Tragedy struck the community of Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, on Saturday, when police shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown. Despite officials’ urgings to remain calm, protests almost immediately formed with local residents accusing the police of brutality and murder. The officer who pulled the trigger is on leave and pending investigation.
As news spread of the shooting, Ferguson residents began converging on the scene of the shooting. According to Reuters, one of the witnesses stated:
“We wasn’t causing harm to nobody, we had no weapons on us at all.” Dorian Johnson says he was walking home with his friend Mike Brown when a police officer in a car told them to get out of the street. The two kept walking when Johnson says the officer got out of the car and fired a shot. The two took off running.
He shot again and once my friend felt that shot he turned around and put his hands in the air and started to get down and the officer still approached with his weapon drawn and he fired several more shots.
Hurt and shocked, Brown’s mother spoke to the media:
You took my son away from me. You know how hard it was for me to keep him in school and graduate? You know how many black men graduate? Not many. Because you bring them down to this type of level when they feel like they don’t got nothing to live for. They gonna try to take me out anyway.
However, the police department disputes the account given by the witnesses:
During a Sunday news conference, however, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar told reporters that the “genesis was a physical confrontation,” as the officer allegedly attempted to get out of his car and was pushed back in by Brown, after which a struggle over the officer’s weapon ensued. One shot was fired in the car and, as the officer exited his vehicle, several more. Belmar confirmed that Brown was unarmed and while he could not say how many times the teen was shot, it was “more than just a couple.”
This comes only after several weeks after father and Staten Island resident Eric Garner was allegedly choked to death by the NYPD. The video of his lifeless body has been circulated widely on both YouTube and on national media.
The question posed is what kind of reform can change the way police interact with suspects. The answer is simple, some say: cameras. According to the Washington Post, the time for cameras is overdue:
A study submitted this month by the District’s Police Complaints Board cited the example of the Rialto, Calif., police department, which measured the use of force by officers wearing cameras against a control group of officers who didn’t wear them. The camera-wearing officers were involved in dramatically fewer incidents involving the use of their batons, pepper spray, stun guns or firearms. Behavioral changes were so striking — both in the officers and in citizens they encountered — that complaints against the cops wearing cameras declined by nearly 90 percent.