Militarization of Police

Stuff White People Riot About


When the St. Louis-area police brought out all its military equipment and camouflage to bear against its own citizens protesting the shooting of Michael Brown this summer, they finally drew some national attention to the serious problem of overmilitarized local law enforcement agencies. On Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, the titular host mocked the town of Keene, New Hampshire, for requesting a BearCat military vehicle. They defended the addition because town's annual pumpkin festival could be a target for terrorist attacks. How silly!

This weekend, Keene's annual pumpkin festival was ruined by violence. Whoops! Okay, they weren't terrorists, though; they were rioting drunken college students, and arguably police militarization still isn't a needed response. Still, it's amusing to note, though perhaps not if you're a resident of Keene. There have been dozens of arrests and, yes, police came out in force to use tools like pepper spray to disperse the crowds. There have been extensive reports of property damage. People were struck and injured by thrown rocks and bottles. There may be more arrests coming.

Keene, New Hampshire, is a pretty white city, so now folks are comparing the way the riots there have been described compared to the mostly peaceful (but not always) protests in Ferguson. Photo memes have become the weapon of choice, comparing words used for each protest:

My one criticism of the above comparison is that while it's true these words were thrown around to describe both incidents (or series of incidents, I guess) they didn't all come from the same media mouths. CNN may have called the Keene kids "rowdy," but did they call the protesters in Ferguson "thugs"? Looking at the media as one great big "them" is an impediment to actually trying to hold any particular media outlet to account for careless use of language. Also, it can illustrate more of an obsession with optics or semantics over the real issues involved. I don't think anybody is suggesting what happened in Keene was anything other than flat-out riots and violence.

There's also some, "Black people riot like this. White people riot like this," discussion that's worth taking a look at. In Ferguson, people were rioting over perceived abuse of police power that left a young man dead. In Keene, people were rioting over. … well, nobody's really sure, actually. Luke O'Neill and Jordan LeBeau at have a couple of pieces analyzing the way we look at black people rioting versus the way we look at white people rioting and the reasons behind them that are worth a read. The one thing I find worrisome is the idea that O'Neil suggests that it's not that police are too hard on black rioters, but rather they're not hard enough on white rioters. While there are a number of incidents of drunken white dudes causing all sorts of damage in response to sports or … mostly sports, I guess … these riots still don't happen in the frequency where we need to be suggesting that the problem is that police aren't aggressive enough.