The grossly exaggerated militarization-of-police critique of Ferguson

When Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown, the officer was presumably wearing a typical police uniform and driving a typical police car. He either acted in entirely justifiable self-defense, made a catastrophic misjudgment after an altercation, or (in the extreme version of the protestors) shot Brown because he wanted to execute a black teenager. None of these possibilities have anything to do with the militarization of police one way or the other.

We’ve seen some witless heavy-handedness on the part of the cops, for instance the arrests of a couple of reporters at the McDonald’s last week. But some perspective: Cops were perfectly capable of being heavy-handed long before anyone gave them surplus military equipment. The scenario in that McDonald’s would probably have been exactly the same whether or not there were armored vehicles outside on the street or not.

Finally, there’s the argument that the militarized police were inciting the crowd. This wasn’t entirely implausible, although it seemed unlikely because it should be possible for lawful, well-intentioned people to restrain themselves from throwing things at cops whose uniforms and vehicles they don’t like. Sure enough, after a night of calm in the wake of the “demilitarization” of the police response and the insertion of Captain Ron Johnson, the lawlessness started right up again.