This isn’t Ferguson

The bungled police response that has shed light on the militarization of law enforcement

The so-called “offense/incident report” released this week by the police department in Ferguson, Mo., following the officer-involved shooting death of an unarmed teenager earlier this month only serves to further the community’s doubt that lethal force was justifiable.

That report should provide the public a window into the circumstances surrounding Officer Darren Wilson’s decision to repeatedly fire at Michael Brown, the 18-year-old would-be college student who was laid to rest earlier this week. The department released the report only under threat of a lawsuit, and aside from a time and location of the incident, it contains little else.

What it should hold is a narrative of the incident as it unfolded, through witness accounts as well as a statement by Wilson. The document demonstrates the department’s willful lack of transparency and raises suspicions, whether real or imagined, of a cover-up scenario.

This, of course, follows law enforcement’s overkill approach to dealing with the demonstrations in this small, mostly black Midwestern town with a police force composed mostly of whites. Unfortunately for those who asserted their First Amendment right to assemble, criminals took advantage of the situation, looting area stores and assaulting police. Most of the protests remained peaceful, however, and did not warrant dispersing tactics that included tear gas, rubber bullets and armored vehicles.

We were troubled by the militaristic response to the unrest in Ferguson, and we’re troubled now by the increasingly militarized law enforcement we’re seeing the nation over, including right here in Butte County. A recent New York Times tool mapping the distribution of surplus military gear underscores how heavily armed our local law enforcement agencies have become (see staff writer Ken Smith’s story on page 8).

Aside from the obvious, another of the disconcerting points to this giveaway of government gear is that it happened under the radar. The Times learned of the data only through a Freedom of Information Act request. The CN&R was not aware local agencies had received such donations that, among other things, have equipped every Chico Police Department squad car with an M-16.

Ferguson and its neighboring communities have been the recipients of the military largesse, too. There, in the case of the recent protests, the result wasn’t pretty. In addition to the tear-gassing and other heavy-handed tactics, we watched a particularly disturbing video of an officer from a St. Louis suburb pointing an assault rifle at nonviolent demonstrators and other citizens, including journalists. That officer, now identified as police Lt. Ray Albers of St. Ann Police Department, also threatened to kill the protesters, and when asked his name, responded with an expletive.

Cops like him are a liability to their departments and pose a danger to the public. Albers lost sight of the duties of his job: to protect and serve the public, not to intimidate and endanger the citizenry. He’s been suspended and ought to lose his badge.

On the run-up to deadline Tuesday afternoon, the CN&R learned about a Butte County Sheriff deputy’s alleged use of excessive force in Oroville. Video of the incident shows only part of an altercation between the deputy and an African-American man named Terry Collins. In the footage, which does not have audio, Collins appears to be complying with an order to sit down on the ground. However, Deputy Sam Burnett proceeds to kick Collins in the side of his neck or face.

A press release from the Butte County Sheriff’s Office says Collins was refusing Burnett’s order to lie on the ground. We don’t buy it. There are only a few seconds between the time Collins sits to the impact of the deputy’s foot. An investigation is in the works, and we expect it to be rigorous. Butte County isn’t Ferguson, and it’s incumbent upon our law enforcement leaders to keep it that way.