Fueling the Flames in Ferguson

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 Sheriff David Clarke says, it just pisses me off.

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M Richard Valdemar

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.

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