If forensic evidence supports the account that officer Darren Wilson gave after shooting and killing unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, protestors who suspected that the young man was murdered will be proved wrong and police will correctly claim that their colleague was slandered and mistreated. But whereas Wilson may be exonerated, his colleagues and superiors cannot escape blameworthiness for their behavior as citizens took to the streets in protest (prompted in part by an initial investigation that ought to have stoked their suspicions).
Heavy military gear was deployed against peaceful, unarmed civilians with arms raised in broad daylight. Journalists were arrested, assaulted, teargassed, and threatened by police. Officers in one lethal incident opted for immediate escalation, putting themselves in a situation where they regarded killing as their only option. These are the abuses that emerged even as the protests were at their height.
Now new allegations of police misconduct are coming to light. "The U.S. government agreed to a police request to restrict more than 37 square miles of airspace surrounding Ferguson, Missouri, for 12 days in August for safety, but audio recordings show that local authorities privately acknowledged the purpose was to keep away news helicopters during violent street protests," the AP reports. Ferguson officials deny the allegations.
Government officials weren't the only ones who misbehaved during the Ferguson protests. Peaceful protestors filled the streets while others participated in acts of violence, vandalism, and the looting of numerous local businesses. Most everyone agrees that those people should be prosecuted, and insofar as they could be identified, the wheels of justice moved rather quickly. "Nine people face charges for looting in Ferguson that followed the fatal shooting of Michael Brown Sunday night into Monday morning, according to St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch," a Gannett station reported on August 18. "The nine face varying felony charges relating to burglary and theft along West Florissant."
Some rank-and-file cops have been held accountable too. "A police officer has resigned after pointing a rifle at protesters during racially charged demonstrations and another has been fired for inappropriate social media posts stemming from the two weeks of civil unrest," Reuters reported in another August story.
Yet Ferguson's police chief isn't just still on the job—he is combative when confronted with the self-evident observation that his department needs "wholesale change." (And evidently, at least some employees at the FAA saw no reason to object or go public when convinced that a police department was shutting down airspace solely to thwart the press from seeing what was happening.) Law enforcement failed all the way up the chain of command in Ferguson. It's time for the people at the top to be held accountable.