Same state, same profession. But the difference in mindset couldn’t be more stark, nor could the result.
In this first photo, a police officer in Kansas City, Missouri encountered some young people in the street. He challenged them to a dance off.
His reasoning? “When I joined the police force I told them I wanted to build rapport with the community because I feel like if we build rapport with them then they are more likely to call us when they need us,” [Officer] Krebs said.
In the second photo, police officers in Ferguson, Missouri encountered young people in the street. According to the only reliable witness, an officer ordered them to “Get the f*ck onto the sidewalk,” inciting a conflict which ended in police shooting 18-year-old Michael Brown multiple times while he held his hands up, imploring them to stop because he was unarmed. They then left him on the street to bleed to death; we now know their first call was not for paramedics to help Michael, but for more police back-up.
When mourners took to Ferguson’s streets, there was no dance-off. They got a face-off with police dressed in fatigues and riot gear, armed with military-grade weapons, tear gas, and armored vehicles. The air is now thick with their gas and rubber bullets, while the actions of a few looters have been used in a callous attempt to justify the aggressive police actions that were in progress for well over a day before anyone began rioting. (As if any property compares to human life.) The airspace over the city was restricted to block news helicopters from being able to cover the scene, and reporters have been arrested while reporting from the area.
Officer Krebs sees those young people as the people he’s there to serve and protect. He could have chosen to go on a power trip. Instead, he sought to build community, recognizing that it would help law enforcement efforts in the future.
We can’t yet say what was in the other officers heads when they fired on Mike Brown. But the moment they chose to call more police instead of an ambulance; in the hours (HOURS!) they left that young man to bleed out on the street, it became quite clear that their intent could not have been to serve or protect him.
Many have begun to call for federal investigations of the Ferguson police. That’s all well and good, but frankly, we don’t need an investigation to tell us two important things that have to be done if these officers and officers everywhere else are going to be defenders of public safety instead of threats to it.
One, they need to see it as their job to actually build and protect community, as Officer Krebs seems to. Not to feel macho and enforce rules for the sake of rules or else, but to build trust and relationships with the rest of the public so they can effectively thwart real threats to public safety.
Two, they need to be civilian officers again. There is no good reason why any local police department should have military equipment, period. We don’t need an investigation of any kind to know that. It is beyond chilling to see tanks cruising down American streets in response to people demonstrating against State violence. If a genuine outside or even inside risk to national security were to threaten an American town or city, I have full confidence that the most powerful army on the planet could handle it. Local cops, not trained like soldiers but outfitted like them nevertheless, don’t fight terrorism. They inspire terror in local communities.
Enough already. We don’t have to live (or die) like this.