Instead, Michael Brown died on Saturday. In that dry recitation of facts are the seeds of a new American tragedy, one that’s been happening in fits and starts across the country as militarization by local law-enforcement authorities is brought to bear against all enemies, real and imagined, foreign ... and domestic.
From there the narratives diverge.
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A police report apparently filed by the officer who shot Brown said either Brown or Johnson shoved him back into the vehicle and then grappled with him for his sidearm, firing a shot inside the car. The two ran, and the officer once again stepped from his vehicle and shot at the fleeing teenagers multiple times, killing Brown, who was unarmed.
Johnson said Brown was retreating from the officer with his hands up when he was shot. Gawker reported that Johnson recalled Brown saying “I don’t have a gun, stop shooting!” with his hands in the air. Johnson said the officer then fired several more shots.
The shooting has unleashed a wave of rage among the city’s black residents. Protests and looting soon followed; Ferguson is now in its fifth straight day of protest; SWAT officers arrived Wednesday night to put down a generally peaceful protest. What followed was a running battle whose visual aspects could be superimposed on conflicts in Gaza: the trappings of a war zone.
And Ferguson police went further in trying to control the situation; two journalists, one from The Huffington Post, the other from The Washington Post, were detained and roughed up before being released, for the act of doing their jobs reporting what is now an international story.
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In news videos, Ferguson police are seen not just at the ready but locked and loaded in the extreme, bristling with body armor and camo, armored personnel carriers and tear gas, stun grenades and M4 rifles — an armamentarium more at home on the battlefields of Iraq or Afghanistan than in a city of 21,100 people 12 miles northwest of the St. Louis Gateway Arch.
Iraq war veteran Phillip Carter writes in today’s Daily Beast: “[T]o a police force with such a military arsenal, every problem potentially looks like one that can be solved with military force. In hindsight, the Ferguson police department’s heavy-handed response to protests arguably caused the situation to escalate into the crisis that exists today.”