Chaos in Ferguson, Mo. leaves the U.S. Constitution in tatters

     A man watches as police walk through a cloud of smoke during a clash with protesters in Ferguson, Mo. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

    A man watches as police walk through a cloud of smoke during a clash with protesters in Ferguson, Mo. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

    The fatal shooting of unarmed teen Michael Brown is a story whose aftermath has left the U.S. Constitution in tatters.

    It began on Aug. 9, when Brown died in a hail of bullets fired by Officer Darren Wilson of the Ferguson, Mo. police force. Police said Brown attacked Wilson, while numerous witnesses said he was shot with his hands in the air.

    As accusations flew across the racial and social divide, Wilson, who is white, and Brown, who was black, were suddenly at the center of a conflagration fueled by race, class and anger. Like a wildfire, Brown’s image raged across the country and the world.

    The result was predictable: Anger, and protests and a proverbial line in the sand.

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    Divided again

    On one side of that line was an overwhelmingly white police force equipped with armored vehicles, tear gas and high-powered rifles.

    On the other side were protesters, many of them African American, and many of them armed with little more than a desire to pursue answers and justice.

    Not every protestor was peaceful, and though Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon says those people were in the minority, the police responded to them by spraying tear gas, shooting rubber bullets and using concussion grenades.

    The image of paramilitary police using such heavy-handed tactics was broadcast across the world, and a change of command took place.

    Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson was brought in to run the operation, and the National Guard was called upon to assist the police. Not much changed.

    The nightly peaceful protests invariably devolved into scenes from some horrible video game.

    Clouds of tear gas engulfed fleeing crowds, the crack of gunfire split the air and helicopters circled overhead as if Ferguson, Mo., had become Mosul, Iraq.

    What this says about US

    Did the police need to respond to those intent on using the protests to promote bedlam? Yes.

    But the surrealistic scenes, in which American authorities summarily arrested at least six working journalists and scores of ordinary citizens were difficult to watch.

    Not only because of the ugly racial element of the entire sordid affair, but also because Americans of all stripes have been left to ask an uncomfortable question:

    Can the police do that to American citizens?

    The police will say “yes” due to riot conditions in Ferguson. But in my reading of the law, the answer is an unequivocal “no.”

    The First Amendment of the United States Constitution clearly states that, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

    The First Amendment is the reason that police in Ferguson, Mo., have announced that “this is no longer a peaceful assembly” before spraying tear gas into crowds of protestors that include women and children.

    The First Amendment is the reason that it’s highly questionable to have authorities arresting working journalists from major media outlets.

    The First Amendment is the reason why all of us, no matter how we feel about the shooting death of Michael Brown, should support the rights of the Ferguson protestors.

    Let their voices be heard

    Nothing that happened in Ferguson takes away our First Amendment right to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

    And make no mistake: The killing of an unarmed citizen by an armed government agent is a grievance that is worthy of redress.

    It is an injustice that must be adjudicated and, if the evidence warrants, it is a crime that must be punished.

    We cannot remain silent as paramilitary force is used against American protestors and journalists.

    If we allow the rights of other Americans to be trampled in Ferguson, Mo., it’s only a matter of time before the government will come for us, too.

    More on Solomon Jones’ website.

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