The Nation, November 25, 2014.
Ferguson is on fire. Immediately after St. Louis prosecutor Robert McCulloch announced that a grand jury had failed to indict Police Officer Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, waves of unrest roiled the city. A dozen buildings were torched and looted, and two police cars were set ablaze. As President Obama appeared on TV urging calm, cops in Ferguson fired rounds of tear-gas canisters into crowds and deployed armored vehicles with gun turrets that were built for our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. They eventually arrested sixty-one people. In cities across the country, Americans spontaneously took to the streets, shutting down highways and bridges in acts of civil disobedience. In New York City, one demonstrator splattered Police Commissioner Bill Bratton with fake blood.
From the president on down, the official response to these protests has been to demand, in an impotent mantra, respect for the rule of law. So yes, let’s talk about that rule of law. To begin with, let’s talk about the near impunity with which law-enforcement agents in this country shoot, choke and beat unarmed civilians. This epidemic of lawful violence has become so routine that we lack even accurate statistics about it. By one count, on-duty police officers committed 3 percent of all homicides last year. A more expansive study by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement found that in 2012, a black person was killed by a police officer, security guard or self-appointed vigilante every twenty-eight hours.