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Randy Sutton

Randy Sutton

Randy Sutton is a 33-year law enforcement veteran, a trainer, and the national spokesman for The American Council on Public Safety. He served 10 years with the Princeton (N.J.) Police Department and 23 years with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, retiring at the rank of lieutenant. He is an author who has published multiple books on law enforcement.
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Patrol

Fueling the Flames in Ferguson

In my experience I have never seen a riot that was truly justified, or worth the cost in lives and property.

December 08, 2014  |  by Richard Valdemar - Also by this author

So far I have exercised what I consider "commendable restraint" in holding back my public comments on the recent events in Ferguson, Mo. Frankly I have not voiced my strong opinions because, like Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke says, it just pisses me off.

The city of Ferguson encompasses 6.2 square miles and is populated by about 21,000 souls whose average yearly income is $47,760.00. According to the 2010 census about 29% are identified as white and 67% as African American. Charged with protecting and serving this community is the Ferguson Police Department with a total of 72 personnel, 54 sworn Officers and 18 civilian support members. And I will bet that a vast majority of both the police and citizenry are honest upstanding people. But that's not who gets the national attention.

Depending on who you believe, on August 9, 2014, Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson contacted a 6'4" 300-pound 18-year-old Michael Brown and his companion (or partner in crime) Dorian Johnson. They had just strong armed a store manager at a nearby convenience store and stolen about $50 worth of cigars. When Wilson noticed the cigars he suspected that these two might be the suspects in the earlier radio call, he called for backup and used his car to block their path. As he attempted to exit the vehicle Brown slammed the door shut and attacked Officer Wilson through the open car window. Pinned in the radio car Wilson claimed he was struck hard several times and he drew his gun. Brown grabbed Wilson's pistol and Wilson shot him.

After the initial shots Brown fled and Wilson went after him. Wilson said that Brown, although already wounded, turned around and again charged the Officer. Fearing for his life Wilson fired several more rounds killing Brown. After more than three months of testimony from numerous witnesses and all pertinent physical and scientific evidence the Grand Jury decision found no cause to charge Wilson. Of course like the LAPD Officers in Rodney King, he now faces the double jeopardy of possible federal prosecution.

Upon announcement of the Grand Jury's findings the predictable civil disturbances immediately began. National televised statements by politicians sympathetic to Brown's family were broadcast by the major media; this did not help. President Obama also made a plea for peaceful demonstrations, but this did no good. During the President's speech footage of Ferguson rioting and burning were televised.

Again and again I heard the call for police tolerance and restraint. But I know that early law enforcement intervention and a show of coordinated force is the most effective tactic to stop a riot. Appeasement and confrontation avoidance is what caused the Los Angeles Rodney King riots to escalate out of control. Where was the National Guard?

In my experience I have never seen a riot that was truly justified, or worth the cost in lives and property. I grew up in Compton, Calif., and have personally survived the 1965 Watts riots, the 1969 MLK Assassination riots, a couple of Vietnam protest riots (1970 & 71), and the Rodney King riots of 1992. Because of this, I have a special disdain for outside agitator groups like the Black Panthers, Brown Berets, the Nation of Islam, the Revolutionary Communist Party, the Occupy people and the KKK. I feel the same toward the race hate mongers like the "Reverend" Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.

These outside-the-community agitators, like parasites, feed on the communities they pretend to represent, provoking violence and lawlessness, which primarily injures the people who live in that community. After the city is left in smoldering ruin, they move on to another national hot spot to foment more trouble. The cost to the community's reputation, the economy, the cost in destroyed property, and in human lives is not borne by these agitators. The troubled (and usually poor) community pays the horrible price to further the agitators' political agenda. The blood of these communities feeds the parasites of race hate, class warfare, and division.

And like Pavlov's dogs the American media drools all over every incident and confrontation, mostly giving these outside agitators a platform; to fan the beginning sparks, or the dying embers to keep the good video footage coming for their 5 o'clock news coverage. The TV news coverage of Ferguson was so bad and one sided that I often had to turn off the television in order to keep from throwing something at my expensive TV flat screen. You cops know what I mean.

