Attorney General Eric Holder released the following statement Thursday following his meeting earlier today with President Obama to discuss the latest developments in Ferguson, Missouri:…

“For one thing, while the vast majority of protests have been peaceful, acts of violence by members of the public cannot be condoned. Looting and willful efforts to antagonize law enforcement officers who are genuinely trying to protect the public do nothing to remember the young man who has died. Such conduct is unacceptable and must be unequivocally condemned.

“By the same token, the law enforcement response to these demonstrations must seek to reduce tensions, not heighten them. Those who peacefully gather to express sympathy for the family of Michael Brown must have their rights respected at all times. And journalists must not be harassed or prevented from covering a story that needs to be told.

“At a time when we must seek to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the local community, I am deeply concerned that the deployment of military equipment and vehicles sends a conflicting message.”

***

Another officer asked us to wait and called a supervisor. After a few minutes, he came back and told us this was a “hot zone” and that he couldn’t guarantee our safety. We thanked him and said that we didn’t expect him to, and yet we still wanted to reach the protest site. He said we couldn’t walk down the street and that we would have to get there some other way.

“What would happen if we walked down the street?” Flores asked.

“You’re not going to walk down the street. If you insist on going down here, and you want to disobey the orders of the police that have been given to you, thoroughly and fairly, you’ll most likely be placed under arrest.”

“On what charges?” I ask.

“Disobeying the directions of a police officer,” he answers…

This is what a media blackout looks like.

***

Michelle McCaskill, media relations chief at the Defense Logistics Agency, confirms that the Ferguson Police Department is part of a federal program called 1033 that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars of surplus military equipment to civilian police forces across the United States. The materials range from small items, such as pistols and automatic rifles, to heavy armored vehicles such as the MRAPs used in Afghanistan and Iraq…

Since the creation of the 1033 program by Congress in the early 1990s, the program has distributed $4.3 billion of excess equipment, ranging from innocuous office supplies to bomb-disposing robots and other advanced technology. The flood of military supplies — along with the continuing drug war and grant programs from other federal agencies that provide military-style equipment — has pushed the culture of police forces far from its law-enforcement roots…

St. Louis County law enforcement agencies received twelve 5.56 millimeter rifles and six .45 caliber pistols from the Department of Defense between Aug. 2, 2010, and Feb. 13, 2013, a Missouri public safety official confirmed Thursday. Ferguson, Mo., is within St. Louis County. The Pentagon allows information on “tactical” equipment to be released only at a county level, so which police department(s) in the county received the weaponry is not available.

***

But part of the problem with the program, according to the ACLU, is a lack of transparency and oversight. Few restrictions are placed on what equipment law enforcement can request or how they use it. The organization concluded that the only significant restriction placed on departments is that they not sell whatever equipment they receive. In fact, departments are required to use the equipment that they receive within one year, which Dansky said could actually incentive the use of the equipment even when it’s unnecessary.

“The program contains a built-in incentive,” she said. “As these local police departments receive this equipment, there are no meaningful constraints on their ability to use it.”

“If all you have is a hammer,” she added, “everything looks like a nail.”

***

What is beyond dispute is that since Ferguson erupted in response to this tragic incident, the authorities haven’t done much to instill public confidence. Not only have they declined to release relevant details, much like the police officer in question is accused of doing, they have escalated the situation very quickly by engaging in a series of clashes with understandably upset demonstrators…

[T]his situation calls for a political force that will defend the Bill of Rights, rather than practice identity politics. That means ensuring that peaceful property owners are free of looters and law-abiding demonstrators are not crushed by SWAT teams. It also means taking an appropriately skeptical view of both police claims and Al Sharpton…

If libertarians and the best kind of conservative have any insight, it is this: government works for the people whose tax dollars sustain and support it, not the other way around. When this basic order of things gets reversed, Ferguson isn’t too far around the corner.

