Monday, August 18, 2014

On Ferguson

I can't speak to why the case of Michael Brown caught my attention any faster than say that of Eric Garner or Ezell Ford or any of the others.  Certainly, in retrospect the actions of the various police forces in handling the case and the residents have drawn additional attention, but the best I can come up with is that I happened to be on Twitter at the right time following the right people and this case came across my radar pretty quickly. 
There are three job trends in my family, writers, teachers and military or police.  So, I want to start by saying that I have the utmost respect for police officers and the difficult job they face and the idea that their jobs are inherently fraught with danger, that the simplest interactions can escalate quickly.  I also know that despite the fact that we arm our police officers, most do not fire their weapon in the course of their career*, and believe that most of them are acting with the intention of protecting and serving. 
However, I also know that the things have become more and more problematic, as police officers seem to react with a higher level of force when dealing with people of color and/or people who are mentally ill.  So.  Ferguson.  I fairly quickly began following some folks on the ground, as it were, in Ferguson, keeping an eye on the hashtag, and well.  As Maureen Johnson said at one point, it was like a bucket brigade of information, trying to make sure the people explaining, photographing, and videotaping what was going on, got that information out. 
Now, a lot of people said they needed to do this because the mainstream media wasn't there, and I think that was partly true the first night, even though two of the people I was following were a local politician with a background in documenting police and government activity, and a musician who also has done some reporting for a local paper.  And once it became clear that things were happening in Ferguson there were plenty of reporters, so many that someone asked the FAA to clear the airspace to prevent news helicopters. 
I know some people of a protesting bent, and sometimes protesters will intentionally ignore orders to disperse, lock hands together, and get arrested in order to bring greater attention.  So, yes, even peaceful protesters can get arrested.  But I live in DC, the place all sorts of people come to protest, and I have never seen the level of response - tear gas, flash grenades, acoustic weaponry, and rubber bullets deployed.  (Which is not to say our local police is perfect, I would remind you of Trinidad.) 
But, it is not my intention to recap, what has been well documented elsewhere. So, the question you may have is what can you do?  Well, small though it is, I think the bucket brigade of information really has been useful. Folks in the middle east checked in on the Ferguson hashtag and provided advice for residents on how to deal with teargas. And, it helps, after all, that is what we all love about social media, is being able to share what's going on with parts of the rest of the world. 
Educate yourself about what's going on - in Ferguson and where you live.
Vote.  Seriously.  Vote.  Ask questions of your candidates about things and vote.  This is such a great example of how even the local elections are important.  Yes, the police are not usually elected (although sometimes the sheriff's office is) but you want your mayor, your city council, your governor, or whatever elected officials you have to be not just tough on crime, but tough on safety of the residents.  And being a voter who votes, is one way to get your voice heard. 
Also, look into what local groups there might be.  Be it community policing, youth activism, whatever angle to work with people in your community to make it a better place for everyone. 

*This fact is cited a lot across the internet, although it does look like it's partly based on extrapolation, since officially there is no national database that compiles data across the many city, county, state, and other police forces.