Sunday, August 17, 2014

Cigars, But Not Close

By Mark Steyn
August 15, 2014

"Evening, Constable!"

The "narrative" of Ferguson, Missouri changed somewhat today. But, amid the confusion, the blundering stupidity of the city's police department remains consistent.

This morning the Police Chief, Thomas Jackson, released security-camera shots of the late Michael Brown apparently stealing a five-dollar box of cigarillos from a convenience store. So the 18-year old shot dead by Chief Jackson's officer was no longer a "gentle giant" en route to college but just another crappy third-rate violent teen n'er-do-well.

This afternoon, the chief gave a second press conference. Why would he do that? Well, he'd somehow managed to create the impression in his first press conference that the officer who killed Mr Brown was responding to the robbery. In fact, that was not the case. The Ferguson policeman was unaware that Brown was a robbery suspect at the time he encountered him and shot him dead. Which is presumably why Chief Jackson was leaned on to give his second press conference and tidy up the mess from the first. So we have an officer who sees two young men, unwanted for any crime, walking down the middle of the street and stops his cruiser. Three minutes later one of them is dead.

On the other hand, Jackson further confused matters by suggesting that he noticed Brown had cigars in his hand and might be the suspect.

It's important, when something goes wrong, to be clear about what it is that's at issue. Talking up Michael Brown as this season's Trayvonesque angel of peace and scholarship was foolish, and looting stores in his saintly memory even worse. But this week's pictures from Ferguson, such as the one above, ought to be profoundly disquieting to those Americans of a non-looting bent.

The most basic problem is that we will never know for certain what happened. Why? Because the Ferguson cruiser did not have a camera recording the incident. That's simply not credible. "Law" "enforcement" in Ferguson apparently has at its disposal tear gas, riot gear, armored vehicles and machine guns ...but not a dashcam. That's ridiculous. I remember a few years ago when my one-man police department in New Hampshire purchased a camera for its cruiser. It's about as cheap and basic a police expense as there is.

Last year, my meek mild-mannered mumsy office manager was pulled over by an angry small-town cop in breach of her Fourth Amendment rights. The state lost in court because the officer's artful narrative and the usual faked-up-after-the-fact incident report did not match the dashcam footage. Three years ago, I was pulled over by an unmarked vehicle in Vermont and (to put it mildly) erroneously ticketed. In court, I was withering about the department's policy of no dashcams for unmarked cars, and traffic cops driving around pretending to be James Bond but without the super-secret spy camera. The judge loathed me (as judges tend to), but I won that case. In 2014, when a police cruiser doesn't have a camera, it's a conscious choice. And it should be regarded as such.
And, if we have to have federal subsidy programs for municipal police departments, we should scrap the one that gives them the second-hand military hardware from Tikrit and Kandahar and replace it with one that ensures every patrol car has a camera.

As for what's happened in the days since the shooting, I've written a lot in recent months about the appalling militarization of the police in America, and I don't have much to add. But I did get a mordant chuckle out of this line from Kathy Shaidle on the green-camouflaged officers pictured above:
Shouldn't a 'Ferguson' camo pattern be, like, 7/11 & Kool-Aid logos?
Indeed. To camouflage oneself in the jungles of suburban America, one should be clothed in Dunkin' Donuts and Taco Bell packaging. A soldier wears green camo in Vietnam to blend in. A policeman wears green camo in Ferguson to stand out - to let you guys know: We're here, we're severe, get used to it.

This is not a small thing. The point about "the thin blue line" is that it's blue for a reason. As I wrote a couple of months ago:
"The police" is a phenomenon of the modern world. It would be wholly alien, for example, to America's Founders. In the sense we use the term today, it dates back no further than Sir Robert Peel's founding of the Metropolitan Police in 1829. Because Londoners associated the concept with French-style political policing and state control, they were very resistant to the idea of a domestic soldiery keeping them in line. So Peel dressed his policemen in blue instead of infantry red, and instead of guns they had wooden truncheons.

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