By Zachary Toillion
The eyes of America have been focused on Ferguson, Missouri, since August 9th when an 18 year old student named Michael Brown was shot and killed by a member of the Ferguson police department. The events around the death remain in question with eyewitness reports directly contradicting the report of the officer. In the days immediately following Brown’s mysterious death widespread protests and riots rocked the community.
The next day a candlelight vigil was held in memory of Michael Brown but the event turned violent as rioters looted and burned down a Quick Trip convenience store. After the incident additional police forces were sent to Ferguson.
The story took on national significance when police dressed in SWAT gear confronted the crowd of protesters armed with tear gas, wooden bullets, and smoke bombs. Overhead, sniper rifle scopes were pointed at the crowd of protesters.
Also targeted by Missouri Police were two journalists covering the events in Ferguson. The two were arrested while covering the protests. The first was Wesley Lowery, a reporter for the Washington Post. Lowery had previous reported that an officer told him to “move or you’re next”. Lowery claims he was assaulted by the police, and the executive editor of the Washington Post stated “there was absolutely no justification” for Lowery’s arrest.”
While the arrest was happening, Lowery alleges the police officers illegally instructed journalists to stop taking video of the police. Lowery asked the arresting officer for his name and/or ID number but the officer refused to divulge them. The second arrested journalist was Ryan Reilly, a Huffington Post judicial reporter. Also targeted was Al Jazeera America, who had tear gas thrown into their filming area. At the end of the night 10 protesters were arrested.
The unrest in Ferguson has attracted national media and political attention. On Thursday, President Obama addressed the nation stating, “There is never an excuse for violence against police or for those who would use this tragedy as a cover for vandalism or looting. There is also no excuse for police to use excessive force against peaceful protests or to throw protesters in jail for lawfully expressing their First Amendment rights.” Obama ordered the FBI and Justice Department to investigate the case.
Obama was not the only national political figure to comment on the situation in Ferguson. Attorney General Eric Holder also released a statement addressing concern that the police in Ferguson had become too militarized. “At a time when we must seek to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the local community, I am deeply concerned that the deployment of military equipment and vehicles sends a conflicting message.” Statements from members of Congress also condemned the militarization of the police. Possible 2016 presidential contender Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) penned an op-ed for Time Magazine echoing many of Holder’s statements.
The Governor of Missouri, Jay Nixon, announced changes designed to alleviate the violence in Ferguson. He ordered the Missouri Highway Patrol to take charge of security operations, rather than the St. Louis County and Ferguson Police.
On Thursday the protests continued but without a large law enforcement presence. In contrast to just one day earlier the protests were mostly peaceful. And the peaceful protests were not simply confined to Ferguson, vigils for Michael Brown were held in major cities including Los Angeles, Miami and New York City.
The Ferguson police Department held a press conference Friday and revealed the name of the police officer who shot Michael Brown, Officer Darren Wilson. Wilson was interviewed by the Ferguson police department twice about the incident and is now in an undisclosed location.
Police also revealed that Michael Brown was an alleged suspect in a robbery, adding that officer Wilson was unaware of the allegation. Brown’s family released a statement in response, “Michael Brown’s family is beyond outraged at the devious way the police chief has chosen to disseminate information in a manner intended to assassinate the character of their son, following such a brutal assassination of his person in broad daylight.”
The person who will determine whether or not Darrell Wilson will face prosecution is St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch who blasted Gov. Nixon, stating, “For Nixon to never talk to the commanders in the field and come in here and take this action is disgraceful. To denigrate the men and women of the county police department is shameful”.
The immediate question yet to be answered is when the protests will stop. What all parties want answers to is ultimately what led to the death of Michael Brown, and that question has yet to be answered.