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As racial tensions simmer over police shooting, how military police tactics aggravate crowds

August 14th, 2014
03:24 PM ET

By Mick Krever, CNN

Tensions are high in the small American town of Ferguson, Missouri as people take to the streets to protest the police shooting of an unarmed black teenager last Saturday.

Stunning images Wednesday night showed police officers in full riot gear using military grade-vehicles and firing tear gas canisters towards crowds.

“I sat and watched snipers from the top of armored cars train their sights on demonstrators,” Jamelle Bouie, a staff writer for Slate reporting from Ferguson, told CNN’s Hala Gorani, in for Christiane Amanpour.

“When that happens, when people see it happens, it agitates them – completely reasonably. I don’t think there’s anyone, really, who could experience that and not come away from it a little shaken.”

Michael Brown was just two days away from starting college when he was walking to his grandmother's house with a friend on Saturday. Witnesses say a police officer confronted the two, and after a short verbal dispute shot Brown multiple times, even as he had his hands in the air.

Police dispute that account, and say Brown assaulted the officer, whom they are not naming.

The town has since erupted with protest and increasing violence.

“For the last twenty years, Congress had a program that allows police departments – local and state – to purchase military-grade weaponry from the surplus,” Bouie said.

“What that means is that countless little small towns like Ferguson … have tanks, they have armored vehicles, they have mine-resistant vehicles, they have assault weapons, they have helicopters, they have sniper rifles – they have a whole host of equipment that is really more appropriate for warzones than it is for small-town policing.”

“It makes people less likely to listen, it makes people want to confront, and then it leads to situations where the police feel that they have to use tear gas and use rubber bullets, which is a completely disproportionate response to what was a very peaceful demonstration.”

Ferguson, population just 21,000, is nearly two-thirds black. But you wouldn't know it from the town’s leadership. Its mayor and police chief are white, and of its 53 police officers just three are black.

Civil rights investigators at the Department of Justice are looking into the shooting of Brown, and even the president has been briefed on the matter.

“Places like St. Louis city and St. Louis County are very segregated,” Bouie said. “St. Louis is one of the most segregated areas in the country. And what segregation means in today’s America is that you have communities that are cut off from resources, cut off from jobs, cut off from opportunities, and then also are subject to an unbelievable amount of policing.”

“I’ve talked to quite a few young men here who say that on an average month they’re stopped five, six, seven, eight times by the police, which is just incredible when you think that most people in a year will never have any interaction, period, with the police.”

“One of the things that’s come across to me reporting here is that there are many people of color in Ferguson and St. Louis who don’t feel like they are stakeholders, who don’t feel like the police are here to protect them; rather, they feel that the police are here to protect others from them.”

“So I think first and foremost there needs to be representation; there needs to be a sense that everyone is in this together for anything to move forward.”

READ MORE: Full CNN coverage of the shooting and protests in Ferguson, Missouri.

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soundoff (50 Responses)
  1. Bob

    Why have our police dept's become military forces? They now act as if they are at war and we the citizens are the enemy. It is not just blacks it is everyone – every race, creed and color.

    Explain to me why this small town needs military gear? They have ZERO reason. And where were the tax payers? Why didn't they say – stop and hold on. That money could be better spent in many places.

    Time to take away ALL military grade equipment from these thugs.

    August 15, 2014 at 10:11 am | Reply
    • Paul Atreides, jr.

      It's just preparation and practice for the not-too-distant future when we collectively hit the wall and what social cohesion that still remains is lost. Some can see it coming, and so are getting ready but in so doing are also hastening its arrival. Anyone who cares to look can see that so many aspect of our society are so unsustainable that it seems like a cultural form of mental illness.

      It might be best for most of us to begin lowering our expectations for our futures now so the martial law and food/water/medicine rationing leading to a refugee-like existence won't be such a shock. Based on present trends (subject to change without notice), I give it another 5-10 years before the party comes to a screeching halt and I expect the unproductive partisan bickering among self-serving sociopaths (our so-called "leaders") to last right up until it does.

      August 17, 2014 at 1:17 pm | Reply
      • Paula Spencer

        Well said.

