An autopsy carried out by an independent medical examiner reports that unarmed black teenager Michael Brown was shot at least six times on 9th August, in an event that sparked fierce clashes between protesters and police in the Ferguson suburb of St Louis, Missouri. The violence has reached such a climax that Governor Jay Nixon has ordered the deployment of the National Guard to restore peace to the area.
Whilst the mobilization of the National Guard to Ferguson should help reassure citizens, it may have the opposite affect. Despite playing a prominent role in disaster relief, domestic security and conventional military deployment in the past few decades, the National Guard remains associated with the infamous Kent State University shootings on the 4th May 1970.
During a student protest against President Nixon’s Cambodian Campaign, and the course of the Vietnam War in general, a number of protesters and bystanders were fired upon by a nervous Ohio State National Guard. Four people died, with another nine wounded in an event that came to symbolize the growing divide between state and society over the course of American foreign policy.
Governor Nixon is justified in his decision to enlist the help of the National Guard, for the killing of Michael Brown has led to an almost unprecedented outburst of communal fury. Whilst such sentiment is understandable, the throwing of Molotov cocktails and other missiles is an unnecessary and counter-productive provocation of a police force trying to perform its duties under close national scrutiny. Although the police cannot hide the fact that one of its officers committed a grievous wrong, its primary concern must be to return order to the community as soon as possible.
As the Kent State shootings showed, confrontation in public between the authorities and protesters can have disastrous consequences. Casual observers, passers-by and other innocent onlookers can be accidentally targeted. For an inexperienced fighting force, furious attacks by a riotous crowd can prompt rash and over-zealous responses.
A further by-product of the ongoing riots is the looting and random violence committed by opportunists in the Ferguson community who, rather than driven by any humanitarian or moral principles, are motivated solely by greed. Local businesses are becoming the targets of indiscriminate vandalism, just as was seen during the British Riots of 2011. This is unacceptable on any level.
Whilst America still has some way to go to reassure its racial minorities that they are treated with equality before the law, it is hoped that the National Guard deployment will quickly clear the streets of an angry rioting force without the recourse to bloodshed seen in Ohio back in 1970.