Reflections on a tragedy
Washington Police Chief Greg Goodman has been watching the events in Ferguson, Mo., unfold and said today that he is unsure what can be done to restore peace to the community.
He said that law enforcement in the area had been working hard to try to settle the unrest and had tried many different things. He said so far it hasn’t seemed to work. Goodman said that there are parents and friends of the victim who are upset, investigators who are trying to determine the truth, and some people who want to take advantage of the situation.
“I really don’t think we know what happened,” Goodman said of the incident. “At this point I think it is premature to point the blame at anybody. To be fair to everybody we have to wait until the conclusion of the gathering of the evidence and the study of the evidence before we rush and make determinations.”
According to the Associated Press, on Aug. 9, Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson shot unarmed teenager Michael Brown at least six times. Brown had no adult criminal record, although shortly before the incident, a store clerk had reported him as part of a strong-armed robbery. According to the Washington Post, the shooting of a black teen by a white officer sparked unrest due to longstanding racial tensions in the area. Since the shooting, there have been peaceful protests of the shooting, as well as vandalism, looting and violence. The Ferguson police have imposed a nighttime curfew and the Missouri National Guard has been activated to support police operations.
At this point, Goodman said, the community is only getting bits and pieces of information about the incident. He also said there are conflicting stories. He said at this time the unrest is putting the investigation into the shooting “on the back burner” and doesn’t provide the opportunity to bring out what really happened.
When an officer is involved in an incident where a suspect is shot, Goodman said, the officer is put on paid leave pending the completion of an investigation. The officer will be issued a new gun and the gun used will be held as possible forensic evidence. Investigators from another department will come in and determine what occurred.
“They are going to put it together like they would a crime investigation to see if a crime has been committed,” he said. “That is essentially where we are at. Is it homicide? Is it justifiable homicide? Is it murder? Is it self-defense? They have to go through and show that.”
He said the officer would be justified in the shooting if it was in defense of himself or someone else.
Goodman said that after an incident in Keokuk County when Jeff Krier shot and killed Dep. Eric Stein and was later shot and killed by the Iowa State Patrol Tactical Unit, there was an investigation to determine what had happened. He said that all the facts have to be put together, just to be sure.
“Everybody should have their due process,” he said.
A grand jury could begin hearing evidence as early as Wednesday to determine if Wilson should be charged with Brown’s death.
Goodman also said that he believes it is important for a police department to develop a trust with the community it covers. He said it is harder to do in a large metro area than in a city like Washington.
As the Ferguson Police responded to the protests, questions have been raised about the “militarization of the police.” Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon recently criticized the “over militarization” of police in response to the protests. Reports have come in that police snipers had trained guns on groups of demonstrators. He said that police in armored vehicles with military style weapons made the situation worse.
Goodman said there have been concerns over the National Guard being deployed to Ferguson. He said that officers in Ferguson have used armored vehicles. He also said that there have been situations where police have shot protestors, but police have not been indiscriminately firing at the protestors.
According to the Associated Press, officers came under heavy gunfire Monday evening from protestors. There have also been gas bombs reportedly thrown at officers.
“Armored vehicles give officers added protection to get where they need to go – maybe to rescue citizens,” Goodman said. “I think the point is they aren’t indiscriminately firing on this crowd. They are trying to protect and get things under control.”
Because of the danger of rioting, protestors with peaceful intentions have been encouraged to protest during the daytime as a matter of safety. Goodman said that there are many people in Ferguson who want no part of the protests. Additionally, there have been many nationwide who have shown support for Wilson. Two Facebook pages supporting Wilson have had over 36,000 “likes.” In neighboring St. Louis, there were protests both supporting and condemning Wilson and the Ferguson Police.
During a broadcast on CNN Monday evening, Goodman said that he had gotten so frustrated he had changed channels. He described a CNN reporter getting into a confrontation with the police, who were asking him to move back. Goodman said when an officer grabbed the reporter’s arm to escort him back into a parking lot, the reporter had begun saying he was being arrested and he was being brutalized. Several reporters have been arrested covering the events and later released.
“This person just wanted to cause problems,” Goodman said. “There are enough issues over there that something like this is not going to help anything.”