Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of Michael Brown’s death. The Ferguson, Missouri youth was killed by a police officer whom he violently attacked. No charges were filed against the officer because he acted in self defense.
The anniversary served as an occasion for protests in Ferguson. The protests, in turn, served as an occasion for looting and shooting.
The Washington Post reports that “while most of those who came to Ferguson to demonstrate gathered at a rap concert and a panel discussion, groups of young men began breaking into storefronts along West Florissant.”
The “young men” weren’t just breaking into storefronts. Paul Hampel, a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, says he was beaten and robbed while reporting on a break-in on West Florissant.
In response to this lawlessness, police cut off traffic to the area and deployed officers in riot gear. According to the Post, this “prompted angry locals and some protesters to gather opposite the line of officers.”
Police officers trying to prevent looting and beatings? Can’t have that.
Meanwhile, in a nearby area two groups began shooting at each other, according to St. Louis County police chief, Jon Belmar. He says that 40 to 50 shots were fired in less than a minute.
A member of one of the groups, Tyrone Harris (age 18), whom police had been monitoring because he reportedly was armed, moved away from the area. According to Belmar, when an unmarked SUV with its interior red and blue lights illuminated moved toward Harris, he began firing at the vehicle, striking the hood and windshield multiple times. Harris allegedly used a 9mm Sig Sauer pistol that was reported stolen last year.
When the police returned fire, Harris moved away. As he reached a fenced in area, he allegedly fired again at the officers. They returned fire, critically injuring him.
Harris was a schoolmate of Michael Brown. His father and friends who were with him when the shooting broke out deny that he was armed.
This incident was not the end of the Ferguson shootings. At around 2 a.m., near where Brown was shot, two young men — 17 and 19 years old — were hit by gunfire. They say they were walking on the sidewalk when a man wearing a red hooded sweatshirt started shooting at them from the rear passenger side of a vehicle. Fortunately, neither youth sustained life-threatening injuries.
It’s too early to reach a judgment on the shooting of Harris. The physical evidence should be conclusive as to whether, as the police say, he fired at their SUV. The shooting near the fence may be more difficult to sort out.
What’s clear, though, is that the seeming spate of incidents like those in Ferguson is being driven by the lawlessness of young black males. Brown would still be alive if he hadn’t attacked a police officer. Harris wouldn’t be in critical condition if young black males hadn’t started shooting at each other during a commemoration of Brown’s death.
The police in most cases are reacting to the lawlessness. Sometimes officers overreact, with tragic consequences. This seems inevitable given the large number of high stress encounters they have with people like Michael Brown and (if the police’s version of the facts is true) Tyrone Harris.
I’m all in favor of extra training of police officers. But blood will still rush to the head in such encounters.
Is widespread lawlessness in black communities also inevitable? I like to think not.
However, the current trend will be difficult to stem. And it will likely be impossible to reverse if the main takeaway is that this is mostly the fault of the police.