Is the lesson sinking in?
So. What’s the worst thing that could happen near Ferguson, Missouri?
“There is now one person dead in a shooting involving a police officer […] about 2.5 miles from Ferguson,” reported KMOV News in St. Louis.
Another police shooting of an African American, after a report that he’d shoplifted two energy bars and some muffins.
But this time it was within the city limits of St Louis. And this time as a crowd gathered at the scene, it was St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson who showed up.
“Listen to him! We’re going to let the chief talk and get the answer now!” shouted local politician Alderman Antonio French.
Dotson then explained what happened to the crowd, “The suspect, who was involved in a theft acting erratically, armed with a knife, the suspect did not respond to verbal commands to drop his weapon. He approached both officers.”
Then he took questions – the big one being, don’t you think your men should be more cautious?
“That’s a great question,” Dotson said. “I think officer safety is the number one issue. If you’re [an officer with a family] and somebody approaches you, within three feet, with a knife, I think you have the right to defend yourself and protect yourself. So I think it certainly is reasonable that an officer has an expectation to go back home at the end of the night.”
A different set of facts, yes, but also a very different approach; and when the chief, who is white, went back to headquarters, French, who is black, and who was himself arrested at the protests in Ferguson, took over.
“No silliness over here!” shouted French. “We’re going to be patient in our neighborhood. That’s not going to be on the police to make sure there’s no violence in our neighborhood. That’s going to be on us.”
A police chief made himself accessible, a politician showed some courage.
And it seemed to work.