A few months after the police killing of Mike Brown, St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson uttered a completely baseless phrase that was readily picked up by conservative media and right-wingers. Chief Dotson coined the phrase the “Ferguson Effect,” describing it as a “current surge in lawlessness” caused by “the intense agitation against American police departments over the past nine months.”
As a political observer, I choose to reframe the terms, especially since there’s no data to back up the theory that police were hesitant to pursue criminals because of the heightened scrutiny by the public.
I call the “Ferguson Effect” the planned and spontaneous resistance by people, especially black and brown people, to white supremacy in its many forms. The contradiction in my theory is that I cannot absolutely prove that these actions would have happened without the Ferguson Uprising. Still, I assert that my Ferguson Effect has more credibility than Dotson’s assertion.
The Ferguson Uprising represented a defining moment for black people in the country. It propelled the mantra “Black Lives Matter!” as a national rallying cry and the collective avowal of no more business as usual.
A few African-American players on the Ram’s team coming out on the field with raised hands. The Baltimore community’s response to the death of Freddie Gray. The Mizzou protests by ConcernedStudent1950. The no-confidence vote of Chief Dotson by the St. Louis Ethical Society (black police). The forced insertion of Black Lives Matters activists into the campaigns of the Democratic presidential candidates. The forced resignation of Chicago’s police chief.
There are many more, but these are some of my examples of the Ferguson Effect – people refusing to accept the continued assault on black communities by those in power.
In the St. Louis area, we know police have not been timid in their policing methods. Less than two weeks after Mike Brown’s killing and in the midst of the Ferguson Uprising, Kajieme Powell was killed by St. Louis police. Then there was VonDerrit Meyers Jr., Isaac Holmes, Ladarius Williams, Thomas Allen, Michael Willis, Antonio Martin and Mansur Ball-Bey.
Does it look like police were shy about pulling the trigger as the nation talked about the rising number of police killings of mainly unarmed black men?
Chief Dotson’s theory has been discounted, refuted and debunked on many levels by scholars and agencies who track and analyze data. No data support the double-edged theory that police became more timid in their crime-fighting tactics and that a national wave of lawlessness resulted because police could not do their jobs. Groups like the Brennan Institute and the Sentencing Project have issued reports that tell a different story about the downward trend of crime and the increase of police assaults and killings.
The stats tell us that the number of police killed in the line of duty by citizens pale in comparison to the number of police-involved killings.
Unless there is acknowledgment of racist, ineffective policing, the tensions between police and communities of color are unlikely to decrease. New policies and procedures are necessary, such as body cameras. Just as important to the equation of trust and accountability are consequences for police behavior on both an individual and department level. This means that police will be subject to demotions and no merit pay when they engage in overzealous policing.
Prosecutors need to try to take cases of police crimes all the way to convictions and sentencing. By now, the public knows that arrests and indictments raise false hopes if prosecutors are unwilling to work for a conviction.
The new year can truly bring something new, different and better. But only if the starting point is a consensus on where we are with policing and why we’re there. Ignoring or sanitizing the facts will only keep us in a vicious cycle.