This closed-circuit security camera footage is absolutely amazing. In a video recently released by local police in Missouri, at least 180 looters are shown pillaging a market in the city of Dellwood, a town neighboring Ferguson that was subject to violent riots in the wake of a grand jury decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of Michael Brown.
The images of the violent property destruction showcased in that video are positively astonishing.
The surveillance video features a variety of unmasked young men attempting for nearly two-and-a-half minutes to break through a secure door. After repeatedly failing in that task, the industrious rioters simply break down the building’s adjacent wall. The barrier having been removed, a deluge of looters cascade into the store and proceed to nearly empty it of contents in little more than 200 seconds.
Police have purportedly released this video in the hopes that the public would help investigators identify the over 180 looters who ransacked the building. But some are not buying that claim. They say that the release of this video is designed to shape public opinion and frame those who took to the streets to protest the grand jury decision in Ferguson as criminals.
“It’s a dramatic illustration of law enforcement attempting to subvert the emerging narrative of Black youth energized and engaged, flooding the streets of this country in demonstrative displays of their anger,” wrote Atlanta Black Star columnist Nick Chiles. “The multiracial ‘die-ins’ and marches across the country had largely erased from the public’s mind the images of riots and lawlessness that were sparked by the grand jury’s decision on Nov. 24.”
“But from the St. Louis police we get a reminder: They’re not politicized young people fiercely exercising their first amendment rights; they’re just criminals and thugs stealing stuff,” he added.
Reporting from Missouri on Thursday, CNN’s Sara Sidner noted that activists believe the video of protests and the national outpouring of support for criminal justice reforms in the wake of Brown’s shooting death “have nothing to do with one another.”
But, they do. On Thursday, the Department of Justice revealed that the Civil Rights Division is unlikely to bring charges against Wilson after conducting a thorough investigation into the claim that he had violated Brown’s civil rights. This comes after Attorney General Eric Holder traveled to Missouri and told scarred local residents that he believed racial antipathy played a role in the drama that played out in that town last year.
“The eyes of the nation and the world are watching Ferguson right now,” Holder said on a trip to Missouri in August. “The world is watching because the issues raised by the shooting of Michael Brown predate this incident. This is something that has a history to it, and the history simmers beneath the surface in more communities than just Ferguson.”
The investigation into Wilson is slated to come to an end in the spring, and Holder will likely reveal that the Feds found no evidence sufficient to charge Wilson with a civil rights crime before he leaves his post. It will be a familiar scene. Activists were deeply wounded when the DOJ failed to find sufficient evidence to charge George Zimmerman with having violated Trayvon Martin’s civil rights or even that he harbored racially insensitive sentiments.
Holder, swayed as he so regularly is by the whimsy of the news cycle, not only promised activists a thorough investigation into Zimmerman but tore into Florida’s Stand Your Ground laws in the wake of a Sanford jury’s acquittal. Such laws “try to fix something that was never broken” and “senselessly expand the concept of self-defense and sow dangerous conflict in our neighborhoods,” the attorney general insisted. It didn’t seem to bother him that Zimmerman did not cite Stand Your Ground laws in his defense, and only the prosecution in that case sought to put that law on trial by claiming that they influenced Zimmerman’s thinking on the night of Martin’s death.
In the same way that the Justice Department sought to placate Americans incensed by the verdict in the Zimmerman trial, the DOJ did its best to assuage the aggrieved sentiments of those moved to violence by the grand jury’s decision in Ferguson. That’s not justice; it’s appeasement. And it’s dangerous.
Those who today suggest that the release of surveillance footage of rioters looting local businesses somehow hurts their cause must ask themselves precisely what that cause is. If the reforms they seek are somehow hampered by video of violent protesters, then they have shortsightedly made common cause with the wrong people.
Eric Holder should be ashamed for misleading those Americans who were understandably shaken by the decisions in both of these cases. Those who were shocked by judgments in Ferguson and Sanford were never privy to critical media analysis that might have prepared them for the ultimate conclusions of those cases. Holder gave them false hope that he could reverse those decisions when he likely knew that it was unrealistic to expect that the Civil Rights Division would meet the significant evidentiary burden required to prove civil rights violations in either case.
As for these looters, no one with the capacity for critical thought would claim that they are representative of those who are legitimately frustrated by the grand jury’s decision in Ferguson. But those who maintain that the release of this video is part of a plot by police to delegitimize the post-Ferguson reform movement are establishing links between peaceful protesters and riotous mobs that they will soon come to regret.