News / USA

US Police Tactics Stir Controversy

Messages written in a parking lot protest the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, on Aug. 15, 2014.
Messages written in a parking lot protest the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, on Aug. 15, 2014.
Adam Phillips

Rubber bullets, tear gas, sniper rifles, armored vests, flash grenades: the military-style tactics used by Ferguson, Mo., police confronted by crowds angered about an unarmed teenager's killing have filled TV screens and front pages all week. 

They're nothing new, however, according to activists who warn that the tactics, along with recent deaths involving police in other cities, are indicative of a troubling trend among law enforcement agencies. 

“Anyone who studies American history [will find] that there has always been a national problem between law enforcement and its abusive tactics against people of color generally and poor people in particular,” said al-Hajj Talib Abdur-Rashid, president of the Islamic Leadership Council of Metropolitan New York.  

The killing of the 18-year-old Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer last Saturday sparked the riots that gripped the St. Louis suburb on and off all week.

They came just weeks after furor erupted in New York, when a plainclothes officer used a "chokehold" in an arrest of a man allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes. The man later died, a death the city coroner ruled was a homicide.  

The deaths are indicative of a crisis of trust between law enforcement and civilians, and it’s nothing new, Abdur-Rashid said.

"Law enforcement still hasn’t gotten it right,” he said.

'Broken Windows' Theory

In recent decades, police agencies have employed a theory of community policing known as “broken windows.” The theory says that police must show zero tolerance for smaller crimes, because they will lead to larger crimes if left unchecked.

Critics of "broken windows" policing say it has led to overzealousness by police. Officers end up arresting civilians for minor infractions such as littering, playing music too loudly or drinking beer in public, rather than just warning them.
New York City police officers also have a quota for arrests, said Robert Ganji, director of the Police Reform Organizing Project.

“And what cops do under the quota system is arrest people because they don’t get credit for issuing a warning and having that take care of the problem," he said. "They don’t get credit if they break up a fight between two boys and send them home. They only get credit if they arrest two boys for assault.”
Job pressure and fear can lead some police to regard people in higher crime and minority neighborhoods as potential troublemakers, not innocent citizens, Ganji said. That attitude makes for deep resentment within the community, bad morale for the police and lately, criticism by the general public, he said.

Ganji said police he’s spoken with “say things like ‘I really don’t like this. I took this job because I want to help people. But if I focus on helping people, they’ll hang me.’"  


For people to complain when police use force, while appreciating the benefits a police force has brought them is hypocritical, argued Maki Haberfeld, a former officer who chairs the Department of Law and Police Science at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.  

"They’re not there to punish people who violate the law. But we do need to take it within the context that police officers interact with people who are violent, [and] have violent pasts,” she said.
Police make errors of judgment, sometimes fatal ones, she said.  There, the blame lies with the lack of mandatory national training standards for police on when and how to use force appropriately.

That’s a systemic failure, not a failure by individual police officers or police departments, Haberfield argued.

“They don’t receive the right tools to police the way they are supposed to police,” she said.

Experts cite other contributing factors: poverty, a lack of education, few jobs or economic opportunity.

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Comment Sorting
by: akande tunde from: Nigeria
August 17, 2014 4:34 PM
American is a society full of hate but likes preaching tolerance and brotherhood abroad. You can't give what you don't have. Little surprise that Cuba, Venezuela, Brazil, Libya, Russia, Germany, China, etc are skeptical of the 'gospel of freedom & equality ' they preach. Charity suppose to begin @ home!

by: Lawrence Bush from: Houston, Texas
August 17, 2014 2:18 PM
The primus and princep thing as our people must endeavor to maintain calm. Over the shooting of the black teenager Michael Brown, the state government of Missouri as well as our federal govt., upto our president ..... all are concerned. For justice, there must be investigations thoroughly, that our people must have confidence. Please, no political colors out of this incident. The governer of the Missouri state should come forward and calm our people.

by: jon jonzz from: everywhere
August 17, 2014 11:07 AM
its not the idea of law enforcement its the cowboys attracted to it that do 99% of the harm, sanity and aggression test are needed before hire

by: george
August 16, 2014 9:20 PM
where are the International Crisis , Group ,The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Amnesty International, The Council of Europe and Human Rights when things like in Ferguson are happening and similar alike across US.....they are no where to be seen ....WHY

by: meanbill from: USA
August 16, 2014 6:07 PM
Barack Obama on (June 06, 2007), warned of the black "Quiet Riots" and warned they don't erupt overnight, and the black "Quiet Riots" have been building all across America, and the black "Quiet Riots" happen everyday.....