        August 17, 2014 at 5:01 pm |
      • Diane

        I second that!

        Also, I do not fear the police or feel like they are on a powers trip with or without military gear. Maybe because I don't break the law?

        And in case you haven't noticed, there are Muslim extremists who have successfully attacked us and will again so we need local police to spring into action. Trust me, you ARE going to want their help then.

        August 25, 2014 at 8:47 am |
    • Moshe moskowitz

      Your post is so naive. The cities around St. Louis are a war zone. You said there was ZERO reason for the police actions. Obviously you know little about real life. Many of these young black men carry guns, some to rob, others to survive. I would not be a COP in those places for any amount of money. Fact is this heavy stuff saves the lives of cops, no doubt, so come down your ivory tower and smell what real life is like in the city.

      August 17, 2014 at 4:05 pm | Reply
    • Dirk

      Why don't Jesse or Al help these people sue the department as opposed to whipping the public into riot?

      August 18, 2014 at 9:44 am | Reply
      • Mike

        Just one question, how many white kids have been killed at the hands of blacks since all this began????

        August 20, 2014 at 12:46 pm |
    • WERT


      August 19, 2014 at 7:46 pm | Reply




      August 19, 2014 at 7:56 pm | Reply
    • Uncle Sam

      We are the First line of defence against a terrorsit attack when the national Guard is not there. Plus with more armored police the Drug Cartels and Gangs will not attemp to gain more area under thier control if there is a great force stopping them. We Serve and Protect from all threats! Why is it when a black person gets shot it turns in to a War with you people? You never see riots over a white person getting shot by the cops.We don't hide behind al sharpton or Obama when something happens. We admit when we are guilty.

      August 28, 2014 at 1:47 pm | Reply
  2. kate buckley

    If the Ferguson is 70% people of color, why does the police force not reflect that demographic? If the city is really concerned with the safety of its population, the police force would be 70% people of color. This is America. It is a MELTING POT! This is what makes our country the best.
    Were the boys just picked on because the cop may be a bully with an issue?

    August 15, 2014 at 8:00 pm | Reply
    • Dan

      Simple, because the demographics have changed rapidly and because the black people are not voting. I don't get being upset about it if you didn't vote.

      August 16, 2014 at 5:28 am | Reply
    • Dan

      Actually I'm going to try a longer version. Individual police officers are of course not voted in. They are hired. So this get more complicated. First there is the issue of the rapidly changing demographic. Should you fire career police because they are no longer the right color for their city? Is that morally right? Then there is the question of new hires. Are those representing the present demographics? In other words is there equal representation in NEW hires. If not is there equal opportunity for new hires? If the last question is no, then there's a clear problem but black people still better vote. Even if you're right, you better make sure to get people on your side fighting for that. If the last question is yes but the first is no, then there is going to be some real fighting, but again, better go vote to get your champions in place. If you just want to fire white police, good luck with that. If you want to pay more taxes and increase new hires to hire more black police, well, again, better vote.

      August 16, 2014 at 5:41 am | Reply
      • Mohammed

        I racial makeup of the police force should reflect the racial makeup of the towns population. If there are few black police, the police department must actively recruit qualified black policemen to fill vacancies.

        August 16, 2014 at 5:04 pm |
      • Paula Spencer

        I am so tired of hearing about color. Its not about color, clearly. (We have a half black president in the white house) I am of mexican decent. Many of my cousins are thugs and drug dealers. I decided a long time ago that if I did have children, they would NOT go that route and they have not. They do not have tatoos, they do not do drugs, they do not allow their pants to hang down to their behinds, they do not smoke or do illegal drugs nor do they take what does not belong to them without paying for it first. They dress with dignity, they study the Bible they treat others with dignity and respect and they are brown. Its not about external color, its about who you are inside. Raise your children to love God, to love goodness and kindness to not look just for their own interests, to be humble and we will have a world filled with peace. I don't know if that man in the store bullying the store clerk was Michael Brown but I DO know that if it was Michael Brown then I am very VERY grateful that he will not be bullying, robbing and terrorizing another person and I am thankful that we have men and women who are willing to put their lives on the line day after day after day and deal with men like that.

