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Ferguson, Mo., police military-style hardware, tactics faulted in new Justice Department report

In this Aug. 9, 2014, photo, police arrest a man as they disperse a protest in Ferguson, Mo. Police antagonized crowds gathered to protest the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson. A new Justice Department report says police violated free-speech rights and made it difficult to hold officers accountable.
In this Aug. 9, 2014, photo, police arrest a man as they disperse a protest in Ferguson, Mo. Police antagonized crowds gathered to protest the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson. A new Justice Department report says police violated free-speech rights and made it difficult to hold officers accountable. The Associated Press

The Justice Department has determined what many people attending protests in Ferguson, Mo., after the police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown knew all along.

The heavily armed police confronting people already upset over the slaying of the unarmed black man by a white officer caused tensions to boil into unrest and violence. The confrontational stand by law enforcement also made it more difficult for authorities to get and keep public confidence and control, The New York Times reports.

The draft report was put together by the Justice Department’s community policing unit. It follows a scathing Justice Department report in March, saying Ferguson police and courts routinely violated the constitutional rights of African Americans with racial profiling stops followed by fines and fees that helped fill city coffers.

The report led to the resignations of the city manager, police chief and other Ferguson officials. Federal cutbacks also have occurred in the kind of military hardware available to police departments.

The latest Justice Department report said the equipment in Ferguson was misused. Tear gas was fired on crowds wrongly, snipers shouldn’t have been deployed and an armored vehicle was used when it was not necessary. Protesters also were told to “keep moving,” which discouraged them from “exercising their First Amendment rights,” the report said.

Both the state grand jury and the Justice Department declined to file charges against the police officer in Brown’s death. That slaying and others nationwide of unarmed African Americans at the hands of police spawned the “Black Lives Matter” movement.

Also, as the first anniversary of Brown’s death on Aug. 9 approaches, the “Don’t Shoot Coalition” of nearly 50 organizations formed in response to the police slaying has released “Rules of Engagement with Youth” for law enforcement of people engaged in demonstrations, sit-ins and other protests.

The points are geared to have police working with the public to protect people’s rights and serve their interests rather than forming a hard battle line against them. The rules include:

▪ Make serving and protecting youth the top priority.

▪ Treat young people as they would want their own children treated by others.

▪ Demonstrate a humane understanding, displaying firmness when necessary but not rigidity to build a better rapport and relationships.

▪ When possible, remove barriers to dialogue such as helmets, weapons and shields.

▪ Allow teens to “vent” and discuss options rather than cracking down quickly with “failure to comply.”

▪ Create emotional “exit routes” as well as physical ones in interactions and confrontations with youth.

▪ Act with an understanding that humiliation or disrespect will only create defiance.

▪ Deflect and de-escalate anger rather than confronting it head on. Humor and self-deprecation can be effective with youth in this regard.

▪ Be open to listening. Avoid personalizing or attempting to debate protesters.

▪ Refrain from intimidation tactics (such as tapping of shields) when children are present. Do not use fear to compel compliance.

▪ Keep physical force to an absolute minimum. Physical restraint must be commensurate with size, strength and condition of the individual.

▪ Refrain from using mace or tasers on youth.

▪ Ensure that police throughout the St. Louis region receive training on the Effective Policing of Youth model.

The Rules for Engagement with Youth foster a very different and better way of working with the public versus inciting confrontations with military-style gear and tactics. Let’s hope the points are taken seriously by law enforcement and used this summer.

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