Ferguson Releases Name of Brown’s Killer; Activists Plan National Day of Mourning Saturday
Nearly a week after he killed 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, the white police officer who pulled the trigger multiple times was finally identified today by law enforcement authorities: His name is Darren Wilson.
Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson said Wilson was a six-year veteran of the force who had no disciplinary actions taken against him. The chief said Wilson arrived in the community because he had been alerted to a convenience store robbery just before he encountered Brown, who was walking home from a nearby store.
“A lot of the stakeholders had a big meeting conversation yesterday, and then yesterday evening, and we made the determination that today is the day,” the chief told local media. “Nothing specific went into that decision, but we feel that there’s a certain calm. There’s a huge outcry from the community.”
Despite furious calls for the officer’s name from the community and civil rights leaders, Jackson had said he was refusing to release the name because there had been death threats against the officer and his family posted on social media.
In Ferguson, after angry protests raged for days, it appears that a change in law enforcement leadership has brought some calm. Gov. Jay Nixon replaced the St. Louis County Police Department—which had been heavily criticized for its paramilitary overreaction and heavy- handed tactics in dealing with the protesters—with the Missouri Highway Patrol.
The new leader of the unit is Capt. Ronald S. Johnson, the African-American highway patrol official appointed by the governor to take over the response.
Media images captured Johnson, who grew up in Ferguson, marching along with the protesters, clasping hands with them and even hugging them.
“I’m not afraid to be in this crowd,” Johnson told reporters, according to the Washington Post, as he pointed out some of his old haunts in the neighborhood. “When I see a young lady cry because of fear of this uniform, that’s a problem. We’ve got to solve that.”
Johnson told reporters the police would not blockade the street, he would set up a media staging center, and his officers would ensure that residents’ rights to assemble and protest were not infringed upon. In addition, he said officers working crowd control have been told they must take off their gas masks.
The Post described one of the residents, Karen Wood, fighting back tears as she held both of Johnson’s hands and asked him to bring them answers and maintain calm.
“Thank you so much for being here,” Wood said. “This is about human rights, about human beings. It takes cooperation … our youth are out here without guidance, without leadership.”
A St. Louis-based group called the Organization for Black Struggle is trying to link up with activists in other parts of the country to gather at the site of high-profile killings of African-Americans on Saturday, Aug. 16, at 1 p.m. local time (2 p.m. EST). The group would like to see people gathered at such sites as the spot where Trayvon Martin was gunned down in February 2012, at the gas station in Jacksonville where Jordan Davis was killed in November 2012, and the sidewalk where Eric Garner was choked to death by police last month.
OBS organizer Montague Simmons said he wants it to be a symbolic moment for Black America that unites communities that have suffered.
As calm apparently has come to Ferguson, law enforcement experts still are disturbed by the images they saw of police confronting protesters, turning the streets into a war zone with excessive force.
“This militarization that we are witnessing — police officers dressed as soldiers, using military vehicles and military weapons to engage largely unarmed protesters — is outrageous,” Tom Nolan, chairman of the department of criminal justice at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, who served for 27 years in the Boston Police Department, told Al Jazeera America. “It’s a disgrace.”
The experts blame the federal government, which in 1990 as part of the War on Drugs started distributing military-grade weapons, armor and equipment to local law enforcement with scant oversight or training.
“There are almost no constraints on the ability of local law enforcement to obtain military weaponry from the Defense Department,” she said.
“When the police adopt this militaristic trope, they adopt with it this warrior mentality,” Nolan said. “They think, ‘Well, if we’re fighting a war, we have to have an enemy.’ And in this case, those are going to be unarmed, peaceful protesters. They are being treated as enemy combatants.”
“I am someone who had rocks and bottles thrown at me in situations very much like this, and I didn’t break out a sound cannon or tear gas or flash-bang grenades or smoke bombs. I ducked,” he told Al Jazeera America. “Let’s put away the toys, boys. Get rid of the armored personnel carriers. Let’s get rid of the military garb, the gun turrets, the machine guns, and let’s begin a dialogue.”
Victor Kappeler, an associate dean at the Center for Justice Studies at Eastern Kentucky University, told Al Jazeera that the problem is the culture of violence within law enforcement.
“Policing has been a hypermasculine, conservative profession. And to a large extent, police culturally embrace violence as a form of problem solving,” he said. “And when you equip them in [such] a way and you have a lack of leadership in the police agencies, this is the kind of behavior you’re going to see as a result. A lot of these guys live for these kinds of situations — the opportunity to use force and to work a riot.”