Civil Liberties

After a Week of Unrest in Ferguson, Missouri Governor Wants "a vigorous prosecution" in Michael Brown Case


Governor Jay Nixon

With not-so-effortless timing, Missouri's Governor Jay Nixon announces that, ten days after a Ferguson police officer shot unarmed Michael Brown at least six times, sparking violent protests, it's time for "a vigorous prosecution" to be pursued.

This comes after an intervening week-plus of police officers on the street in battle dress, riding armored vehicles, wielding assault rifles, and firing on the admittedly aggressive crowd in a feedback loop of viciousness. It was a week that burned indelible images into many apparently willfully innocent minds of a U.S. city under what looked like military occupation. Foreign correspondents flocked to the scene to capture the exotic sight of urban conflict in a place where you could get a decent cup of coffee.

To put the Ferguson fiasco in context, Governor Nixon sent in the National Guard to deescalate tensions between authorities and a mostly African-American community fed up with brutal police tactics.

"National Guard" and "deescalate" don't generally appear in the same sentence.

But now, while promising to restore law and order in Ferguson, where police are under the command of Captain Ron Johnson of the Highway Patrol, local officials having been pushed aside as perhaps a tad too banana-republic-ish in their crowd control instincts, Governor Nixon says it just might be time to address the original cause of upset.

a vigorous prosecution must now be pursued.

The democratically elected St. Louis County prosecutor and the Attorney General of the United States, each have a job to do. Their obligation to achieve justice in the shooting death of Michael Brown must be carried out thoroughly, promptly, and correctly; and I call upon them to meet those expectations.

Let's remember that this specific incident started with the shooting, at least six times, of an unarmed man who may have been a shoplifter, and who was apparently not suspected of that crime, but was instead stopped for walking in the street.

Behind that is a long and escalating history of intrusive and oppressive policing, starting in America's minority communities, but extending far beyond. The most visible aspect of that is the camouflage and armored vehicles, but cops in patrol cars and blue uniforms can be every bit as big a problem when they adopt an "obey or die" attitude and persecute whole neighborhoods.

"A vigorous prosecution" (carried out according to due process, and not out of panic, one hopes, though we're in politician country here) is a first step. And Nixon sounds an encouraging note when he says, "We won't always get it right, but we're going to keep trying. Because Ferguson is a test, a test not just for the people of this community, but for all Americans. And it is a test we must not fail."

If we're going to avoid an epic fail, changing the way police operate throughout the country (and not just throwing one cop to the wolves) needs to come next.