The National Guard Is Leaving Ferguson
Soldiers were gentler than the cops
On Dec. 2, Missouri governor Jay Nixon announced that National Guard troops in Ferguson, Missouri would begin leaving, owing to improving conditions following days of rioting.
The riots were a response to the decision by a grand jury not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for shooting and killing Michael Brown this summer.
Brown, a black man, was unarmed when Wilson killed him.
Though the situation has improved in Ferguson, critics have accused Nixon of delaying the deployment of National Guard troops on the night of the grand jury’s decision—a move they say allowed for avoidable destruction of property by rioters.
But it’s also worth asking how the situation got so bad that a military deployment was even in the cards. Other than providing raw manpower, what useful capability do the guardsmen possess that police don’t?
In America, maintaining civil order is, after all, a job for the police.
Nixon had declared a state of emergency and activated the state’s National Guard during the initial wave of protests following Brown’s death. On Nov. 17, the night of the grand jury decision, troops were in position in St. Louis and in areas around Ferguson. But didn’t boost their presence in Ferguson until the next morning.
Ferguson mayor James Knowles told reporters he felt betrayed.
“It was my understanding they would be deployed when needed to maintain order and protect businesses,” Knowles said. “They were not.” He called the slow military response “disturbing.”
Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder suggested that Nixon may have held back the troops under pressure from Pres. Barrack Obama and attorney general Eric Holder. Others have suggested that Nixon left the town vulnerable in order to punish Ferguson’s political leaders.
After the grand jury’s announcement, protesters took to the streets across the United States. Rioters burned several buildings to the ground in and around Ferguson. Protesters also looted and burned a squad car, making off with the equipment inside—including an AR-15 rifle.
On Nov. 25, Kinder appeared on Fox News and slammed Nixon for the lack of military presence. “Why were they not in there at the first sign of an overturned police car or a smashed police car window with a show of force that would have stopped this?”
But it’s hard to say how much difference a show of force by the National Guard would have made. After all, the National Guard never treated this operation like a war—and rightly so.
And it’s not as though the guardsmen brought along any sort of heavy equipment the police didn’t already have. The police deployed armored vehicles and sharpshooters.
Several American veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan criticized the cops’ handling of the protests. It appeared police were pointing loaded weapons at protesters and reporters who seemed to pose no threat.
In contrast to the heavily-armed St. Louis County cops, the guardsmen in and around Ferguson mostly carried batons, riot shields and sidearms. Like one would expect police to do.
And the soldiers didn’t point their guns at anyone.
When some of the more hostile protesters hurled insults at the guardsmen—shouting “we don’t need no toy soldiers”—the soldiers remained calm. Compare that to the cop CNN filmed shouting “bring it, all you fucking animals” during the protests this summer.
The Army’s crowd-control methods emphasize a soft approach—avoiding antagonizing protesters in order to de-escalate the conflict. The military’s tactics in Ferguson were far gentler than the “militarized” cops’ own tactics were.
There’s something painfully ironic about that.