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Press Commentary: What Are Pundits Saying About Ferguson?

A protester on Aug. 16 in Ferguson
Durrie Bouscaren
St. Louis Public Radio

Call for patience and peace - U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder

The full resources of the Department of Justice have been committed to the investigation into Michael Brown’s death. … We understand the need for an independent investigation, and we hope that the independence and thoroughness of our investigation will bring some measure of calm to the tensions in Ferguson. In order to begin the healing process, however, we must first see an end to the acts of violence in the streets of Ferguson. Although these acts have been committed by a very small minority — and, in many cases, by individuals from outside Ferguson — they seriously undermine, rather than advance, the cause of justice. And they interrupt the deeper conversation that the legitimate demonstrators are trying to advance.

The Justice Department will defend the right of protesters to peacefully demonstrate and for the media to cover a story that must be told. But violence cannot be condoned. ...

This is my pledge to the people of Ferguson: Our investigation into this matter will be full, it will be fair, and it will be independent.

Commentary by Eric H. Holder Jr., attorney general of the United States, in St. Louis Post-Dispatch

The Difference Between Ferguson and #Ferguson - UMSL Professor Terry Jones

… we have some company, unfortunately. A Cincinnati or a Louisville would be in a similar situation in terms of the slave history and segregationist legislation. History matters here, very much — and I think more so than people appreciate — because it created the steep hills that need to be climbed in order for people to overcome past injustice. It's what makes us distinctive compared to either a Southern city such as Atlanta or a Northern city such as a Minneapolis/St. Paul or a Cleveland.

But I think it's a mistake to have the underlying causes of this incident focused on the city of Ferguson itself, as opposed to the entire St. Louis metropolitan area. This incident could have happened anywhere in St. Louis. It happened to happen in Ferguson. There's nothing special about Ferguson that makes it stand out from the rest of the metropolitan area. In D.C., it could have happened in Prince George's County; it could have happened in Alexandria. 

From an interview with UMSL Professor Terry Jones in The Atlantic

The growth of #ferguson

The hashtag quickly went international, as this map shows.

Militarization - Washington Post editorial

Nothing justifies looting or assaulting police, but law enforcement officers in Ferguson did not need to respond to mostly peaceful protests by deploying armored vehicles, pointing sniper rifles at civilians and tossing tear gas and shooting rubber bullets liberally into crowds. These tactics have been an affront to a community that needs to be heard, not suppressed.

Editorial in the Washington Post

Race makes a difference - U.S. Sen. Rand Paul

When you couple this militarization of law enforcement with an erosion of civil liberties and due process that allows the police to become judge and jury — national security letters, no-knock searches, broad general warrants, pre-conviction forfeiture — we begin to have a very serious problem on our hands.

Protester in Ferguson On Aug. 16
Credit Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio
Protester in Ferguson On Aug. 16

Given these developments, it is almost impossible for many Americans not to feel like their government is targeting them. Given the racial disparities in our criminal justice system, it is impossible for African-Americans not to feel like their government is particularly targeting them.

… Anyone who thinks that race does not still, even if inadvertently, skew the application of criminal justice in this country is just not paying close enough attention. Our prisons are full of black and brown men and women who are serving inappropriately long and harsh sentences for non-violent mistakes in their youth.

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, in Time

Police-community cooperation, listen to youth - St. Louis American editorials

We also must insist – as a life-or-death matter essential to the peace and functioning of our society – on an immediate and thorough review of police policy, procedure and training throughout the region. There are successful models of police/community cooperation that can be adopted. We must diversify our police departments … . We must train police officers who patrol minority neighborhoods in how to better understand the people on their beats and interact with them in a spirit of mutual respect. And we must stop protecting police officers when they use unwarranted force, against black men or anyone.

In the meantime, our angry youth and many supportive citizens remain on the streets, taunting police in riot gear with snipers sprawled on what amount to tanks, training high-powered rifles on unarmed black people with their hands in the air, chanting, “Don’t shoot!” among other things we won’t print.

We commend St. Louis Alderman Antonio French, state Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal and community activist and writer Tef Poe, in particular, for showing leadership on the streets in these tense days. It is clear, now more than ever, that many more of us need to leave our offices, churches and comfort zones and engage more directly with our angry and misdirected youth.

It should also be painfully clear, now more than ever, that this is not a black problem, but a problem for our entire region and others like it across the nation. True, if our community were more organized and voted its strength, then municipalities like Ferguson would not have the utterly inadequate mayors and police chiefs that are making life-or-death decisions today – and making them very badly, with fatal consequences.

