National Guard Ready for the Front Lines of Michael Brown Protests in Ferguson

Armed
members of the National Guard could end up quelling racially charged protests
that could turn violent after a Ferguson, Mo. grand jury on Monday refused to
indict 28-year-old white police officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael
Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black civilian shot and killed by Wilson last summer.

The
National Guard has been in Ferguson for a week, after Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency on Nov. 17. Nixon’s action
was preemptive: The National Guard was also dispatched to Ferguson this summer,
but only after people protesting Brown’s shooting clashed with Missouri law
enforcement officers.

Those
protests revealed a militarized American police state. After rioting and
looting broke out after the shooting, law enforcement officers unleashed
weapons of war provided to police through the Pentagon’s Excess Property
Program, which has supplied police across the
country with some $4.3 billion in gear since 1997.

In
Ferguson, this program provided assault rifles, bulletproof vests, and military
vehicles built to withstand blasts from improvised explosive devices. An
October report on police response conducted by Amnesty
International determined that police violated “international standards on the
intentional use of lethal force.” The federal government is also conducting an
investigation into the shooting. 

It’s
not unusual for the National Guard to be deployed to quell unrest across the
country. However, these deployments have the potential to turn deadly, as they
did at Kent State University in 1970, when Guardsmen fired on unarmed Vietnam
War protesters, killing four and wounding nine others.

In
an effort to prevent fresh violence — two-thirds of Ferguson’s population is
black while the police force is almost entirely white — Nixon has changed how
law enforcement authorities would respond to any new violence. Last summer, the
Missouri State Highway Patrol was in charge of the response. Now, the St. Louis
County Police Department is expected to take the lead.

During
this summer’s unrest, International rivals used images from the protests to
embarrass the United States on the international stage. In a series of tweets
in August attributed to the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei,
Khamenei accused the United States of racial discrimination and of violating
African Americans’ civil rights, Foreign Policy reported. FP also reported that Russian media
used the protests to accuse the United States of double standards for press
freedom after journalists covering the protests were arrested.

The
more immediate concern in Ferguson is that the grand jury decision will set off
a wave of violent confrontations. Leading up to Monday’s decision, community
organizers hinted at unrest if Wilson is not indicted.

“If
they can’t serve justice in this, the people have every right to go out and
express their rage in a manner that is equal to what we have suffered,” Ashley
Yates, a co-founder of Millennial Activists United, said last month, according
to the Guardian.

If
this occurs, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay said last week that the National
Guard “will be used in a secondary role.”

“The
way we view this, the Guard is not going to be confronting the protesters and
will not be on (the) front line interacting directly with demonstrators,”
Slay said, according to the Associated Press.

Ferguson
isn’t the only city where protests could turn ugly. The FBI has already warned
law enforcement officials that the decision could lead to violent protests
across the country, according to ABC News.

 

 

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