Michael Brown Shooting: How Police Tactical Shift Can De-Escalate Aftermath

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Scott Olson via Getty Images
Scott Olson via Getty Images

Now that Missouri's governor has announced that state police will take over major security duties from local police in the seething St. Louis suburb that's seen such violent protests in the aftermath of the Michael Brown killing, people may wonder whether the new approach will be successful in defusing the anger.

Gov. Jay Nixon's announcement that state Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, who is black, will now be in charge of policing efforts at the protests came after the local police response drew heavy criticism.  The fact that Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot multiple times by a white policeman was just the first spark. The aggressive response from the local police force has so far only added to the community's anger. 

Nixon said the change is intended to make sure "that we allow peaceful and appropriate protests, that we use force only when necessary, that we step back a little bit and let some of the energy be felt in this region appropriately."

But people are already musing about how to successfully deal with the next chapter in this powderkeg.

Johnson said he grew up in the community where 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot last Saturday and "it means a lot to me personally that we break this cycle of violence."

Nixon said that changes will include "peaceful interaction up front with the force at the back," referring to the “militaristic” nature of the Ferguson police force’s response.

"This feels a little like an old wound that has been hit again. It has been a long time simmering. The challenges we face here go much more deep. The key to this is to get control, let voices be heard, showing less force on the front side -- but ultimately getting to some of these deeper problems. Not only in Missouri, but in America. This has clearly touched a nerve."

Laurence Miller, a clinical and forensic psychologist who works with the West Palm Beach Sheriff’s Department and who also teaches law enforcement strategies to police officers, agrees. He told CBC News that explosive situations like the one in Ferguson “don’t happen in a vacuum.”

“A police officer that overreacts in a situation is doing so in an atmosphere in which the police are viewed as kind of an occupational force in the community and the community is acting in a way that is trying to stay out of any confrontation with the police.”

Miller said officers have to understand the difference between being authoritative versus being authoritarian.

“When you are authoritative, you exude calm, strength and authority. People respect you because they know when push comes to shove, you will use appropriate authority,” he said.

Miller said authoritarian types tend to act “cocky” but get no “real respect” from members of the community, who will turn on the officer when given the opportunity. He said he would recommend that the police chief in Ferguson make sure “patrol officers are conducting themselves appropriately.”

'Pick your battles'

Miller said he would tell officers to “pick your battles” and to take the high road, since the situation remains so tense with the community.

“Right now, do you have to give a ticket for jay walking? I mean, still maintain the law, but as officers, they have tremendous discretion in terms of enforcing it.”

Miller adds he often instructs officers to keep their “sense of dignity and professionalism” especially when it comes to people calling them names or yelling at them.

“Your job is to handle the situation. What makes people want to riot is when authority is used unfairly and excessively.”

Miller suggested the police security forces exhibit transparency and create a kind of police citizen’s council – so they can report to the council about what the force is doing.

“The worst thing you can do is go into self-protective mode, it implies you have something to hide,” said Miller. “You don’t necessarily have to open the books, you have to tell people what you are doing [and] explain what steps you’re taking.”

Both of Miller’s recommendations are echoed by Darrel Stephens, executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, which has members comprised of police chiefs and sheriffs from the largest cities in the U.S., Canada and U.K. Stephens has more than 40 years of police experience; his last job was chief of police for Charlotte-Mecklenberg, N.C. He retired in 2008.

“The only thing they can do is be transparent and engage the community with respect to their concerns about the police service,” he said.

3rd party help

Stephens and Miller say shifting responsibility from the force is a promising move.

“Like an independent facilitator to manage the conversation,” said Stephens. “Outside help is really critical because people get locked into their positions and their perceptions about things. It often takes someone from the outside to open things up.”

Stephens recalled an incident from his time as police chief in St. Petersburg, Fla., in the mid-1990s

“We had a shooting involving a young African-American man and an officer was killed. We had disturbances and the community relations service of the Justice Department helped us restore confidence.”

Stephens said his force worked with the local faith community and helped develop some economic programs.

“This is a huge problem in urban areas, the lack of opportunity, which creates hostility towards government and those are some of the things the city of Ferguson will have to work on going forward.”

Stephens said any fruitful conversation is “going to take several months.”

David Goldberg, head of the humanities department at the University of California (Irvine) told CBC News there are deeper issues at play when it comes to police shootings and the black community. “Black parents have said, ‘Why is it that I have to explain to my children how to get arrested [safely]?’”

According to Goldberg, who specializes in criminology, race and racism, "at this point, people aren’t looting or throwing things as much."

“The police need to immediately demilitarize [and] get out from behind the barriers, so to speak.”

Goldberg said it's about a big power imbalance.

“A black mother was interviewed recently and said her 12-year-old son was stopped and frisked by an officer on his way back from school,” recounted Goldberg. “He asked her ‘how long will this go on?’ She said she told him: ‘for the rest of your life.’”

St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar has said he welcomes race relations training in the St. Louis suburb, where about 70 per cent of the 21,000 residents are black and only three of the force’s 53 officers are black. 

