Ferguson Unrest Raises Concerns about Militarized Police

No sensible person questions the need for a strong police presence in Ferguson, Missouri, given that rioters there have vandalized and looted businesses and even thrown Molotov cocktails. But police action there has clearly gotten out of control.

Saying that Ferguson looked like a “a little bit more like a war zone” than a normal city, Missouri governor Jay Nixon “announced Thursday that the Missouri Highway Patrol will take control of security in Ferguson,” USA Today reports. A video provided by USA Today shows Ferguson police intentionally assaulting members of the media.

A broader issue is the militarization of police in America, including in Ferguson. In an article for the Week, Ryan Cooper argues that “it is beyond reckless to let a bunch of local cops get their hands on a high-grade military arsenal”; he plausibly argues “the military itself would never behave so crudely” as the Ferguson police have behaved with their hi-tech gear. Bonnie Kristian reports for the Week that the Pentagon provided the Ferguson police with two tactical vehicles.

Concern about the militarization of police has been growing for years; for example, see Radley Balko‘s Rise of the Warrior Cop. Less than a month before the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson (which provoked the protests and riots), A. J. Delgado wrote an article for National Review titled, “It’s Time for Conservatives to Stop Defending Police“; and John Stossel wrote an article for Fox titled, “Conservatives, Libertarians and Liberals Should All Worry about the Militarization of Police.”

Let’s not forget the innocent people victimized by the violent rioters in Ferguson—and the need for the police to appropriately intervene to try to stop that violence. Riot conditions undoubtedly justify a different and more robust police response than is warranted in normal circumstances. That said, I worry that, by becoming militarized, some of America’s police officers tend to forget that they are civilians whose proper job is to protect the peace and to protect people’s rights.

11:06 pm Update: Captain Ronald Johnson of the Missouri State Highway Patrol appears to be doing a decent job of restoring order. Paul Hampel and Koran Addo write for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “Johnson marched in shirtsleeves—a stark contrast with the para-military uniforms that have become the symbol of the Ferguson police presence during nearly a week of unrest.” Hat tip to the Week.