By Tom Ehrich
Five days into the tragedy unfolding in Ferguson, MO, I am reading widely, sifting through accounts ranging from superb reporting to partisan nonsense, and cringing at the pressure being applied to local political, civic, religious and neighborhood leaders.
Mainly I know this: it will be weeks or months before complete accounts start to appear. Longer still for healing to occur.
When we have time and space to reflect, I hope we will examine the impact that militarization of local police has on such events.
The visuals are all wrong: local police dressed like Army troops, carrying assault weapons, sitting astride military-grade armored vehicles, aiming and shooting as if they faced an advancing army of equally well-armed combatants.
I don't fault the police for using the weapons and gear issued to them. I have to wonder how much the armaments industry has profited from selling advanced equipment to local police, and what was going through the minds of their senior-level clients.
Problem is, local police are charged with upholding the Constitution, protecting the rights of citizens, enforcing laws against minor crimes, and occasionally investigating murder and other major crimes. They aren't charged or trained for army work, where the emphasis is on massive display of overwhelming force and the threat, sometimes the fact, of annihilation.
Police work, when done effectively, is grounded in trust and the ability of citizens to self-regulate. "Shock and awe" are for a battlefield in Afghanistan, or Gettysburg, PA, not for dealing with citizens at home.
I know many disagree with that. They want a highly-armed police force and would be happy if private citizens had the same lethal gear. Our recent history, however, shows time and again what happens when police go too far and when citizens go too far.
It is especially explosive when the army-like police presence is predominantly white and the "enemy" being "repelled" is black. Local police aren't an occupying force, but in such situations they seem that way.
Citizens who expect to have certain rights, including freedom of speech, a free press, freedom of assembly, and freedom of movement, don't take well -- nor should they take well -- to an occupying force aiming assault rifles at them.
I know the armaments industry won't give refunds. But maybe it is time to put away the military gear and return to normal police work.