Following the shooting death of 18-year-old black robbery suspect Michael Brown by a white police officer on Aug. 9, four distinctly different groups descended upon the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Mo.
Two of them — race-baiting leftists and the media — arrived almost simultaneously. You may quibble with the distinction here, but let’s move on.
The third group, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawyers, came on the scene shortly after the first two.
Finally, a number of pastors arrived.
All four groups had markedly different approaches and outcomes.
The race-baiters, which included the New Black Panther Party, succeeded in turning a tense situation into rioting and looting that elicited a police response in full military gear with rubber bullets. At least 30 people from several different states were among the 160 arrested.
Gregory Johnson, a political activist from the San Francisco Bay Area who was a defendant in a flag-burning case back in the ‘80s, disagreed with the idea that nonlocals were stirring things up. “This whole ‘outside agitator’ thing is getting tiresome,” he told The Wall Street Journal. If you say so, Mr. Johnson.
The media, like flies to a spotlight, gathered en masse and managed to give the rioters plenty of reason to keep tossing Molotov cocktails for the benefit of the cameras.
As reported by the Media Research Center, the networks devoted mega-time to Ferguson while ignoring the ongoing tragedy of black-on-black violence in cities all over the country.
Wall Street Journal editorial writer Jason Riley on “Meet the Press” Aug. 17 noted that “[T]he same weekend that this went down in Ferguson, we had 26 shootings in Chicago. But Al Sharpton didn’t head to Chicago. He headed to St. Louis, because he has an entirely different agenda, which is to continue to blame whites.”
Ever at the ready to worsen a bad situation, the ACLU unsuccessfully argued on behalf of Missouri resident Mustafa Abdullah to lift a police order to keep protesters moving along in the riot area. The cops thought that a gathering crowd egged on by professional agitators was a powder keg. They said peaceful protests could continue only in a specific area.
Last Monday, U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry disagreed with the ACLU and upheld the restrictions. Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster concurred in a tweet: “Peaceful protest will continue, but the violence must stop. This restriction is as narrowly tailored as the gunfire and violence will allow.”
The ACLU also took issue with a police-imposed curfew and a plea from police for civility.
“We acknowledge that limiting protests to daylight hours and demanding a ‘respectful manner’ might make your job easier, ‘[b]ut that is not enough to satisfy the First Amendment,” wrote ACLU of Missouri Executive Director Jeffrey A. Mittman in an Aug. 13 letter to Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson. “We are writing to you to express our concerns about this direct attack on protected expressive activity.”
Well, it is easier to read protest signs at night when you have a good fire going in a storefront.
After the National Guard was called in, the protests quieted down. On Wednesday, only six people were arrested, no shots fired or Molotov cocktails thrown, just a bottle and some urine. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon ordered the Guard to begin pulling out on Thursday.
I haven’t decided yet whether to make Mr. Nixon an honorary outside agitator or an honorary ACLU member. He qualifies for both for his reckless statement Tuesday that a “vigorous prosecution [of Officer Darren Wilson] must now be pursued.”
You prosecute when you’re convinced someone is guilty. This occurs after an investigation — not before. Witnesses in this case differ. A forensic army is at work. Officer Wilson suffered facial injuries and possibly a fractured eye socket.
If a court of law finds that the policeman was guilty of taking a life without cause, he should face an appropriately severe sentence. If the evidence exculpates him, that would be a different matter. The idea is to see that justice is done.
Slightly less partisan than Mr. Nixon was U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who flew in with an entourage of federal attorneys, and announced, “We have brought to this area very experienced prosecutors … .”
Mr. Holder visited a mostly black community college and told students that he himself had been victimized by racial profiling when he was young.
Now for the last group. As the days wore on, pastors from the St. Louis area and beyond began filtering into the groups of protesters, acting as intermediaries between them and the police. They held prayer vigils. They spoke calming words. Later, they began picking up trash and cleaning up the stricken area.
The Rev. R.H. Holmes, Jr. of Tallahassee, Fla., began organizing an event for next Tuesday at which he hopes 1,000 pastors will show up to pray for reconciliation. “I think white clergy and black clergy ought to be moved to come to Ferguson, and let’s pray and let’s bring our people together,” he said.
He’s already in good company. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told a gathered multitude, “Blessed are the peacemakers.”
Robert Knight is senior fellow for the American Civil Rights Union and a columnist for The Washington Times.