        August 17, 2014 at 5:15 pm |


        August 19, 2014 at 8:00 pm |
    • tiredofthepandering

      maybe they don't get enough qualified applicants. i would doubt seriously that in all the scrutiny of every police force hirings that if they aren't at a minimum offering jobs, then they would be in trouble, so I would be willing to bet, as usual, not enough qualified blacks to make the grade.

      August 17, 2014 at 8:17 pm | Reply
    • Diane

      Without the DLI coming out to report how many applicants there have been, and what their colors are, it is difficult to answer that. Maybe there are few blacks interested in law enforcement? What is the high school completion rate among blacks? Maybe blacks there are more concerned with not being a narc than upholding the law against people who were once friends.....there are many possibilities.

      August 25, 2014 at 8:55 am | Reply
    • Uncle Sam

      Passing a drug test is required to be a cop and pefect background with no major crimes or felonies, Could be why there is not more black cops there. Commen Sence.

      August 28, 2014 at 1:50 pm | Reply
  3. rabideyemovement

    Last night the police of Ferguson did what the neighborhood wanted. They backed off, arrested no one, and let the crowds loot and pillage the local businesses. 3 shops looted, one set on fire, business owners' lives and finances destroyed, and they just stood by and watched as it happened.
    So make up your mind now, do you want them to use tactical gear to stop crime? Or do you think that communities should be allowed to loot and destroy as revenge for unsolved criminal cases?

    August 16, 2014 at 9:48 am | Reply
    • Bill in Texas

      Why do the blacks burn their own neighborhoods? Talk about dumb.

      August 19, 2014 at 8:30 pm | Reply
  4. mcbook

    Why do we continually embarrass ourselves. A young man was shot and killed, yet we loot and riot, detracting from the tragedy of this young man's death by perpetuating and strengthening already ingrained opinions about black people. Racism is alive and well. We all know that, yet I think it's a shame that those who have come and gone and fought for our freedom are constantly being dishonoured by this kind of behavior. Looting and rioting doesn't denote anger at the situation, it merely serves to turn sympathy into indifference.

    August 16, 2014 at 10:11 am | Reply
  5. Breal

    So if a black man walks into a white neighborhood he is profiled and pulled over and it is an outrage. Where I live if I as a white man walk into a black neighborhood guess what happens to me? I get jumped or shot, period. Which should we be talking about right now?

    August 16, 2014 at 2:52 pm | Reply
    • Franscois

      I totally agree with you. It is not our fault that they commit the crimes. If one look at the statistic's of crimes in is mostly blacks responsible for guess who the racists are....our whites...b'cause we catch them!!

      August 19, 2014 at 5:40 am | Reply
    • Mike

      When was the last time Obama got involved in the killing of an 18 year old white kid???

      August 20, 2014 at 12:49 pm | Reply
  6. tiredofthepandering

    none of this has to do with police tactics,, this has to do with a race of people who simply are not civilized. when there were cops, they looted, when there were nt cops, they looted, when was the last time you saw whites looting and burning down there own towns when a black shot a white. you rarely ever hear of such an event, because the media simply doesn't won't to report it,, one more time,, none of this has to do with police tactics...

    August 17, 2014 at 8:18 pm | Reply
    • Diane

      But we (Caucasians) still get blamed for even that.....

      August 25, 2014 at 8:57 am | Reply
  7. Western Propaganda

    The entire free world stands together with the people of Ferguson rising up against US oppression.

    August 18, 2014 at 4:48 am | Reply
    • Dirk

      Another robber meets his end. Good times...

      August 18, 2014 at 9:47 am | Reply
    • Bill in Texas

      Especially ISIS. Go away, bozo.

      August 19, 2014 at 8:32 pm | Reply
      • Western Propaganda

        ISIS is an American child.

        August 20, 2014 at 8:06 am |
    • Diane

      Unfortunately, media bias is not allowing the entire story to be told. Keep interested, though, because the truth will come out via the Grand Jury.

      August 25, 2014 at 9:00 am | Reply
  8. Apul M'Deek-Aoud

    This increase in violence may be due to Police epts hiring war vets.

    The last thing anyone wants is a bunch of PTSD affected vets running around the nation like they're at war.

