In this starkly horrifying article, Jon Swaine and Amanda Holpuch list the various forces seen on the streets in Ferguson and the weapons they are using. Remember this is a small town of 22,000 people with a nominal police force of 53.
Accompanying the [armoured] trucks have been hundreds of officers from various forces from around the region. Some state troopers and county police officers have been kitted out in basic riot gear – shields, batons and helmets with visors – along with their standard handguns and plastic cuffs.
Others, whose affiliations are not made clear by their uniform, have been carrying what look like AR-15 assault rifles. They wear helmets and all-black body armour, some with partial urban camouflage.
On Wednesday evening, some such officers were carrying 12-gauge shotguns and “super-sock” bean-bag cartridges for shooting at protesters. Protesters have also been fired on with 60-calibre Stinger rubber bullets and what appear to be 40mm wooden baton rounds. Mini “flashbang” stun grenades, which are used by the US army to disorient combatants, have also been deployed.
But the most alarming sight for many protesters and residents has been the deployment of officers wearing army-style fatigues distinguished only from the military version by the word “POLICE” emblazoned in grey across their chest. Some have been carrying grenade launchers,apparently for shooting gas canisters. The remains of “triple chaser” grenades have been found on the streets. Others have carried paintball-style guns for shooting pepperballs.
And there is powerful stuff here from Gary Younge, reminding us that — whatever the appearances — rioting is always a political act.
Those who call for law and order now must understand that there is no order because men with badges have been acting lawlessly.
As I wrote after the riots in London three years ago: “Insisting on the criminality of those involved, as though that alone explains their motivations and the context is irrelevant, is fatuous. To stress criminality does not deny the political nature of what took place, it simply chooses to only partially describe it. They were looting, not shoplifting, and challenging the police for control of the streets, not stealing [policemen’s] hubcaps. When a group of people join forces to flout both law and social convention, they are acting politically.”
For good reason, the nature of such rebellions troubles many. They attract opportunists, macho-men and thrill-seekers as well as the righteously indignant and politically militant. Resistance to occupation is often romanticised but never pretty. And Ferguson – a mostly black town under curfew in which the entire political power structure is white, with a militarised police force that killed a black child – was under occupation.
Riots are also polarising. They narrow the base of support for campaigns, sending potential sympathisers into the arms of the state, demanding a police crackdown. People ask: what could violent protest possibly achieve? It is a good question. But it only has any validity if they also question the nature of the “peace” preceding it. Those who call for calm must question how calm anyone can be in the knowledge that their son, brother or lover could be shot in such a way.
People have a right to resist occupation, even if we don’t necessarily agree with every method they use to do so.
As I also wrote, following the British disturbances: “One should not overstate the case: [throwing firebombs and shooting at police] are not the hallmarks of political sophistication. But then nor are riots. They are the crudest tool for those who have few options. By definition, they are chaotic. Rich people don’t riot because they have other forms of influence. Riots are a class act.”