Where was the National Guard when Ferguson burned? Why didn’t local police do more?
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon’s political opponents are asking those questions today. So are the people who have provided reasonable voices throughout the long three months following the Aug. 9 fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer.
Patricia Bynes is a Ferguson Township resident and represents the area as the Democratic committeewoman. I asked her this morning what she saw on the streets Monday night after St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch announced that the grand jury would not indict police officer Darren Wilson.
“Rage. Opportunists. Observation from law enforcement of the rage and opportunists,” she said.
“I saw police officers just standing back and watching.”
Granted, this isn’t an easy call. Police and elected officials were fiercely criticized in August for confronting protesters with riot gear, military-style artillery and tear gas. Nixon was castigated by some people last week for calling a pre-emptive state of emergence in Ferguson and deploying the National Guard.
I had no problem with the governor taking that step. It’s not like he was the only person anticipating that trouble would follow an announcement once the grand jury wrapped up. News organizations from around the globe had reporters camped in the St. Louis area for days for that reason.
By why declare a state of emergency and then order the Guard to remain at a distance from the places where trouble is most likely to take place? They were assigned to protect, among other things, the Ferguson police station, a police command post, and an electrical substation.
“The buildings are still burning,” Bynes said. “How do you think people feel about living next to burning buildings?”
Bynes has been a calm presence throughout this process, but today she sounded emotional and angry. “I really don’t understand. They did absolutely nothing.”
Nixon has called additional guard troops to the area. He needs to have them on the streets of Ferguson tonight, protecting what remains of that city. Plenty of demonstrators wanted to make their feelings known in a forceful but non-violent manner. They were quickly overrun by the bad actors, even though some of the peaceful protesters tried to hold back the looters. When they looked for help, they couldn’t find it.
Law enforcement moved too aggressively in August when protests formed after Brown was killed. They were too passive Monday night. We all understand that it’s hard. But they need to get this right.
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