Militarized weaponry is being used to trample constitutional rights.
By Alex Kane
August 22, 2014
The militarized police force unleashed in Ferguson, Missouri over the past two weeks has crushed the civil liberties of black residents angry over the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown. That law enforcement has shown utter disregard for the rights of protesters and the press is no surprise to many, especially black people, who have had to contend with pervasive surveillance and harassment in varied forms for much of American history. Yet what makes the situation in Ferguson look especially scary and dystopic are the militarized weapons being used to crush constitutional rights.
The first civil liberty to be trampled on by cops was the right to protest, or as the Constitution puts it, “the right of the people peaceably to assemble.” Protests have occurred almost daily since August 9, the day Brown was killed by Ferguson officer Darren Wilson. When demonstrations broke out over the shooting, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets and used vehicles that produce piercing sounds to disperse the crowd.
In the wake of these scenes, groups like Human Rights Watch have charged that the methods law enforcement used have intimidated peaceful demonstrators. “Ferguson police are compounding problems with threats and the use of unnecessary force against people peacefully protesting the police killing of Michael Brown,” Human Rights Watch’s U.S. researcher Alba Morales said in a statement. “They should be upholding basic rights to peaceful assembly and free speech, not undermining them.”
Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick, and Daria Roithmayr, a law professor, argue that excessive tear gas and rubber bullets also violate the constitutional right to due process. “The due process clause bans the police from using excessive force even when they are within their rights to control a crowd or arrest a suspect,” they write.
Despite this criticism, the police in Ferguson have not changed their tactics.
When citizens with camera phones and journalists have tried to document police tactics, officers have sought to prevent them from doing so. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on behalf of a journalist who was told by police to stop recording with his camera. On August 15, the police and the ACLU reached an agreement that would allow the videotaping of police officers as long as officers are able to do their jobs.