The Police Through Their Own Eyes
From the very first moments after the murder of Michael Brown, when police began to gather and arm themselves to confront what they described to media as an “angry mob,” to the present, the police of the St. Louis area have been reacting to protesters on the streets of Ferguson in the only way that they, independent of the instructions of other civil authorities can. This is because every gathering of people in Ferguson from that initial outpouring of grief, anger, and disbelief to the street protests and even the attempts to document the protests and police response by media, has been a direct challenge to their authority and power. To the police, these clashes are a threat to their independence, their ability to exercise their power without the threat out outside intervention, much less supervision, and more specifically, their ability to act without being beholden to the people in the communities they putatively serve.
The police view the situation this way, and therefore must react the way they have reacted, because they understand themselves to be, in essence, independent actors. Yes, they are arms of the state, but their connection to the state’s other arms, particularly its law-making bodies, ends when a new law is enacted. At that point, it is the police’s job to enforce the law without interference from any outside group, be it the politicians who made the laws or the people who are subject to them.
If their actions were not enough to demonstrate this understanding of the police by the police themselves, this statement released by the St. Louis PD FOP (via Patrick) should make it abundantly clear. In it, they write:
We demand that Chief Dotson not share any further operational or tactical details with Alderman Kennedy or with any other elected official who fails to agree in advance to keep those communications confidential.
At the same time, we have serious concerns if Chief Dotson bends to the will of politicians who mistakenly believe that St. Louis’s Finest should not answer the call of other law enforcement agencies in their time of need. We urge the Chief to offer the full and unfettered support of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department and to eschew political interference in this time of public crisis.
In other words, civil authorities outside of area police forces should not have access to police tactical details, that is, how they plan to handle the protests, unless those politicians agree to police terms about the handling of that information. What’s more, the fact that Dotson is listening to non-police civil authorities is a sign that he is grossly mishandling the situation. Any outside influence is not an elected government instructing its enforcement arm how to behave, as is the proper chain of authority, but mere “political interference” at a time of “public crisis” that can only be met by the police force acting on its independent will*.
With that attitude, any protest of the police themselves is a direct attack on their authority, and must be met with a swift and forceful response. The one-day détente between police and protesters, when Governor Nixon (an outside force meddling in police affairs, mere “political interference”) placed the state police in charge, actually serves as further evidence of this. The local police – Ferguson city and St. Louis County — took the first opportunity, at a press conference the next day, to undermine this détente and create a situation in which they would again be able to violently suppress any challenge to their independent authority.
I need not tell you at this point that a part of that authority, perhaps one of the most important parts as far as the police are concerned, is their ability to investigate, and protect, their own, even in cases of cold-blooded murder. And from day one in Ferguson, they have been defending that authority vigorously.
*Another telling quote from the statement is also telling:
The fact that no lawful protesters suffered any injuries is a testament to the manner in which the situation was being handled at the time.
In order for this statement to be true, we must assume one at least one of these two positions: a) any protester hurt is not “lawful,” b.) being gassed and shot with rubber bullets do not constitute being injured.