But these consequences have regional impact. In countless editorials, we have urged our corporate and political leaders to do more to include African Americans in educational, economic and social opportunities for the greater good of the region. Over and over, we have exhorted, our region cannot thrive when we consign so many of our youth to the oblivion of failing schools and poor job skills. Now, more than ever, it is clear that our region needs to do more to include African Americans from the earliest ages for the region not only to thrive, but simply to function peaceably.

… We need peace. But first, we need justice and equity, so that Michael Brown’s death is not wasted, like so many young black lives before his, and with them the future prospects of this region and nation.

Editorial in St. Louis American, Aug. 14

Guns - The Economist editorial

… Civilians — innocent or guilty— are far more likely to be shot by police in America than in any other rich country. In 2012, according to data compiled by the FBI, 410 Americans were “justifiably” killed by police — 409 with guns. That figure may well be an underestimate. Not only is it limited to the number of people who were shot while committing a crime, but also, amazingly, reporting the data is voluntary.

Last year, in total, British police officers actually fired their weapons three times. The number of people fatally shot was zero. In 2012 the figure was just one. Even after adjusting for the smaller size of Britain’s population, British citizens are around 100 times less likely to be shot by a police officer than Americans. Between 2010 and 2014 the police force of one small American city, Albuquerque in New Mexico, shot and killed 23 civilians; seven times more than the number of Brits killed by all of England and Wales’s 43 forces during the same period.

The explanation for this gap is simple. In Britain, guns are rare. …

In America, by contrast, it is hardly surprising that cops resort to their weapons more frequently. In 2013, 30 cops were shot and killed — just a fraction of the 9,000 or so murders using guns that happen each year. Add to that a hyper-militarized police culture and a deep history of racial strife and you have the reason why so many civilians are shot by police officers. Unless America can either reduce its colossal gun ownership rates or fix its deep social problems, shootings of civilians by police—justified or not—seem sure to continue.

Editorial in The Economist

If, when, Ferguson blows over - Carl Franzen

For maybe the first time, many Americans are getting a good, hard look at just how militarized and aggressive police forces in their country have become in the past decade and a half. Since 9/11, a heavier police presence has been apparent to residents and visitors of New York and other large cities. But should small town police officers be wearing fatigues, rolling around in armored vehicles, and pointing guns at citizens?

…There's a possibility that things in Ferguson could calm down over the next few days and disputes could shift back to the realms of words and TV show appearances. That too would be a tragedy. … if the country is to change, people can't just sit by and wait for Ferguson to blow over. Because at a certain point, it will blow into your town.

Carl Franzen in The Verge

Lesson from history - Former Missouri senator Jeff SMith

You can’t really understand Ferguson — the now-famous St. Louis suburb with a long history of white people sometimes maliciously, sometimes not, imposing their will on black people’s lives—unless you understand Kinloch.

Kinloch, the oldest black town in Missouri, is now essentially a ghost town, but it wasn’t always that way. In fact, it thrived for nearly a century after its founding in the 1890s. Back then, restrictive housing covenants prohibited the direct sale of property to blacks, so a white real estate firm purchased parcels of land, marked them up over 100 percent, and resold them to blacks." One advertisement noted, "The good colored people of South Kinloch Park have built themselves a little city of which they have a right to be proud. More than a hundred homes, three churches and a splendid public school have been built in a few years."

…A streetcar line ran through Ferguson, helping Kinloch residents travel to jobs throughout the region, and perhaps more importantly, exposing many whites to Kinloch as they passed through. Despite the region’s decidedly Southern folkways and segregated housing arrangements, blacks and whites rode the streetcars as equals. Kinloch itself was also notable for its relative enlightenment; despite school segregation, it became the first Missouri community to elect a black man to its school board.

All that began to change in 1938. A second black man sought election to the school board … and whites responded by attempting to split the school district. It failed: 415 blacks in the south voted unanimously against the effort, while 215 whites in the north all supported it. So to get around the small problem of losing democratically, whites in the northern half of Kinloch immediately formed a new municipality called Berkeley, and a rare Missouri effort at integrated governance ended. Kinloch continued to thrive for the next several decades as a small nearly all-black town of churches, shops, community centers, and tidy homes.

In the 1980s, the airport … began snatching up property to build an additional runway. From 1990 to 2000, Kinloch shed over 80 percent of its population, and as the community fabric frayed, it was increasingly plagued by crime and disorder. 

Former state Sen. Jeff Smith in The New Republic