- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Aug. 9 shooting on a nondescript St. Louis suburban street has sparked a national debate on race, civil rights and policing that shows no signs of cooling down.

The clash that day between black teenager Michael Brown and Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson has unleashed a flood of emotions, arguments and viewpoints around the country and around the world.

“I think that there are a series of events that changed it from just a regular shooting to something that takes on more significance,” said Dennis Parker, director of the Racial Justice Program at the American Civil Liberties Union.

There was “one misstep after another” that has drawn national attention to the event, Mr. Parker said, starting with the police’s actions right after Mr. Brown had been shot.

“His body was left laying in the street for four hours, which immediately created this impression of insensitivity or sense of carelessness about how the community would react,” Mr. Parker said.

The confrontation between a black teenager and a white police officer is no different from other incidents that have occurred across the country, said Adolphus Pruitt, president of the St. Louis city chapter of the NAACP. “It has actually brought to light the same sort of conditions that have existed in the African-American community for some time now when it comes to police.”

A certain viewpoint often “demonizes African-American males and portrays them as drug dealers and violent predators,” he said.

“Police have become so ingrained in that thought, when they approach [black men] and when they deal with them, that’s become part of how they approach it,” Mr. Pruitt said.

The Ferguson shooting has also sparked a national conversation on the “militarization” of police forces and the fact that law enforcement officers are increasingly having access to equipment once reserved for the military.

Mr. Parker said he saw images of police using tear gas, stun grenades, armored personnel carriers and other equipment to break up unarmed protests.

“I think this was particularly striking, and despite the efforts of the police to limit press converge, the coverage there was, I think, sending out a shocking picture,” he said, noting that he traveled to Switzerland earlier this month and even there “people were transfixed” by what they were seeing occur.

The national Fraternal Order of Police has so far declined to speak about the situation.

“We are not commenting on Ferguson because we are representing the officer who is a member and are concerned about due process for all concerned,” said Jim Pasco, the organization’s executive director.

Press coverage scrutinized

Whether “due process” is being contaminated by all the attention has been hotly debated, but media critics said they believe the press is generally doing a good job in its reporting so far.

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