MY OPINION;.. Black people don't understand freedom, respect, and other peoples rights, and only think about what "they" expect, not realizing what "they" expect is the same as other peoples expect..... The LAWS are made to protect everybody from those who'd disobey them, but black people think they should be allowed to disobey them, by overly flaunting violence and disrespect against police.... Black hate for whites and authority erupts anytime a white kills a black, no matter the circumstances), and completely ignore the many more killings by blacks on everybody of any race.... (The Black Quiet Riots)..
In Response

by: Ricardo from: Brazil
August 17, 2014 7:29 PM
Congratulations for your comments.

by: Juanita M. from: London
August 16, 2014 4:27 PM
I am sorry to say it but the African Americans in the US are acting no different than the Islamists in the Middle East. The absolute renunciation of Reason and the immediate violent response... The Guy that they called "Unarmed Boy" was in point of fact a Brutal 6'7' adult felon with a history of brutalizing honest vendors in the community. I am sorry, but i don't see any difference between the "Black Community" reaction and that of Hamas, ISIL, Ismaic Jihad, or the Muslim Brotherhood, they must be made to understand that the breakdown of law and order and terrorizing the community with fire bombs is unacceptable in a civilized society. really despicable
In Response

by: Rich b from: Canada
August 17, 2014 8:39 AM
Your comment is not only racist and designed to incite but also inaccurrate.
He was 6'4" not six foot seven and Not a convicted felon.
Sure he's a likely suspected in a robbery and assault of a chop clerk and possibly assault of a cop-
But your analogies to global islam/ terrorism et al are ridiculous and unwarranted.
Next time just say "dark people BAD!"
And we can fill in the blanks ourselves.

by: Lance from: Denver
August 16, 2014 3:54 PM
It is very unfortunate that American media has launched an attack on police in the US because of the Ferguson tragedy. I have yet to see any kind of objective reporting on this horrific issue. We need to find out what the cause of this shooting was. Police do not just go around and randomly shoot innocent, law-abiding, unarmed citizens. The media and people of the US should be trying to find out why this tragic incident occurred in the first place so these types of tragedies do not happen again.
Police receive many hours on use of force training and when anyone, regardless of skin color, race, ethnicity, religion, etc. attempts to take a police officer's weapon, based on the law, the police officer is authorized to use deadly force to protect his/her life and the lives of others. Twenty percent of officers killed in a shooting are killed by their own weapon, and yet the media says nothing about this. This is a serious problem in itself that is completely overlooked. The officer in the Ferguson shooting was injured while Mr. Brown was trying to take his gun, and yet nothing is mentioned about this part of the story.

Furthermore, people have a right to PEACEFUL protest. Once citizens start throwing rocks and firebombs at police trying to protect public establishments from being looted and preventing riots, again, by law, police are authorized to use necessary and appropriate force. Tear gas and rubber bullets are used as a last resort as non-lethal force. Based on the chaotic situation, their lives being in danger from firebombs and rocks, the police took action they felt was necessary and appropriate to defend themselves. Should police not be allowed to defend themselves? Rubber bullets and tear gas are legal, non-lethal tools according to the law. In training, police are sprayed with tear gas and pepper spray so that they know what is like. Before these tools are used, many verbal warnings are issued. Police are not going to use any type of force against people obeying the law. Portraying our police professionals who are trying to protect the community as untrained "militants," foments unnecessary misconceptions and will not solve anything. In fact, it exacerbates the problem. Citizens have a duty to obey the law and respect public servants. The same goes for public servants, including police.

Ultimately, there are two sides to this issue and a healthy public debate is the best way to raise INFORMED awareness. One-sided reporting is propaganda and is not going to solve this issue. Violent protesting, rioting, and looting is not going to solve this problem either. Citizens need to be accountable for their actions and act responsibly, just as police are. It is a two-way street. This anti-police campaign needs to stop. Let the FBI conduct the investigation to find out what really happened and let's start having some objective reporting!

In Response

by: dhoruba from: Africa
August 19, 2014 10:05 AM
Maybe folks are a little unclear on the socio-political meaning of "spontaneous violence" when it is an expression of powerlessness and response to institutional violence and dehumanization. What is occurring and has occurred in Ferguson, MO are not "riots" that is the term employed by those in actual power, their corporate media, and social pundits. The violence in Ferguson was/is a mass rebellion of a single municipality, but a rebellion nonetheless. Power is the ability to define things as well as make things do what you want done. While spontaneous violence is essentially reactionary or reactive violence to the repression of the state, or in the case of Black folks in America, to the over arching systemic of white supremacy that informs the politics of the National Security State and the cultural attitudes of the soon to be minority white male population, we would not be having this national debate on police brutally.

Were it not for the police repression and violent display of military force visited upon peaceful protesters in Ferguson we would be commenting on the Militarized State of domestic law enforce. A militarized police is all that African-Americans have ever known! It's nothing new - indeed, absent the spontaneous uprising of the people in Ferguson against militarized police our issue of nationwide racist police brutality would have been confined to a Sharptonesque "dog and pony show". If the protests had remained peaceful, confined to the police barricades and the media neatly tucked away in their officially designated "Press" areas, the larger issue raised by Michael Brown's murder would never be so hotly debated as they currently are, nor would the state representatives be responsive to the criticisms of over policing and militarism.

To accuse the lowest segments within an already disenfranchised community that are particularly marginalized and who are the regular daily targets of institutionally racist policing, and thereby reduce their protest "criminals opportunism" or portray them as a small "segment" of the broader "law biding community", is not only an attempt to divide the Ferguson Black Community by class, but is the same delusional analysis used in the sixties and seventies to explain urban rebellions that rocked complacent white America and to absolve White dominated and controlled institutional America and their sycophant "stakeholders" in the African-American community of the endemic white supremacy rooted in American culture, its institutions and the duopoly of the Republican/Democrat,

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