In my opinion, today there is a general public atmosphere of distrust of authority and government, which most seem to direct specifically against the local police. I personally have not seen this much general hatred for the police since the turbulent radical 1960s. The American national media is partly to blame. Even when forensic science, video tape, and numerous eye witness testimony clears an officer of wrongdoing there will still be those talking heads on TV claiming cover up and conspiracy. And this is true on both sides of the media; the left leaning media painting the police in broad brush strokes as jack-booted Nazi racists and the right wing warning of the militarization of the police and socialist government confiscation of weapons and property.

Law enforcement is a thankless and dangerous job. Sympathy for the bullies and bad guys and political correctness does not make it safer. A police officer is killed in the United States every 57 hours, or about an average of 154 in a year. So far this year two were from Missouri. About 43 of these deaths were from firearms. According to FBI Statistics during the period between the years 1991 and 2000, 52 officers were killed with their own firearms. In other words, some thug overcame a policeman or policewoman, took his or her sidearm, and murdered him or her with it. This is not a fictional movie or faraway military conflict. These men and women were real human beings trying to protect and serve the American people, all the people.

Have you ever struggled with a suspect who was bigger and meaner than you, maybe high on dope, and determined to take your gun away from you and shoot you with it? I have. We each carry the means of our own demise on our Sam Browne or duty belt to every call and traffic stop.

In the Academy they taught me a reverence for life, but they also emphasized that you can never allow a suspect to take your gun from you. That day in the Imperial Courts projects when I was fighting for my life on the dirt with that Grape Street Crip and being struck with my own baton while trying to win the fight with just one hand, I feared for my life. That man was lucky the responding units reached me in time, because I had gained the advantage and control of my pistol and I would have killed that son of a bitch if they had not grabbed and cuffed him first.

Each of our perceptions and opinions are colored by our lifetime experiences, and I opine that Wilson was within the confines of the law and did his duty. He went home to his family …alive.

Sgt. Richard Valdemar retired from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department after spending most of his 33 years on the job combating gangs. He is a longtime member of the POLICE Magazine advisory board and has written extensively on Gangs on PoliceMag.com's Gangs Channel.


Comments (13)

Displaying 1 - 13 of 13

JReb @ 12/9/2014 12:35 AM

Great article, as usual. I would only change 1 sentence..."The American national media is partly to blame." should read "mostly to blame." The one-sided, sensationalized, anti-LE reporting is WAY over the top. Even when something that looks or sounds bad about the cops is PROVEN wrong or allegations are PROVEN lies, the media contues to repeat it by simply adding "it has been alleged" or "some beleive" in preface. When it is repeated often enough, even Joe & Jill Sixpack start thinking that police misconduct is rampant...inspite of factual evidence to the contrary.

Dawn Cutaia @ 12/9/2014 3:55 AM

Can you honestly argue with a straight face that the mistrust of government and the police has nothing to do with the actions of the police? Are you not aware of the lawsuits against the NYPD and Philadelphia PD regarding their stop and frisk policies? Have you even looked at the statistics?

And regarding officer Wilson, SCOTUS is the reason this officer was not indicted; cops are given extreme latitude in using deadly force. The fact that he was not indicted does not mean he didn't do anything morally wrong; it just means the grand jury was following the law.

Regarding "riots", you call it a riot; some call it a protest. I guess it all depends on which side of the gun you are standing. I am sure the Chinese govt calls the Tiananmen square massacre a "riot".

(Oh - and that's not the definition of double jeopardy; if you are going to use big legal terms, you should use them correctly.)

TC @ 12/9/2014 4:40 PM

Every day, by my reckoning, law enforcement arrests 35,000 people in the U.S. Why are those numbers not represented to properly put things in perspective?

Dan @ 12/9/2014 5:10 PM

@dawn

The difference between the protests in Tiananmen Square and the RIOTS in Ferguson and elsewhere in America is that the protestors never burned down their own city! Oh and they were also organized and backed by a majority of the country. Unlike the riots related to ferguson and other justified police shootings and police related custody deaths in America, the majority of Americans are not on your side. They are not on the side of Ferguson. They know Brown was a criminal. They know Johnson was a liar. They can plainly see Garner was resisting. So if you are going to use historical reference, use it correctly!

