featured image used with permission by Debra Sweet
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