Who will be violent?

November 24, 2014 2 Comments

While the police are stockpiling_wide“They were so aggressive. They incited violence.”

I heard a Ferguson resident speak these words on the radio about the actions the Ferguson Police force took in August. And yet, as we await a grand jury decision on whether to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown, most of the media conversation is about whether there will be citizen violence and, assuming yes, requests for calm.

If calm is a proxy for no further damage to communities that have historically been harmed by underinvestment and racism it might be a worthy goal. And, calm raises several questions when we want to think about this moment historically and systemically:

  1. How could any of us stay calm? We are in the face of egregious wrongs. There is data that demonstrates inequitable stops and arrests. Yet there is lack of attention to the underlying issues that create these conditions, allowing police violence to continue.
  2. Why are local and state forces being armed in advance of this verdict? Why would this be a responsible mode of response when we are in this moment because of state-sanctioned violence—from the way people of color are treated by police on an ongoing basis, to the shooting of Michael Brown (and many others before him), to the militaristic response to responsible citizens who took appropriate democratic action in August to protest a killing?
  3. What would it look like if the police created safety without military force?
  4. What supports and structures do various communities need to engage and change the systems? For example, in Ferguson, what does the African American community most affected need? What do white communities who are gathering arms need?

Michael Brown’s parents, speaking about human rights in Geneva, asked for calm in the wake of the decision as well. They seem a more authentic voice for calm and long-term action then those speaking solely from a “public safety” standpoint which begs the question “whose safety?”.

IISC works with cities, networks and organizations to develop the ability to collaborate for equity. What we wish for here is that this tragic moment builds greater democracy.

I wish for the state representatives and the police to encourage expressions of relief, anger, frustration.

I wish for the police to learn through this about how to demilitarize situations and how to be a force for keeping all people safe in their democratic expression rather than curtailing, herding or hurting.

May it be so.


  • Cynthia Silva Parker says:

    Yes! Who’s safety is the big question here! The safety of police officers? (Darren Wilson’s statement included saying he felt like a “5 year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan” and fearing that a third punch from Michael Brown could have killed him. Seems odd to me that an armed police officer could feel that way about an unarmed 18 year old!) Of young people of color? Of white people who fear the rage born of frustration and injustice?

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