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August 14, 2014 11:45 AM The Avoidable Ferguson Disaster

By Ed Kilgore

As people elsewhere absorb the nightmarish photos of military clashes in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, and accounts of reporters and camera teams being assaulted by the supposed forces of peace and order, U.S. Rep. William Clay is reporting that MO Gov. Jay Nixon is about to remove St. Louis County police officers from the scene, presumably to be replaced by state police.

As Jelani Cobb aptly puts it in his eyewitness account for the New Yorker, the story from Ferguson has decisively changed:

The day began with questions about why a young man was killed just days before he was due to begin college. It ended as a referendum on the militarization of American police forces. There is a feedback loop of recrimination playing in the streets of Ferguson. With the thinnest of rationales, the police here responded to community anger in the self-justifying language of force, under circumstances that call for a more humane tongue.

As a brief look across the commentariat confirms, the “feedback loop of recrimination” has infected many conservative gabbers, who are now telling a “story” of those people rioting and looting. Their talk of “outside agitators”—including, of course, the New Black Panther Party—brings back memories of justifications of police violence during the Civil Rights Era.

Perhaps I’m being naive here, but the violence seems to have been avoidable, even after the initial violence of Michael Brown’s slaying. Consider this snippet from Cobb’s account:

The people who live in Canfield Green, the apartment complex where Brown was shot while on his way to visit his grandmother, not only witnessed his death but were subjected to an undignified wake: his prone figure sprawled on the street for four hours in the unforgiving August sun, with blood on the asphalt—an indignity in sharp contrast with the quick departure of the officer from the scene. “This was brazen,” [Etefia] Umana said to me. “It was done out in the open.”

It won’t be easy for Nixon and other interveners to turn back the clock and return everyone’s attention to the original “story” and secure accountability for what happened to Brown. But removing the alleged perpetrators from the scene instead of relying on them to keep the peace is a critical first step.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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