Since 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer in the central U.S. state of Missouri, demonstrations in Ferguson town have been met with what many Americans are calling the militarization of police.
Protesters are largely unarmed and using only their voices to express their outrage at the killing of the unarmed black teenager. But since Monday, police officers have responded with violent force:
Policing is no longer policing. Police depts have military grade weaponry and surveillance capabilities. This hurts us all #Ferguson
— Sherif Ibrahim (@Sherif_Ib) August 14, 2014
Writing for The Intercept, Glenn Greenwald described the police assault on protesters as “the destructive by-product of several decades of deliberate [post-9/11] militarization of American policing…has resulted in a domestic police force that looks, thinks, and acts more like an invading and occupying military than a community-based force to protect the public.”
Ferguson's population is nearly 70% black, yet the local police force is predominantly white. According to rights advocates, Americans of color, particularly young black men, are disproportionately targeted and accused of wrongdoing by law enforcement officials in staggering numbers. Even though state-sanctioned racial profiling is most prevalent in major US cities, the current conflict in Ferguson, which has a population of about 21,000 people, illustrates that it may be a nationwide problem.
Here's a timeline of events since unarmed Michael Brown, the African-American teen who was preparing to begin college this fall, was shot.
Saturday, Aug. 9
Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer at noon. . Details of the interaction between police and Brown are in dispute, but the only non-police witness to the shooting, a friend of Brown’s, reports that Brown raised his hands in the air, pleading with police not to shoot him. MSNBC’s Chris Hayes tweeted that he interviewed the key (and only non-police) witness to Brown’s shooting, but that the police had not.
I interviewed the key witness to the Michael Brown shooting last night. The police haven't. Think about that. — Christopher Hayes (@chrislhayes) August 12, 2014
The next day hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the Ferguson police department, demanding information about Brown’s death.
Sunday, Aug. 10
Police officials held a press conference in which St. Louis police chief Jon Belmar stated that an altercation had ensued between Brown and police, causing officers to shoot the teen. He acknowledged that Brown was shot “more than a few” times. The medical examiner’s report on Brown’s body has not yet been released, and police have refused to release the name of the officer who killed Michael Brown, citing security threats.
That evening, riots broke out and stores were looted and vandalized by local residents, outraged by Brown’s death. Police in riot gear arrived soon after and arrested 32 individuals from the scene.
Criticism of media coverage of the story story surged on Twitter, with many users accusing media of depicting Brown as a “thug”. Young men and women of color began posting photos of themselves under the hashtag #IfTheyGunnedMeDown, juxtaposing photographs of themselves looking devious with graduation photos, family celebrations, and the like.
— ΛKASHA (@ayo_brittt) August 13, 2014
— Uwais (@Uwais_Patel) August 14, 2014
Global hacker collective Anonymous meanwhile pledged to identify the police officer who killed Michael Brown. These claims have since been discredited by local authorities, who continue to withhold the officer’s name.
Monday, Aug. 11
Peaceful protests continued in Ferguson. The family of Michael Brown held a press conference and urged demonstrators to remain peaceful in their actions. Also present was their attorney Benjamin Crump, who also served as defense attorney for slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, who like Brown was African-American and shot by a police officer.
Local alderman Antonio French, who has attended and tweeted reports from rallies since the incident occurred, shared the following Vine of protesters singing at a street gathering:
The Federal Bureau of Investigation announced plans to conduct an investigation of the shooting, parallel to local police efforts.
In the evening, riot squads arrived and shot tear gas and rubber bullets into a crowd of demonstrators, some of whom had allegedly thrown rocks at police. At least fifteen protesters were arrested. Below we show another Vine, also posted by Antonio French, where protesters are nearly swallowed in clouds of teargas.
Tuesday, Aug. 12
Protests continued, again largely peaceful. Photographs of heavily-armed police clad in military uniforms, bullet-proof vests and gas masks flooded the Internet.
The Federal Aviation Administration ordered the local Lambert Airport to close temporarily, due to shots fired in the air. The airport reopened within a few hours.
President Obama issued a statement on the “passing” of Michael Brown, noting that the Justice Department is investigating the case. He said:
I know the events of the past few days have prompted strong passions, but as details unfold, I urge everyone in Ferguson, Missouri, and across the country, to remember this young man through reflection and understanding. We should comfort each other and talk with one another in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.
Wednesday, Aug. 13
Protests continued and multiple arrests were made. Among those arrested and detained overnight by local police were reporters for Huffington Post and the Washington Post, and government representative Antonio French, a local alderman.
French had attended demonstrations throughout the week, reporting on events using Twitter and Vine. Here are some of French’s images, which he later posted on Twitter:
French and the two reporters were released from detention early Thursday morning. In a first-hand account of his arrest, which took place at a McDonald’s restaurant near a protest site, Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery described police threatening him for attempting to record their actions on his mobile phone camera.
He later posted the video on the Post’s website. Lowery wrote that he explained to police that all he’d experienced would be published in the Washington Post the next day. “This story’s going to get out there. It’s going to be on the front page of The Washington Post tomorrow,” he told an officer, who responded: “Yeah, well, you’re going to be in my jail cell tonight.”
Washington Post Executive Editor Martin Baron called the department’s behavior “wholly unwarranted and an assault on the freedom of the press to cover the news. The physical risk to Wesley himself is obvious and outrageous.”
On Vox, Max Fisher pointed out that Lowery was the second WaPo reported arrested this year. The other is Jason Rezaian, currently jailed in Iran. Lowery and Huffington Post writer Ryan Reilly believe they were released from detention without charges because of their status as reporters. In the video below, they can be heard asking police why they were released without being given any report of their arrest.
Protester Mya Aaten-White posted an instagram photo of herself saying she was shot in the head while protesting in Ferguson, Missouri on Wednesday.
Citizens, civil rights activists, and journalists continue to express outrage and frustration over the situation. Brooklyn-based writer Jackie Summers reported that he received death threats after posting the following photographs:
Al Jazeera America journalists were teargassed by police officers in Ferguson, on Wednesday evening, a mile away from the epicenter of the protests. As the journalists scrambled to flee the teargas they left their equipment behind, which Ferguson police starting disassembling.
Thursday, Aug. 14
Many have noted the eery similarities between photographs being tweeted from Ferguson, and those currently emerging from Gaza. National security journalist Jeremy Scahill quipped:
If they changed the name to Fergustan, the Obama admin might intervene — jeremy scahill (@jeremyscahill) August 14, 2014
On Thursday Missouri's Governor said that the name of the police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown should be released to the public. He also announced that the Missouri Highway Patrol will take over security operations from the St. Louis County Police Department.
It remains unclear if this will alter the tension in Ferguson.