The Ferguson Police Department has been a classic case study in public relations. Or better yet, how not to execute proper public relations.
From the moment whatever happened in the middle of the street Saturday afternoon between Dorian Johnson, Michael Brown and the cop who fired the fatal shots, FPD has since become the most scrutinized law enforcement department in America. The same entity that allowed for Brown’s body to slowly bake under the St. Louis sun like roadkill did so hours before EMS units arrived on the scene. Meanwhile, the officer-in-question was allegedly treated for a swollen face.
The gross negligence of handling the situation is a departmental issue and a growing cultural one. Over 96 hours have passed since Brown’s death and the public still does not know what happened. What they do know is their mistrust of the police gains added precedence by the day. What they know is what they see, the police attempting to protect their own. Had the situation been reversed and Brown murdered the cop, it’s difficult to imagine the investigation being conducted at the same speed.
“We understand the anger; we understand that people want answers,” Chief of Police Thomas Jackson declared. “We understand that we’ve got a problem, but we’re just asking people to be peaceful.”
Statements like so from Jackson come off as empty remarks to the confused, paranoid and depressed public his department is sworn to protect and serve, an oxymoron if one exists to the residents of Ferguson at the moment. The situation is a complex one. Race in America always has, is and likely always will be based off prejudices, ignorance and calamities older than the Internet itself. No one denies that. Just like exposing information about officers’ families wasn’t the greatest course of action simply because putting more safeties at risk does nothing but further complicate an already explosive scenario.
But if solving a problem is the M.O., why is it that journalists have spoken to Johnson and, at last press time, the police department hasn’t? Why is it every answer provided has come from those reporting on the ground or the Robin Hood of Internet hackers, Anonymous (who up to this point have proven credible in their leaks)? Why is it that if Brown was the aggressor, his body was found 35 feet away from where the alleged assault took place? Why is it that in the video below, witnesses can be heard discussing the shooting moments after it happened with details of the events?
“I thought a n*gga was just dumping at the boy. I ain’t know the police was doing it.”
“I bet you the boy ain’t even got no gun on him.”
“It was like eight shots.”
“They killed the boy. That’s messed up.”
If they understand the desire for answers, it’s questions left unanswered creating growing dissension towards the department. And why is it Ferguson’s surveillance equipment in patrol cars have yet to be installed? During a Wednesday press conference, the reason being stated from the lack of funds. Without knowledge of their budget or books, proving otherwise is difficult.
But it doesn’t help their favor when law enforcement roam streets bombarding blocks, neighborhoods and private properties with tear gas all while attempting to intimidate residents in tanks (tanks!) with automatic weapons pointed in every direction.
American war veterans with tenures in Iraq and Bosnia are failing to understand the need for excessive firepower in Ferguson. In less than a week, the small town outside St. Louis has destroyed any momentum the movie Let’s Be Cops generated, reminded the country of the area’s deep-rooted racial aggressions and became the unofficial for the cover for the next Call Of Duty. That’s a trifecta even the NYPD and LAPD sit back and golf clap for.
Arresting city councilmen, shooting protestors with rubber bullets, gassing state senators and roughhousing and arresting journalists attempting to document what is vastly becoming the biggest riot in 20 years is falling under their watch. Mya White, a Howard University alum, was badly wounded after being shot by police while reporting in Ferguson. A six-month pregnant woman was thrown to the ground on her stomach. Not implying every protestor has beat the pavement with only the sincerest of intentions, but the aggressors, by all accounts, have been the side with the badges, guns and bulletproof vests. And had it not been for Twitter, Vine and other social media outlets, 2014 in Ferguson and 1965 in Watts have run parallel at times.
Eric Garner was murdered July 17. His death wasn’t officially ruled a homicide until August 1. The point being is investigations takes time. The thorough ones at least, so attempting to gather facts is complicit with the process.
“There is no timeline” for that process, St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch said. “We will do it as expeditiously as possible, but we won’t rush through it…. It’s not going to happen in two weeks.”
That could be as short as two days or two months. Again, this all boils down to a public relations intricacy. How things are said are just as important as what’s said and when it’s said.
Right now, with tensions at a blistering high in Ferguson, “no timetable” sounds eerily like “we’ll get to it when we can.” And again, fair or foul, right or wrong, it’s the Ferguson Police Department that’s going to suffer and get drug through the mud of public opinion because it’s ultimately the bunker they erected themselves.
“That doesn’t give the community confidence. That doesn’t make it transparent,” attorney Benjamin Crump, who represented Trayvon Martin’s family, said to reporters. “And remember, we’ve got a long way to go before this community starts to believe that the police are going to give them all the answers and not try to sweep it under the rug.”
When people are left in the dark, without answers, without any hint as to why an injustice was served or hope that said injustice will be rectified, they become desperate. They become agitated. Revolts happen. Asking those who feel they have been wronged to remain calm never ends well, especially when they have never felt comfortable in the environment to begin with. Especially on a hot button topic like Michael Brown. Especially when now, along with Garner’s death, Ice Cube’s opening lines from N.W.A.’s controversial single, “F*ck The Police,” are powerfully relevant. Especially when several saw Brown allegedly plead for his own life only to have an entire clip sandwiched throughout his body.
The proverbial blindfold the FPD and St. Louis’ powers that be have placed not only on the residents of Ferguson, but now the country as a whole are the roots for backlash.
It’s too late now. It’s too late to save face when the real one has already been exposed. It’s just too damn late.
Update: Bloomberg News is reporting that Missouri Governor Jay Nixon will replace St. Louis police. It’s currently unclear whether state police or FBI will be involved.