By David Cruz
There were more scenes of violence during another chaotic night in Ferguson, Missouri yesterday, as protesters clashed with police yet again. The violence there has sparked a national debate on police tactics and race relations. Today, two men who know what it’s like to run a big-city police department shared their thoughts on what they’ve been seeing over the last two weeks.
“You have a very suspicious police shooting,” said Sen. Cory Booker. “We need to know what the facts are and we need to make sure that it’s being done on a level of accountability where just not the local actors are involved but, as I’ve called upon, that we get the Attorney General in there to take a look at it as well but it’s more than that. It also involves the challenges we’re seeing now with how the police are treating private citizens, innocent citizens who are exercising their first amendment rights. It goes beyond that even.”
Gov. Chris Christie was asked about his reaction to the scenes in Ferguson, specifically whether police are too eager to arrest and physically confront people of color.
“I’m not going to get into this game of characterizing people in this way. Everybody should be judged on their merits,” said the governor. “Whatever happened in Ferguson we have a justice system that’ll be able to make that judgment and the people that should be held accountable, I’m confident they will be. But I’m not going to get into this business of generalizing about law enforcement. It’s not fair.”
Sen. Booker is the former mayor of Newark, the state’s largest city, which has had its own problems dealing with its citizens, so much so that the Department of Justice is preparing to step in and force changes in the culture and practices there, a process that will not happen quickly or easily.
Officials say that every town is different and that every police department has its own unique circumstances to deal with but they say that the lessons from Ferguson are pretty fundamental.
“I spoke to about 200 police officers in the city of Newark and I told them that what’s happening in Missouri is actually the best practices for what we shouldn’t be doing,” said Newark Mayor Ras Baraka. “So whatever they’re doing, we’re gonna do the opposite.”
As for the firepower employed — tactical weapons, tear gas and military vehicles — Booker said they make sense in a city like Newark, which has been the target of external terror threats, but denounced the way they were employed in Ferguson.
“You’re not preparing yourself to attack the residents of the community; you’re preparing yourself to attack those who try to attack the community, and when you look at the community as the problem, then things begin to spiral out of control, as we’ve seen,” he said.
New Jersey hasn’t seen scenes of violence like these since the urban unrest of the ’60s and ’70s. But, as the events in Ferguson demonstrate, it only takes one spark to ignite an inferno.