Thursday, September 4, 2014

Ferguson Protests: Walking Through the Crowd: Ferguson, MO

Background: I went to Ferguson, MO on August 14 and August 15 in order to gain a greater understanding of what was happening. As a Martial Artist that travels around the country I have the rare privilege of interfacing with dozens of schools and fighters. This gives me a unique opportunity to meet people from all walks of life and hear their stories and opinions. With enough people posting their positions on Facebook, LinkedIn and in person it was easy to see that there is a range of opinions. Some people vilified the police while others defended the actions as self-defence.

I don’t train law enforcement but having trained with and under them, we are constantly talking. So when a situation as volatile as Ferguson occurs I like to check it out. It helps me validates what I am learning but also take back a civilian perspective to my friends in the law enforcement community. In the case of Ferguson two things became immediately clear, the police in Ferguson had failed the community utterly and the community desperately needed a police force.
A reminder of that we are all the same.

Observations on the police: There have been a hundred analysts that will debate the necessity of the the police response and the way it was conducted. Walking the protests I was amazed by the fact the police could only hug the edges of the conflict. As I walked around there wasn’t a uniformed officer to be found. Regardless of your view on Mike Brown and Darren Wilson’s characters, when thousands take to the streets and expel the police force, you have a major public relations problem.
It was amazing that no one was hurt in traffic accidents.

The night of the 14th the armoured units were not deployed and I never saw the riot gear that caused so much uproar. However, in discussing the situation with the residents you got a sense of the mistreatment that they felt. One gentleman I spoke with mentioned being called “a monkey” and that the officers threw bananas at them. At first I wrote this off to exaggeration and hyperbole of an angry man. Yet, as the week went on and we had video of officers calling the citizens “animals” and threatening them with firearms I found myself thinking about the conversation. Suddenly, the man's statement I had written off moved from fictional to plausible. I found myself realising that I was trusting a man I met for only minutes more than the Ferguson police. If my feelings, as someone that is pro law enforcement, could be tainted then it was a small wonder the residents held such a low opinion of the cops.

Note to police – You have technology: A lot of commentary has been made about the militarization of the police. Strangely though, little has been focused on the the technological gap that exists between protester and police. If you have never walked in a protest I highly recommend it. They are noisy, boisterous masses of people that are boiling at an injustice they perceive. The problem with this is that it reduces your world to a tiny microcosm. Gone is the awareness of your surroundings as your hearing is limited to your immediate vicinity and your vision blocked.
My world is reduced the to the rear of the QuikTrip.

The police have a huge advantage. They are communicating over radios, receiving calls from 911 operators, getting pictures from the media via tweets, live streams and drones. Their ability to process data is enormous compare to the singular, unfocussed protester. Which means, the police  might know that there is looting taking place down the street and are moving in to enforce the law and maintain safety. However, this information hasn't been communicated to the protesters. Now, police in riot gear are moving in to clear the streets for public safety yet the people that have assembled peacefully have none of this critical information. Instead, because they are trapped in a microcosm of their immediate surroundings they view it as the police descending on them.

I can tell you that have been prodded with a baton during a protest, nothing turns you on the police faster. I wasn't even hit hard, rather nudged in the ribs with enough intent to demonstrate what would happen if I didn't move. Once this transpired it marred my opinion of the Montreal police for days. Ferguson is no different. Steps need to be taken to communicate with the protesters so they understand police actions.
Even a small wall of people block your view and shrink your world. 

Note to police – Protesters have technology: Although in the moment the individual is caught up in their immediate surroundings they hold a powerful tool. Ferguson demonstrated wonderfully how the collective rage of the internet can be focused with razor precision. Just like the individual protester is nothing compared to the technological superiority of the police, members of the law enforcement community are subjected to the near limitless processing power of the internet. There is an old saying that a if you have a good experience you will tell one person but you will mention a bad experience to ten people. The internet magnifies this a thousand times over with the possibility of a video going viral and being seen by millions.

A mind shift needs to go on in the police force. Cameras are everywhere and they are here to stay. It means that any time law enforcement is performing a police action they are no longer addressing an individual. Rather, law enforcement needs to consider that they are addressing a nation. Make sure that you are comfortable being on camera and speaking to crowds. Video your training sessions and compare them to videos of "bad" cops that go viral. How close are you? Would a video of your force go viral?
Seriously, what would you do if protesters showed up with a horse? Because they did. 

Note to police - Fashion is important: What you wear is important. Forget the "militarisation" of police force. Instead go look at the international section of your newspaper or better yet google "Police Oppression Ferguson." Then google "Police Oppression China" or any other government that you consider harsh to its people. Notice the similarities between the two? 
South African police suppressing the miners in Mokopane. (Photo Credit: Google Images)

Now this isn't to say that the police in the USA are the equivalent to the thugs that are employed by authoritarian governments. Far from it. Having been to places like Zambia where we bribed police officers to drive on the roads, the USA is nowhere close. Yet, it has been said, "appearance is everything" and this is extremely true in this case. Think of the level of indoctrination that the people of America face. Every day they are bombarded by images of oppression and when police dress in the same manner it doesn't matter that they aren't thugs. The perception is that the police force is the same as those they have seen on television. 
Police in Ferguson coming through the tear gas. 

Conclusion: Police are immensely important in any society. Without them law and order breaks down and gangs move in. I saw gangs and had my camera pushed away while being threatened. Yet, the police need the support of the community. When a community would rather trust themselves to the hands of the lawless it speaks not of a single issue but of a systemic distrust. 
. The Outlaw Bikers where just one of various gangs I saw. 

Best regards and keep training,

Martin "Travelling Ronin" Fransham 

If you are interested in training together I would love to get together with you. Drop me a line on facebook and we can connect. I would love to learn from you. On Facebook:
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