I passed through Ferguson, Missouri a week after Michael Brown was killed. The first thing I noticed as I drove onto Florissant Ave., the main street through town, was three armed national guardsmen getting gas for their armored personal carrier at a QuikTrip convenience store. The other customers at the store seemed unfazed, buying their chemical- and corn syrup-laden junk food, getting their gas, and generally going about their business. It was eerie and unsettling, how quickly they seemed to have grown accustomed to the elevated martial presence in their town.
But the scale and aggression of police force in Ferguson shocked and outraged many Americans, not least because of the considerable dramatic media coverage it received. As I drove down Florissant, the small handmade sign that hung across the street from the police station was dwarfed by the assembled media vans and their satellite dishes, which helped put Ferguson on heavy rotation in national and international news.
No one in the media-“informed” public can know with factual certainty what happened between Officer Darren Wilson and Michael Brown, which makes the latest round of destruction in Ferguson and St. Louis much sadder than it would otherwise be. But the racist systematic municipal harassment of Ferguson’s African-American population is documented and undeniable. Disproportionate rates of police violence against blacks and the overrepresentation of black folks in our prison system are also documented and undeniable. Addressing and changing the deeply entrenched racial injustices that plague America is a long and difficult ongoing process, but one immediately useful result of the events in Ferguson and their media coverage is that many people became aware, for the first time, of just how advanced the militarization of domestic U.S. police forces has become. (See also this Vice interview with Radley Balko, a police militarization expert.)
One hopes the the current protests, riots and alleged looting won’t be spun by the media in such a way that serves to justify militarized domestic police forces, but it’s hard not to see it happening that way.
I’m in Turkey right now, and was surprised to see street art expressing solidarity with Michael Brown in the Galatasaray neighborhood. Turkey, too, has experienced a number of police shootings of young minority/disenfranchised youth. I’m no expert on Turkey, but I don’t think most Istanbulians today would find great shows of police force very shocking:
n 2014, political marches occur routinely on Istiklal, one of the biggest and busiest streets in the city. It’s not uncommon for large numbers of Turkish police in riot gear to amass in response. It seems fair to say that the overall level of political engagement, across the ideological spectrum, is greater and more intense in Istanbul than it is in any U.S. city, and that a good portion of people here do not confine their political action to simply voting, as a good portion of the less than half of Americans who vote do.
Most of the riot police who greeted this Nov. 8 Istanbul Kobane (Kurdish) Solidarity march looked quite young, and more concerned than angry.
Istanbulians and visitors continued going about their leisure activities, strolling, eating, and listening to music. It seemed to be just another Saturday night on Istiklal.