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One night in Ferguson

Ryan Deveraux of The Intercept describes what happened the day that he and another reporter were picked up and arrested by heavily armed police driving around in armored cars as they were covering the protests. It is a riveting account. If this can happen to two white journalists, one can imagine what might happen to young black men.

Here is one part of his account when, after leaving their car to chat with some people, they found their way back to their car blocked by a wall of tear gas and armored cars.

We decided our best bet was to walk north on Gage Dr. in hopes of getting beyond the wall of gas and finding a safe route to our car. We didn’t make it far. Between the gaps in the houses we could see the armored vehicles quickly moving up and down W. Florissant, parallel to us. Two turns and the police would find us off that main road and, potentially, shoot at us. We took cover behind a large tree in case the firing started again.

It was then that one of the armored vehicles entered the neighborhood once more, this time ahead of us, slowly moving in the direction we were walking. With their high-powered lights scanning the neighborhood, the only option we had was to announce ourselves as members of the press and hope they wouldn’t shoot. We stepped out of the shadows, our hands in the air, and began yelling, “Press!” and “Journalists!” and “We’re media!” over and over. An officer on top of the vehicle turned his light on us. After a pause, he beckoned us forward. We continued walking, our hands still in the air, still shouting that we were journalists.

With rifles trained on us, we turned right on Highmunt Dr., in the direction of W. Florissant and toward another police vehicle, which had more guns pointed at us. As we made our way forward, I heard a pop and felt a stinging in my lower back. I jumped up instinctively, and realized that the officers behind us, the ones who had asked us to move forward, had shot us with what I believe were rubber bullets. I was hit once and Hermsmeier was hit twice.

The shooting left a mean bruise, but all the guns trained on us provided an ample distraction from the sting. We were frightened. The police, who made no verbal commands that we had heard, had clearly demonstrated their willingness to shoot us. With several similarly armed and approaching officers directly in front of us, we dove behind a car, expecting more shooting. The police came upon us with their guns pointed directly at us. We continued repeating that we were journalists. They pulled us out from behind the car, walked us to their armored vehicles, and zip-tied our hands behind our backs.

What is it with this practice of routinely pointing guns at people? The level of weaponry being used in Ferguson on a civilian population is incredible. Take a look at this photograph. What is that policeman carrying? It looks like (but is unlikely to be) a flame thrower and is probably a tear gas gun, given that he is wearing a gas mask and is aiming upwards.

ferguson riot police

It is clear that the goal is that people should fear the police and unquestioningly do what they say, as this op-ed by a former policemen revealingly acknowledges.

Even though it might sound harsh and impolitic, here is the bottom line: if you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you. Don’t argue with me, don’t call me names, don’t tell me that I can’t stop you, don’t say I’m a racist pig, don’t threaten that you’ll sue me and take away my badge. Don’t scream at me that you pay my salary, and don’t even think of aggressively walking towards me. Most field stops are complete in minutes. How difficult is it to cooperate for that long?

What kind of advice is this? It is the advice given by those supportive of an authoritarian state that brooks no form of opposition and independence. It is not surprising that he has been a member for 17 years of the Los Angeles Police Department, that has an atrocious record of racist and violent actions. When he says ‘cooperate’ he means ‘be submissive’. Nothing on his list of actions to avoid, other than possibly ‘walking aggressively’ towards him (whatever that might mean), should be grounds for shooting someone, because they are just words. Even walking aggressively should not be grounds for shooting because surely police should be able to handle aggressive but unarmed people without killing them?

Comments

  1. Dunc says

    The weapon is a six shot multiple grenade launcher, most likely the Milkor M32 40mm MGL, or its close relative the Milkor 37/38mm Multiple Anti Riot.

    When he says ‘cooperate’ he means ‘be submissive’.

    Yup. Don’t even think of trying to assert any of your constitutional rights. Just do exactly as you’re told by the man with the gun, and nobody gets hurt. Well, probably…

  2. A Hermit says

    So on one hand we’re told “you don’t have to submit to an illegal stop or search. You can refuse consent to search your car or home if there’s no warrant ”

    But on the other hand “Don’t argue with me….don’t tell me that I can’t stop you…” if you don’t want to be tased, beaten with a stick or shot.

  3. says

    What is it with this practice of routinely pointing guns at people?

    It’s illegal when I do it. I know ‘cuz I got two misdemeanor convictions on my record for it.

  4. Matt G says

    Marcus, I don’t think it’s illegal everywhere (Florida and Georgia, I’m looking at you…).

  5. markdowd says

    “If this can happen to two white journalists, one can imagine what might happen to young black men.”

    We already KNOW what might happen. Summary execution of a young black man is what STARTED this whole mess. FSM only knows what will end it.

  6. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    The weapon is a six shot multiple grenade launcher, most likely the Milkor M32 40mm MGL, or its close relative the Milkor 37/38mm Multiple Anti Riot.

    Indeed it is. However, using a grenade launcher is a very conventional method to position tear gas canisters (right?), which you didn’t explain. Someone who doesn’t know anything about guns might get the wrong idea that they’re shooting actual grenades or something.

  7. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    @ Marcus Ranum : “I know ‘cuz I got two misdemeanor convictions on my record for it.”

    You surprise me. I must admit I didn’t think you would ever point guns at people Marcus – or even own a gun or two.

    I’m sure there’s a good story behind those two convictions – care to elaborate please?

  8. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    I think the point being made (albeit less than ideally) – which should be entirely common sense and obvious – is don’t provoke or attack cops.

    When around police folk behave reasonably and sensibly and don’t be fools. Just ‘y’know. Don’t be asswipes to cops.

    That really such a bad or hard point to grasp?

  9. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    PS. Cops have a exceptionally tough and nasty jobs to do. Respect them. They are are their to help and protect and serve all of us. Help them, help you. Imagine if you had to do what they do – all of it.

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