Sometimes you get your wisdom from strange places. In the years after 9/11, Battlestar Galactica confronted the challenges facing America in a way that only a scifi show could, with thinly veiled allegory that allowed all sides of an issue to be examined. From torture to profiling, the show acted as a mirror in which our current condition was reflected. And that reflection still stands, especially as the effects of 9/11 linger. For the last four days the Missouri town of Ferguson has looked less like America and more like a country occupied by an army; the local and county police, armed with military weapons and vehicles, have been clashing with protesters in the street. That militarization comes in the wake of 9/11, when local municipalties began to fear the war on terror coming home. Ferguson isn't the only place where the local cops have access to an armory that should terrify you.
And lo and behold, Battlestar Galactica talked about this, about blurring the lines between cops and soldiers. This quote from Admiral Adama - one of the great noble heroes of scifi - has been making the rounds on Twitter tonight:
What we're seeing in Ferguson is the proof of this quote. Police are firing tear gas into people's yards, are arresting journalists for no reason and have continued to menace the community in an attempt to display power. They're not serving the people of Ferguson, they are trying to pacify them.
For those who aren't aware (and that might be a lot of you - the national media has been shamefully quiet about this), here are the basic details:
On August 9th Michael Brown, an 18 year old, was shot dead by police. Brown was unarmed and, according to eyewitnesses, asking the police to stop shooting him after they had already injured him. He was shot multiple times. The police claim Brown, who had no criminal record, assaulted an officer and was trying to get his gun.
A vigil and protest for Brown was met with a strange sight - cops in riot gear with police dogs showed up. This is a majority black community patrolled by a majority white police force that has a troubling history with racial profiling but a low violent crime rate. That night things got out of hand, and there was some looting. That's probably not as bad as shooting an unarmed boy to death in the street, but there are some who attempt to make equivalancy arguments.
in 1968 the Walker Report, an investigation into the riots at the Chicago Democratic National Convention that year, coined the term 'police riot' and explained it like this:
During the week of the Democratic National Convention, the Chicago police were the targets of mounting provocation by both word and act. It took the form of obscene epithets, and of rocks, sticks, bathroom tiles and even human feces hurled at police by demonstrators. Some of these acts had been planned; others were spontaneous or were themselves provoked by police action. Furthermore, the police had been put on edge by widely published threats of attempts to disrupt both the city and the Convention.
That was the nature of the provocation. The nature of the response was unrestrained and indiscriminate police violence on many occasions, particularly at night.
That violence was made all the more shocking by the fact that it was often inflicted upon persons who had broken no law, disobeyed no order, made no threat. These included peaceful demonstrators, onlookers, and large numbers of residents who were simply passing through, or happened to live in, the areas where confrontations were occurring.
Newsmen and photographers were singled out for assault, and their equipment deliberately damaged. Fundamental police training was ignored; and officers, when on the scene, were often unable to control their men. As one police officer put it: “What happened didn’t have anything to do with police work.” . . .
The violence visited upon the protesters and, in many cases bystanding residents of Ferguson who found tear gas launched into their yards, fits this description perfectly. This police riot is now in its fourth day, and it is exactly what Adama warned us about - the police making the people the enemy of the state.
As I write this, Ferguson police, unchecked by any authority, are launching tear gas, firing rubber bullets and exploding flashbang grenades in the streets of an American city, battling against people who, at most, are armed with bottles and sticks. They're aiming assault rifles at citizens filming them on phones. They're launching tear gas at broadcast journalists.
If you wanted to compare this to another science fiction scenario you could say that The Hunger Games: Mockingjay is suddenly feeling very au courant. But you don't have to look to science fiction to truly find a cinematic touchstone for what we've seen happening in Ferguson:
Decades later they're still asking why Mookie smashed the window at Sal's instead of why they killed radio Raheem. #Ferguson— Ahmad Abuznaid (@DiplomatEsq) August 11, 2014