After days of marches in response to the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown, we asked our Facebook audience what they thought protesters on the ground in Ferguson, Missouri, should be demanding. We received over 1,200 responses.
Many believed protesters should seek the immediate arrest of Darren Wilson, the officer who killed the 18-year-old Brown, striking him with six bullets. A grand jury is hearing evidence in the investigation and will ultimately determine whether Wilson will face criminal charges. For the sake of fairness, many suggested that a special prosecutor be appointed, given the current St. Louis county prosecutor’s previous decisions, as outlined in Thursday’s New York Times editorial: A Fair Inquiry for Michael Brown.
The suggested demand that received the most attention on our Facebook feed was this: “The right to protest without fear from overzealous law enforcement. Oh, wait, that’s supposed to be guaranteed,” wrote Bill Lentzsch. The heavy-handed response by police to citizens as well as journalists, at least 10 of whom have been arrested covering the events unfolding in Ferguson, was seen by many as reprehensible. As Rick Robb put it: “Citizens of Ferguson and of America need answers here … We need to know that this will not happen again, anywhere in our borders.”
At the same time, others echoed the words of US Attorney General Eric Holder, who arrived in Ferguson on Wednesday. He wrote in an open letter published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that “violence cannot be condoned” and urged Ferguson residents to condemn “the actions of looters, vandals and others seeking to inflame tensions and sow discord.” He traveled to Ferguson to meet with community members and assure residents the Justice Department will carefully investigate the death of Brown.
Many on Facebook called for ending the Pentagon’s Excess Property Program, which has supplied equipment meant to fight wars to police departments across the country — including Ferguson — with more than $4.3 billion in gear since 1997.
An overwhelming number of commenters suggested changes to the Ferguson police force, including the hiring of more African-American officers (currently there are three black officers and 50 white officers in a town that is 67 percent African-American). Another popular suggestion: the use of front-facing body cameras on police officers to document their interactions, which has been successfully implemented in the town of Rialto, California, among others. There, use of force incidents dropped by 60 percent and complaints against cops were down by 88 percent in the first year that police officers started wearing the cameras.
Some questioned why Darren Wilson — and other police officers — did not shoot to injure instead of shoot to kill. Police officers are legally permitted to use deadly force when they have probable cause to believe a suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm either to the officer or to others, according to an article on shoot-to-kill policies in The Huffington Post. One commenter, Tessa Sheehan, wrote that the policy should be limited. Referring to the young African-American man killed in St. Louis on Tuesday, because, according to the police, he was wielding a knife, she wrote: “This man with a knife should have been tackled, tazered or shot in the foot.”
And scores of people summed up their suggested demands simply with calls for “truth,” “transparency,” “equality,” “peace” and #JusticeforMikeBrown.
Please share your thoughts in the comments below.