published Saturday, August 16th, 2014

Community policing vs. occupying forces

Tanks, flash grenades and tear gas don't belong in the hands of street cops in America.

These war toys are the stuff of war, and no matter how much conservative talk shows want to hype it, there is no street war in the United States of America. Or there wasn't until the authorities in Ferguson, Mo., rolled out their surplus Mine Resistant Ambush Protected tanks this week to intimidate the residents of a town who were mourning the death Saturday of an unarmed black teenager at the hands of police.

Thank goodness President Barack Obama and the Missouri governor, Jay Nixon, intervened in the fiasco in the St. Louis suburb Thursday after a night of police overkill and huge clouds of tear gas fired at demonstrators.

The governor on Thursday appropriately replaced local police officers with the Missouri State Highway Patrol and ordered the patrol to let peaceful protesters continue to protest -- as is their constitutional right -- without dangerously aggressive police demands to disperse.

The governor's belated action followed President Obama's public denouncement of "excessive force" by the police and the "bullying" and arrest of journalists trying to cover the news and aftermath of 18-year-old Michael Brown's death. Three very credible witnesses have said Brown was shot running away from police, and again when he -- with hands in the air -- turned around as if to give up.

Police have said Brown stole cigarillos from a convenience store and on the way out the door, shoved a pursuing clerk. That physical contact threw the theft into a classification of a strong-armed robbery -- a felony in Missouri. But police there also have said the street conversation and altercation that resulted in Brown's death was not related to the alleged theft that occurred just minutes before.

As has happened in many towns and cities -- including Chattanooga -- restoring a sense of justice in Ferguson is now becoming job one.

Clearly the problem isn't simply one of police and policing. If so, the tanks and gas bombs would have stopped protests, not escalated them. The problem actually is one of human respect, representation and justice. Ferguson, Mo., is a town of 21,000 people and 69 percent of them are black. But the town has one black council member, and the police force numbers about 55 officers, only about five of whom are black.

Respect is an aspect of law enforcement that often has been overlooked. Remember Adam Tatum? Tatum, with cocaine in his system, kicked a door at Chattanooga's Salvation Army federal prisoner halfway house and brandished a knife in June 2013. Responding officers struck Tatum more than 40 times with a baton, shocked him with a Taser, sprayed him with Mace and punched him in the face a number of times before -- with multiple breaks to both legs including a compound fracture -- Tatum was handcuffed. Even after he was handcuffed and sitting outside, an officer walked over to him, yelled at him and kicked him over. Two officers were fired for using excessive force.

Remember Alonzo O'Kelley? He was a 15-year-old who police said was shot once in the back by Chattanooga Housing Authority police in July 2009 after he pointed a gun at the CHA officer. Witnesses said the boy had dropped the gun and was running away when the officer fired.

Remember Alonzo Heyward? He was the 32-year-old suicidal man with a rifle outside McDonald's restaurant on Rossville Boulevard just two weeks later. Walking with gun in hand, he led officers to his home on Seventh Avenue. Unable to talk Heyward into dropping the weapon that he held to his own throat, officers tasered him. When Heyward clenched and his arms fell with the gun, police feared he was going to fire on them and six officers shot at him 59 times, leaving 43 entrance and exit wounds. No charges were brought against the officers after a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation probe found that Heyward's gun had fired toward the officers. The projectile struck the ground.

These days, respect is getting a helping hand in Chattanooga with a new police chief, Fred Fletcher, who believes in building relationships, not hard feelings and lawsuits.

Ferguson, Mo., needs a dose of the same.

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LibDem said...

It's important to keep response proportionate. If the cops can kill a perp, the perps should have the ability to kill a cop. No fair armoring up!

August 16, 2014 at 8:01 a.m.
conservative said...

Ms. Sohn sure does get to her Liberal nonsense in a hurry. This is the same Ms. Sohn who has urged her sheep to buy a rowboat and emergency supplies because of global warming. I digress.

She writes:

"Tanks, flash grenades and tear gas don't belong in the hands of street cops in America."

Well, sometimes they do. Their use prevented a lot of looting and burning this time for sure.

"These war toys are the stuff of war, and no matter how much conservative talk shows want to hype it, there is no street war in the United States of America."

There would have been except for the show of force.

Now for the really crazy quote concerning the show of force to the mob:

"to intimidate the residents of a town who were mourning the death Saturday of an unarmed black teenager at the hands of police."

"mourning"

This mob was mourning!

A mob of rioters intent on burning and looting were described as "mourning."

Why read any further?

August 16, 2014 at 8:09 a.m.
Rickaroo said...

"Ms. Sohn sure does get to her Liberal nonsense in a hurry." - conservative

There is nothing "liberal" about this article and this is not even a liberal/conservative issue. The militarization of the police forces throughout the U.S. should put fear and revulsion into all of us. Suddenly cops have all of this war-time weaponry at their disposal but they have no training - or have minimal training at best - on how to use it or how to handle angry, rioting mobs. If protests turn violent we have the National Guard to turn to.

I honestly don't see how any right-minded person can say that the sight of cops dressed to the hilt in combat gear and looking like they belong in some sci-fi apocalyptic movie can be a good thing. I would much rather have my cops looking like Andy and Barnie than Robo-cop. Of course, that's a bit of an exaggeration, as few cities in America resemble Mayberry any more. But we should be able to trust and respect our cops, not fear them or look upon them with disgust.

August 16, 2014 at 11:57 a.m.
Ki said...

At last count 80,000 police SWAT raids on american homes had taken place. That's up from 2,000 to 3,000 per year in the 1980s. Many of those raids took place where children were inside the home. When things go wrong children are the most vulnerable and most often harmed. Some have even been killed like 7 year old Aiyana Stanley-Jones who was shot in the head, after being set on fire by a flash grenade. Just recently a toddler was badly burned in Ga. and had to be placed in a medically induced coma after police threw a flash grenade that landed in the playpen where he was sleeping.

From small town to large town America police are carrying out unnecessary raids and they are armed to the hilt with military grade type equipment normally designed for a war zone and not American communities. Every since the pentagon decided to pass its military surplus on the police dept. throughout america, they've been snapping that equipment up left and right. From helicopters to high powered weapons and even machine guns. There's been no particular oversight, rules or restrictions. Its all there for the taking. No one has explained or given justification as to why America's police force should even be in control of such heavy duty artillery.

August 16, 2014 at 4:02 p.m.
Rickaroo said...

And the sad, crazy thing about all of these SWAT raids is that almost all of them are drug related. These militaristic thugs are risking the lives of innocent people (many of them children or infants) just so they can nab some drug dealer or user, who is usually not even posing an immediate threat to anyone at the time of the raid.

August 16, 2014 at 5:58 p.m.
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