Trust in a Time of Tear Gas: Reflections on Ferguson
September 5, 2014
by Spencer Santilli

Ideally, bankers, business owners, policemen, politicians, and media members are all people we should be able to trust for our own financial, physical, legislative security and in theory—the truth.  However, each passing month brings to light yet another reason not to trust these people as far as we could throw them.  As of late we’ve once again lost the trust of the men and women taxpayers employ to protect their lives.  After an alleged incident of police brutality surfaced in Missouri, the town of Ferguson erupted into riots protesting the killing of a young African American male by the police.  In response to this numerous important questions were raised and I'm concerned we have reached the point where we can’t trust any authority figures to be responsible with our money, physical safety, or information. The real question is who is going to be around to protect us from our “protectors”?

I am a skeptic.  I am most certainly jaded.  I am without a doubt a pessimist.  Trust really isn’t my thing.  But how could it be, when I walk into an office or store the first thing I notice are the cameras?  You might call me paranoid but I know full well that I’m being watched, observed, and recorded in almost every facet of my life.  Edward Snowden told us that the NSA has the capability to monitor our keystrokes in real time as we Google anything and everything. 

“To Protect and Serve” has been the longstanding motto for many American police forces.  Even the New York Police Department insist that their motto of “Courtesy, Professionalism, Respect” is of the upmost importance while invading the privacy of thousands with the now repealed right infringing policy of stop and frisk.  Don’t get me wrong, I believe that the police in this country have a dangerous occupation and that the majority of them are committed to protecting and serving the citizens that pay their wages.  However, in the wake of the military style response to the rioting crowd in Ferguson, a very important question has once again surfaced that concerns the rapid militarization of police forces in this country after 9/11.  Why is it that our police are becoming more akin to the armed guards of a dystopian state than the dutiful men and women in blue who help old ladies cross the road and chase after the real bad guys? 

As live video footage from Ferguson streamed over the internet, a bizarrely sci-fi-esque scene unfolded, depicting full body-armored cops holding assault rifles in front of military grade vehicles in the hazy smoke of tear gas backlit with the eerie glow of street lamps. Not to make a direct comparison to the American invasion of Iraq, but one would be hard pressed to not feel that the militarized response was one of shock and awe.  The actions of the Ferguson police department were intentionally meant to frighten and terrifying the protestors into submission.  Albeit their tactics backfired, it still left the country questioning their drastic measures.

Photo Credit to Reuters

It was Spiderman’s Uncle Ben who reminded us, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Instead of urging that our police need more advanced and powerful militarized equipment to defend us from terror, we should really be asking whether or not we can trust the police to be responsible with these devices.  When you get a new car you’re likely going to want to show it off, right?  Now imagine you’ve received a Kevlar armor suit and a land mine resistant vehicle with mounted machine guns—how long before you’re itching to take it out for a spin? These thoughts leads me to two separate points. 

One: how can anyone trust that the police will use restraint in bringing out their full riot militia when they seem so openly eager to use the military equipment they’ve been given?  Once the crowd began to grow and intensify in Ferguson I’m sure that some of the policemen tasked with protecting the citizens had a raging hard-on at the thought of suiting up in their full armor and walking through the streets like some kind of futuristic goon squad.  This could be supported by the many claims of policemen confronting journalists and reporters whilst simultaneously destroying cameras and threatening arrests. (1)  Or how about Lt. Ray Albers, who is on video pointing his military grade assault rifle at protesters and screaming, “I’ll fucking kill you!” (2)  These people, who we are supposed to trust with our lives, are in such heated rush to pull out the riot gear that they aren’t thinking rationally when it comes to their actions and are consciously abusing their status of power and our trust. How are any of us supposed to trust the police again when they are so ready and willing to heavily arm themselves against the civilians they’ve been sworn to “protect and serve?”

Two: if this is the response to a rather small-scale protest, what will it look like when there are a thousand angry people?  Five thousand?  Ten?  Is it really that hard to believe that those sly hands in Washington want the police to be armed military style to suppress these types of events? As American’s we have no shortage of corrupt men, women, and policies to protest against — but if this is the law enforcement response to a relatively small scale protest who among the population is going to be itching to march when the scale escalates?  In an article from the NY Times by Matt Apuzzo that precedes the events in Ferguson it is reported that under President Obama, “Police departments have received tens of thousands of machine guns; nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night vision equipment.” (3) The quote goes on to mention silencers, armored cars, and even aircraft.  Ironically, after the goon squad takeover of Ferguson President Obama ordered a review of his own  policies.  Without question Obama ordered the review as a means to appease the public and his political cronies.  That said, the American media also plays a role in abusing our trust by swaying the facts of the case to keep their own viewers happy.

Repeatedly, major news sites like CNN, Fox News and MSNBC are so hurried to report on a significant event that they skip the very important step of vetting their sources and confirming the validity of their information.  It has gotten to the point where being outraged is in vogue without even justifying the anger with credible information.  We live in the age of the rise of gossip media: a billion-dollar game of telephone where the end result is a sickening mutation of the original event.  Flicking between both CNN and Fox News it was easy to see how each was reporting on Ferguson differently.  CNN reporters were saying, “We go now to Ferguson where a young black male was shot by a white police officer.”  Fox News instead reported, “We’re live in Ferguson where riots have erupted in the wake of a police officer shooting an unarmed black male.”  It might not be clear at all times, but as the two sides continue to fulfill their bias they are knowingly altering the small facts about a story to a point that the truth is a long lost relic. Although I wish most people chose to get their news from independent news sites like Can the Man, I’m more concerned about the level of trust citizens attribute to the news they’re hearing.  Although there are those who continue to believe that their favorite station is the one and only source of fair reporting, the rest of us are hopefully well aware of the biases that exists in media. 

Fox News
steers right and CNN steers left – both accusing the other of biased reporting and slandering the opposite party.  More often than not these stories work their way up the food chain until the major sites are reporting false information and have to retract their statements.  False information is almost as common as the bare facts in today’s media—how are any of us supposed to trust the news when everyone is continually implicated in these kinds of incidents?

There is little doubt in my mind that the events of Ferguson will be buried under another shitstorm of gossipy news within a month.  We'll forget about the protests and the suggested changes to law enforcement.  There is no trust left to give to police officers, politicians, or the media when it comes to giving us the respect we as taxpayers deserve.  I for one side with those clamoring for all policemen to wear cameras, but we cannot think that is the only thing wrong with our law enforcement system.  Do you truly trust these people to use their government surplus M4 Carbine Rifles responsibly?  Do you really think that when push comes to shove they'll hesitate to pull the trigger?  Despite us losing trust in them, the Man continues to trust that their diversion tactics will distract us from this issue in a month's time.  We as Americans have vowed to not give in to terror­ and we must remember that this terror and fear can be coerced from within by the very men and women who have sworn to "protect and serve."

-Spencer James


(2)  (LT.Ray Albers Video)