***

If you want an indication about where someone sits on the dividing line between conservative and libertarian, sometimes it’s as simple as how they answer this question: how do you feel about cops? Do you naturally tend to trust them, viewing them as a necessary and needed hedge acting in defense of law and order? Or are you naturally suspicious of them, believing them to be little more than armed tax collectors and bureaucrats with a tendency to violence and falsehood in service of their whims? Are cops the brave individuals who stand between the law-abiding and those who would rob, rape, and kill, or are they the low-level tyrannical overpaid functionaries of the administrative state, more focused on tax collection in the form of citations, property grabs, and killing the occasional family dog?…

The population of Ferguson has reacted with obvious frustration, followed by an overreaction of rioting and looting. The cops have responded by what seems from all appearances to be a massive crackdown on protesters and criminals alike, an escalation of arrests that includes tear gassing people for doing little more than yelling epithets from their own back yards. And so those people stopped throwing bad words and started throwing bricks and molotov cocktails…

“Justice is the end of government,” James Madison wrote in Federalist 51. “It is the end of civil society. It ever has been and ever will be pursued until it be obtained, or until liberty be lost in the pursuit.” It can be lost because of the mob, or it can be lost because of the response to the mob – and conservatives who believe in law and order should understand that. Responsible governance in this situation would involve de-escalation and conciliation, not militarization.

***

I guess the question is, after again remembering that we should never condone the looting or destruction of property of innocent bystanders: Are we really okay with asking people to just accept that cops can gun down a teenager and whitewash the whole incident and take that laying down or just “oh well, that’s life sometimes”? Because I’m not. I think if the cops don’t believe that there’s some line that will cause the public to rise up in arms against them we are in deep trouble…

I guess in the final analysis I’m fine with the criticisms of the very obvious excesses of the Ferguson riots but I’m not as willing as many are to categorically condemn the impulse. In fact, I’m glad that the impulse still exists within America to say that there’s a point beyond which they won’t be pushed by the authorities even if they do look more like a Marine division than a police force these days. And I understand the anger and frustration and with police brutality that led to this particular situation, even though, again, we can’t say definitively what happened in the Michael Brown situation.

When America dumped a bunch of the Crown’s tea into Boston Harbor the British called us rioters, looters, and worse. What’s happening in Ferguson is maybe not that, but our country was founded on the impulse of being willing to take only so much crap from a disconnected and unresponsive government, and I hope that impulse isn’t gone forever.

***

While there is no simple fix to race relations in any part of American life, there is an obvious way to reduce violent law enforcement confrontations while also building trust in cops: Police should be required to use wearable cameras and record their interactions with citizens. These cameras—various models are already on the market—are small and unobtrusive and include safeguards against subsequent manipulation of any recordings…

According to a year-long study of the Rialto, Calif., police department, the use of “officer worn cameras reduced the rate of use-of-force incidents by 59 percent” and “utilization of the cameras led to an 87.5 percent reduction in complaints” by citizens against cops.

Such results are the reason that the ACLU is in favor of “police body-mounted cameras,” as long as various privacy protections and other concerns are addressed. And it also explains growing support for the policy among elected officials. In the wake of Eric Garner’s chokehold death in July, New York City’s public advocate is pushing a $5 million pilot program in the city’s “most crime-plagued neighborhoods” as a means of restoring trust in the police.

***

There’s something else, harder to discuss but, like so many such things, urgent nonetheless. Deep breath: The black community cannot pretend that the stereotype of black men as violent comes out of nowhere.

Young black men commit about 50 percent of the murders in this country, 14 times more than young white men. Or, where do murder rates among young white men go up each summer the way they do among black ones in cities like Chicago? “Flash robs” happen when large groups of teens beset a store and steal from it, and I’m sorry, but these are rarely white affairs.

There are reasons for things like these. However, we are being unrealistic to expect America to watch these things and think it’s okay because the boys don’t have Dads and decent-paying low-skill jobs aren’t always easy to find. Let’s face it: If Korean boys regularly did things like this, we’d all be scared to death of them…

I wonder if the black community could step it up some on this. We need to devote some more energy to figuring out what we can do about The Violence, because among all else that it destroys, it feeds a perception bias that ends up killing innocents like Michael Brown.