    If it continues we will be at war, with the cops. That's not very smart, time to disarm the cops.

    August 18, 2014 at 6:45 am | Reply
    • Uncle Sam

      You seem like an ISIS Member, You guys just can't do anything with our police being armed to the teeth like our military, if our citizens have the right to bare arms we will too to defend our selves from them.

      August 28, 2014 at 1:58 pm | Reply
  9. mcbook

    A lot of black people are talking about not having jobs or how Ferguson is run by a predominantly white majority. My first thought is: are many of the black people in Ferguson qualified or skilled enough for any of these positions? They scream discrimination and the white man 'this' and the white man 'that', but the world doesn't owe anybody anything. You have to work for yourself, give respect to get respect and most importantly have some kind of education.
    Are there serious issues to be discussed? Of course there are, but you have to be intelligent enough to hold the conversation. As a black person, I'm horrified each time we choose looting and rioting and aggression as a way of expression our anger.

    August 18, 2014 at 6:54 pm | Reply
    • desertvoice

      My sense is that this is a much worse a problem than the issue of lack of education needed for being hired in Ferguson, among blacks. The whole world is becoming polarized. I see the same thing in Poland, Ukraine, Russia, Israel, and Iraq! In Poland, people curse when you pass them by. You know they are provoking you. But it happens many times a day, so you can't spend time fighting them. This exact thing happened in Ferguson. The whites are being cursed thousands of times by blacks. But they have not proof to arrest them! That was what the officer must have felt when he told the two black boys to step away from the road unto the sidewalk. he must have heard some muted curses! He must have inferred that they were cursing him! I know, because I have been cursed every day in Europe "without being able to prove it"! It's annoying! It's destructive for community peace! Being impotent, short of losing your mind and starting shooying ... what is what the white officer did!

      August 20, 2014 at 4:12 pm | Reply
    • Diane

      Understood. But you are not responsible for what others in your race choose to do. Thank you for being level headed and having the emotional intelligence needed to have the conversation.

      August 25, 2014 at 9:03 am | Reply
    • Diane

      Understood. But you are not responsible for what others in your race choose to do. Thank you for being level headed and having the emotional intelligence needed to have the conversation. Thank you for thinking more fairly. You don't realize how welcome you words are in this situation.

      August 25, 2014 at 9:13 am | Reply
  10. mcbook

    * as a way of expressing our anger *

    August 18, 2014 at 6:56 pm | Reply
  11. Fidel Castro

    Lost me at first paragraph. Why "black teenager"?

    "Teenager" alone us enough to show the real important thing in this matter.

    Not other description necessary. This is an everybody matter, but we need to solve this peaceful, not show off for nothing.

    August 18, 2014 at 11:14 pm | Reply
  12. WERT




    August 19, 2014 at 7:49 pm | Reply


    August 19, 2014 at 8:08 pm | Reply


    August 19, 2014 at 8:13 pm | Reply
  15. Bill in Texas

    Thank you mcbook.

    August 19, 2014 at 8:36 pm | Reply
  16. Western Propaganda

    Oppression at home while fueling bloodbath in Novorossia by Kiev's coupists.

    USA is a criminal regime.

    August 20, 2014 at 8:04 am | Reply
  17. jamesbergen

    This don't start with one incident. It starts with years of police abuse to the citizens. There constant mouth offs to them,threats,police failing to respond,infernal afairs covering for them and refusing to take complaints against them. Finally right or wrong there is a flash point. I have met police in the ST.Louis area 50% or more are NFG. It is a police problem. The police need solve on there own or things will get worse for them. They can not exist with out public aproval and with over 50% of Americans today not aproving of them. They are all but lost in America as a policing organization. They can not fight crime and have to keep there back to the wall as they know someone owe's them big time every were they go. Because they did and have done so many citizens wrong.

    August 22, 2014 at 4:54 pm | Reply
  18. ashok

    The easy availability of guns, even assault weapons, may compel the police in America to take more precautions than they do in other countries. Even so, the sight of almost armoured columns rolling in to deal with citizens is unsettling.

    August 25, 2014 at 8:22 am | Reply
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