Americans who turned on the 24-hour news channels on the evening of August 13, 2014 may well have thought something had gone haywire with their cable lineup. Police in full riot gear were shooting off tear gas canisters into suburban neighborhoods. The guys identified as cops in a Midwestern city were dressed in a way that could have been easily confused with US soldiers in Iraq. Reporters were showing footage shot with their cell phone cameras of these police officers arresting them for doing their job. Such a sight has not been seen in an American city since the Civil Rights riots of the 1960s.
And it all started with yet another shooting of an unarmed person by a cop.
Many who watch what is happening in Ferguson, Missouri may be thinking that it is an isolated aberration taking place under unusual circumstances that could not be replicated in their own town. That would be a mistake. Though the reaction of the Ferguson police force may well be viewed as the most extreme example so far of police overreach of their authority, the truth is that the shooting of unarmed 18 year old Michael Brown by a police officer is directly tied to the George Zimmerman shooting of Trayvon Martin and the chokehold murder of Eric Garner by a police officer in New York.
I make this claim not as a third-party observer, but as a victim of police violence. Despite the fact that chokeholds have been outlawed by both the NYPD and the LAPD (two police forces with a long history of violent overreaction), as recently as 2013 I was thrown violently to the ground and held in a chokehold by a member of the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office. The assault came not as the result of being a threat or acting violently or even committing any crime. I was not charged with a crime nor even accused of one. And yet I was treated with extreme violence by a police officer.
America’s police force has become increasingly militarized and now routinely presents a very real danger to citizens across the country. Let it be understood that I am not African-America. The threat of excessive force from the police is not limited to blacks in America. This threat has reached a systemic level in which the real divide is not based on race, but on psychology.
The desire to become a police officer is only partly based on the desire to punish evildoers and make the world safer. The other part has to do more with the sociopathy. Putting weapons into the hands of those psychologically unprepared to deal with the job is precarious to say the least. What really needs to take place in law enforcement agencies across America is not recognition of the racial divide between armed authority and unarmed civilians, but the recognition that it takes a certain psychological profile to want to become a part of that enforcement agency despite the danger and the low wages. What kind of person would want to put their lives on the line for woefully inadequate pay?
The answer to that question is being answered in Ferguson, Missouri. And New York City. And Pensacola, Florida. And the answer is quite chilling.