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USA Today's Yamiche Alcindor provides an intimate look at how Michael Brown's parents have been dealing with the loss of their son:

Phones constantly ring with reporters asking for interviews or family members offering support. Last week, as demands reached a tipping point, both parents moved into hotels to shield themselves.

In the days leading up to the funeral, Brown's mother continued to cry and spoke in whispers as she tried to explain her feelings.

"They say tomorrow is going to be the hardest day, but I think today was — just seeing my baby laying there, cold," Lesley McSpadden, 34, told USA TODAY. "It did something to my heart. It's too much. It's too much."

Read the rest at USA Today.

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New audio has surfaced that allegedly captures the moment when Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot dead by Darren Wilson, a white police officer, on Aug. 9.

CNN aired the unverified recording on Monday night. Six shots can be heard, followed by a pause, then several more. A private autopsy performed on Aug. 17 at the request of Brown's family found that the 18-year-old was shot 6 times, including twice in the head.

Read the rest here.

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USA Today reporter, Yamiche Alcindor shares photo of program which includes tributes to Michael Brown from his mother and father

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08/25/2014 11:57 AM EDT
Program For The Funeral
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08/25/2014 11:04 AM EDT
Noteworthy Funeral Attendees
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08/25/2014 10:58 AM EDT
Waiting For Brown's Family
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08/25/2014 10:57 AM EDT
Police Captain Ron Johnson Arrives
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08/25/2014 10:45 AM EDT
Mo. Sen. To Attend Funeral
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08/25/2014 10:37 AM EDT
Casket In Place

MSNBC reports:

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08/25/2014 10:35 AM EDT
Funeral Security
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08/25/2014 10:33 AM EDT
Brown's Father Asks For Peace
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MSNBC reports:

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08/25/2014 10:26 AM EDT
Hands Up
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08/25/2014 10:22 AM EDT
Sanctuary Filling Fast For Funeral

CNN reports:

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Missouri congressman Lacy Clay (D) said on Thursday that he had "serious concerns" about the prosecutor in charge of Michael Brown's case.

"I also have serious concerns about the local prosecutors, about their ability to fairly prosecute this case in the interests of justice. To deliver justice to this community, or to Michael Brown's family. And I say that because we have a track record," Clay told CNN.

Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch has come under heavy scrutiny in the days following Brown's death. Critics say that McCulloch's ties to law enforcement will cloud his judgement and have called on Governor Jay Nixon (D) to appoint a special prosecutor instead. A petition against him has received over 70,000 signatures.

McCulloch's father was a police officer killed in the line of duty.

For his part, McCulloch has promised that his investigation will be fair and thorough. In a statement, he said:

I have no intention of walking away from the responsibilities and duties entrusted to me by the people of this community. Additionally, there is no basis in the law to do so. I have faithfully and fairly carried out those responsibilities and duties for more than two decades and will continue to do so for at least the next four years.

Nixon has also repeatedly insisted that he won't take McCulloch off the case.

Alana Horowitz

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From HuffPost's Dave Jamieson:

Like the rest of the St. Louis community, including their own teachers, Gateway students had emotional discussions about being black in America, about mistrust of the police, about peaceful demonstration and violent protest. They were asked to write down what they were feeling about Ferguson, with the assurance that no sentiments were out of bounds.

Click here to read excerpts from the responses penned by a group of 7th and 8th graders at the school.

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Washington Post reports that Darren Wilson was injured following a scuffle with Michael Brown before he shot and killed him.

A family friend told WaPo that Wilson's eye bone was fractured. Fox News reported similar information earlier this week, citing a police source.

Another source told CNN that these reports are false.

Last week, Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson told reporters that Wilson was taken to the hospital following the incident, but did not say for what.

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HuffPost's Arthur Delaney reports:

When Attorney General Eric Holder went to Ferguson, Missouri, on Wednesday, he assured local residents the U.S. Justice Department will swiftly investigate the police killing of an unarmed black teenager on Aug. 9.

In meetings with locals, Holder emphasized how his own past experiences will inform his work overseeing the Justice Department's investigation of Michael Brown's killing. He told students at a community college there that police searched his car when he'd been stopped for speeding on the New Jersey Turnpike.

"I remember how humiliating that was and how angry I was and the impact it had on me," Holder said. "The same kid who got stopped on the New Jersey freeway is now the attorney general of the United States."

But Holder's critics point out that this is the same man who was woefully soft on bad cops when he served as Washington, D.C.'s top prosecutor in the mid-1990s.

"Relying on Holder to take action is like sending a guy with a cup of water to put out a wildfire," said Gregory Lattimer, an attorney who has represented family members of people killed by D.C. police, including DeOnte Rawlings, a 14-year-old boy shot in the back of the head by an off-duty officer in 1997.

"[Holder] was part of the problem in D.C., not the solution," Lattimer said. "He says all the right things and then he goes out and defends the status quo."

Read more here.

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Michael Brown Shooting Demonstrations
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