Geneleo @ 12/9/2014 6:05 PM

THE BEST ARTICLE that I have ever read on this subject.
I can understand the feelings when the officer is outweighed by 20 to 50# of heavily muscled criminal, who is overdosed on meth, and fighting off 8 officers, who are trying to control him without killing him (no tazers issued at that time) and OC was not effective. Luckily all of the officers went home at the end of shift, and the criminal had a free helicopter ride.

Dan @ 12/9/2014 6:09 PM

@dawn And yes the fact he wasn't indicted does indicate he was morally as well as legally justified. How do you argue otherwise?

Bud @ 12/9/2014 6:58 PM

Sgt. Valdamer tells the truth. I have been in law enforcement 33 years. Twenty years ago I came in contact with a young black male, high on angel dust. I stopped him on 1-40 in the western part of North Carolina. I fought him until I had no more. He had his hand on my gun, trying to get it out of the holster. It was all I could do to keep possession of my gun. I knew he was going to kill me.i decided if I got his hands off my gun, I was going to put my gun into his stomach and shoot him until I could get him off me. I could have cared less what color he was. Many officers came to my help. They saved his life. I had already decided that he or I was going to die. He got many years in prison. Officers, don't hesitate because of a suspects color. If you have decided you are going to lose your life, start shooting. Use your training. Don,t hesitate because of color, it will cost you your life. Trust me, the person trying to kill you won't be hesitating. Be safe,

Tom Ret @ 12/9/2014 7:11 PM

The author is spot on. I would agree with the previous post that the media
is largely responsible in revving up emotions and often irresponsible in its reporting. The business owners who had their businesses burned to the ground can credit the hug a thug approach taken by the police at that time of events,
the governor who was incommunicado when the locals were asking for the guard, and the agitators like Sharpton.

xxxxx @ 12/9/2014 7:48 PM

Dawn my face is straight and I am guilt free. I bet Al Sharpton can't say that. On second that, that liar will tell you whatever you want to hear. Dawn stop being a victim. Stop following the lies. It's not helping anyone except the crooked politicians and the Sharptons of the world making the quick buck. When all is said and done our cities will be destroyed, race relations will be ruined and ol' Al will be back at his mansion smoking a cigar laughing all the way to the bank. Then certain black individuals (not all) will be scratching their heads saying, "what happened to our buddy Al"?

rede2hike @ 12/9/2014 9:09 PM

As a 25 year, now retired law enforcer I remember the hell we went thru after the Rodney King incident. I am so tired of hearing about the poor unarmed minorities that the police are killing left & right.
What happened to obeying the rule of law. Brown & the others would still be alivery today I'd they had just followed the rules, but I guess being a minority means the rules don't apply to me cause I'm a poor person of color. Hell, I grew up jewish in Utah, wanna talk being a minority.
My immigrant parents pounded into our heads that we earn the right to be americans everyday & payback this country for allowing us to come here and making a better life for ourselves. The entitlement minorities have no concept of what this means and demand that we, the working taxpayers owe them something.
I'm so tired of hearing this and I am embarrassed for all law abiding Americans. All Americans who believe in law and order had better stand and start screaming or the worthless politicians are going to cave into the whining libs and start passing laws that take away our rights to self defence and tying the hands of our law enforcers.

BT @ 12/9/2014 9:20 PM

OK Dawn, give me the statistics you think you have. And you better be accurate because I will check their authenticity. You claim "riots" are the same as "protests"? I think you better look up the difference in definition. Riots: "violent" public disturbance against authority, property or people. Riots involve vandalism and the destruction of property, public or private. These are NOT protests. There is a reason a Grand Jury made their decision. You have a whole lot more homework to do before getting on this forum again!

DEADMAN @ 12/10/2014 2:43 AM

My department estabished the procedure,we copied another department,if a suspect ended up doa,he was still charged,i haven't read where Brown was charged or Garner,for that matter,johnson should have been charged for complicity in robbery and perjury,he wasn't.We got those charges filed to help protect our behinds,i haven't read where either was charged,why not .

Norwalquero @ 12/19/2014 10:17 AM

Great to hear from you again, Sgt. Valdemar! Almost a year between articles is just too damn long. I always appreciate reading your stuff. Happy Holidays! :)

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