There are so many important lessons to be learned by this week’s developments in Ferguson, Missouri. Let’s start with a big one: if a community is enraged by a local police force accused of abusive violence, responding with more violence will not produce a satisfying result.
Conditions in the community reached a boiling point on Wednesday night, prompting sweeping and immediate changes: last night, officers from the Missouri Highway Patrol helped keep the peace.
The move appeared to calm the situation along West Florissant Avenue, the Ferguson thoroughfare marked by looting and clashes with police earlier this week.Tear gas, smoke bombs and riot police were absent Thursday night as nearly 1,000 people gathered peacefully on the sidewalk chanting “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!” when they weren’t responding to the cacophony of car horns honking to support their efforts to protest the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown at the hands of a Ferguson police officer.
Apparently, when the police treat a community like an enemy, local residents become the enemy. When law enforcement treats Americans like law-abiding citizens, communities respond with mutual respect.
Why this approach to law enforcement wasn’t adopted at the outset is unclear, but whatever the explanation, last night was peaceful in Ferguson. Watching the Twitter feed of the Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery, who was needlessly arrested the night before, offered a helpful perspective: he started the evening noting that he could hardly recognize the community from 24 hours earlier. Soon after, he said the level of organization and calm was “almost unbelievable.”
Around sundown, he added, “At this time at night on Monday, residents were in real fear for their lives. Tonight they’re taking selfies with cops.”
This is not to say, of course, that we’ve reached a “problem solved” moment in this St. Louis suburb. That’s simply not the case.
The shooting death of Michael Brown on Saturday, which sparked the community conflict, is still under investigation. People still want and deserve answers, which have not yet been given. Indeed, msnbc is reporting on a new witness who says she saw the Brown shooting, and there are reports that local officials will release the name of the officer involved in the incident today.
Last night’s atmosphere on the streets of Ferguson was encouraging, but it’s probably safe to say it will take time and effort to repair the fabric of the community and those responsible for protecting it.
The peaceful gatherings overnight were a starting point, not a conclusion. They offer reason to be hopeful, not satisfied.