Ferguson and the Police-Civilian Relationship

In light of the recent events in Ferguson, I thought that I might say a few words on the police-civilian relationship.

First of all, it should be noted that what happened in Ferguson is a tragedy no matter whose story is right. If Michael Brown’s story is correct, then it would be the murder of an unarmed civilian. If the police’s story is correct, then it would be the unnecessary killing of a civilian who fought against an officer. Though all the facts have not emerged, and perhaps may never, neither story supports the claim that it was necessary to kill the civilian. And even if it had been somehow necessary to have killed a civilian, it still would have been a tragedy.

Many say that there has always been racial tension between the mainly white police force and the mainly black residents of Ferguson. Those who believe in the existence of such a hostile relationship will indeed assert that race played a role. And I am sympathetic to that view. To be clear, I do not know if it did, but having seen statistics on how blacks are targeted by police overall, I would not be surprised.

Besides the racial component, there could be another reason why there is tension between the police and civilian population, and that is because the average person’s encounter with the police usually involves getting a ticket. Consequently, although their purpose is to “protect and serve,” the police are often viewed as an external punisher. To make matters worse, there is the militarization of the police. To be clear, I do not know whether or not heavily armored vehicles and high caliber weaponry are necessary to fight domestic crimes, but I am fairly certain that it exacerbates the relationship between the two groups. When civilians see an overwhelming and intimidating show of force, it only strengthens the idea that the police are not there to serve the public.

I once spoke with a Norwegian person who used to work at a prison. He said that one day this large man was getting out of control and so he and three other men had to tackle him, but because that man was so large, they had trouble keeping him subdued. In response to this, I asked, “Why didn’t you just use a taser?” He replied, “He’s a human being; he’s not an animal.” His response took me aback. I had never thought about the dehumanization effects of using a taser. Ever since that conversation I have been wondering whether or not using a taser (and similar weapons) affects the subconscious of the user and the victim. If so, it would only worsen the police-civilian relationship.