Opinion by C J Oakes
Those who follow this blog know that we do not take it easy on police. We believe that police have a higher obligation to be better than the public they serve. We further believe that police should err on the side of caution in every circumstance.
That said, we also believe that individual police officers are human and just as prone to mistakes as the rest of us. However, situations such as shutting down legal, peaceful protests come from the higher authorities, not individuals. Further, such actions smack of violating 1st Amendment protections.
Today, the Huffington Post took exception to the early end of peaceful daytime protests. In light of a book I recently read titled, Policing Ferguson, Policing America by Thomas Jackson, this news story took on a new angle for me.
Who doesn’t? And certainly, St. Louis police remember because their detectives handled that case; many were there during the protests, serving overtime to help the Ferguson suburb of St. Louis. So those horrible events are surely in the minds of all serving on the St. Louis PD.
As citizens, we hope that our Police Departments learn from their mistakes. This means employing different tactics when former tactics fail.
However, we need not remember Ferguson to place the recent peaceful protest early shutdown in the proper light. Just a few days ago, the peaceful protests of the day turned violent at night. This was exactly what took place in Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis in 2014. Just as then, the news media today tends to sensationalize some events while presenting others with tunnel vision.
Jackson, in his book Policing Ferguson, calls this “optics.”
The Optics of St. Louis’ Peaceful Protests
To be sure, police have a hard job. And they make mistakes, even supervisors. Yet, some media outlets would have us believe that police ONLY make mistakes. During the Ferguson riots, when the city was being burned, some news outlets claimed that the protests were peaceful. Yet, if they were peaceful, who was burning stores and cars?
The simple (and sad) fact is that after the sun goes down and the peaceful protests end, some remain and begin to engage in different protest tactics…tactics far less peaceful.
Police have an obligation to protect the public, especially the public who lives in their jurisdiction. There is little doubt that in St. Louis, as was the case in Ferguson, many protesting there are not from there. And to be sure, it is most unlikely that anyone from there is responsible for the violence.
The optics of the situation is that some in the media would like to inflame sensitivities against the police, who are simply doing their job. They must carefully balance the rights of people to protest peacefully (during the day) while at the same time protect the pubic from the violent protesters (at night).
It Could Be Worse
Given the recent history and recent events, there is little wonder that martial law is not announced after a verdict such as the one which gave rise to recent protests. With martial law, the National Guard would be on hand in case things get ugly and there would be a curfew imposed which would be strictly enforced. This would not be unreasonable, given how some decide to become violent at night.
But the Governor of Missouri, the Mayor of St. Louis, and the Chief of Police have not done this. Instead, they have opted to remain on hand during the day to ensure the protests remain peaceful and clear the streets before things turn violent.
It seems to me, this time, the situation is being handled the best, most Constitutional way possible. The right to protest is protected as is the public. Hats off to St. Louis PD.