This column is part of a four-column series written by Yale students regarding the Mike Brown case in Ferguson, Missouri. Click here to return to the series’ Up for Discussion landing page.
The post here reflects the version of this column that ran in print on Dec. 1.
Following the grand jury decision not to indict police officer Darren Wilson, Governor Jay Nixon ordered 2,200 soldiers of the Missouri National Guard into Ferguson, Missouri, 150 miles from my home in Waynesville, Missouri.
In a state of emergency, it’s not uncommon to dispatch members of the National Guard to areas of need. In 2005, the National Guard responded to Hurricane Katrina. In the 1990s, the National Guard was dispatched following the Bosnian War to aide in peacekeeping. And in 1992, the National Guard helped control riots in Los Angeles.
I’ve never had reason to question the involvement of the National Guard when they’re called to keep order, until I received a phone call from a close friend, a First Lieutenant in the Missouri Army National Guard.
“Guess where I’m going? Ferguson.”
Made sense, I thought. Anticipating the Ferguson community’s justified anger and disbelief, it made complete sense to me that our governor would dispatch the Guard to attempt to maintain some semblance of peace.
“We’ve never been trained in riot control,” he then told me.
Wait, what? Hearing the fear in his voice, I immediately became terrified and furious.
Don’t get me wrong: The most important issue in the Ferguson case is how blind we’ve become as a country, carelessly believing that the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to our Constitution ensure equality for all races.
But first to ignore discrimination, and then ignore the danger in militarizing previously untrained troops in a contentious and angry city, is only asking for more unnecessary pain. Wilson, a trained police officer, shot and killed an unarmed black teenager. National Guard troops equipped with weapons arriving in Ferguson to help already militarily equipped local and state policemen only perpetuates our country’s excessive militarization of domestic law enforcement and encourages the feeling of mistrust we have in our government.
Dispatching the National Guard sends a message: This situation is different, and we have the power to control it. Though annual riot control training is required of members of the National Guard, this training has been largely overshadowed by training for deployment overseas. “My only concern is that the level of training [of the National Guard] may not be what you’d want,” James Carafano, a retired Army officer and vice president of the Heritage Foundation, told the Washington Post. “This is a situation where it’s very sensitive, and you want to get it right the first time. You can’t really learn on the job.”
So Nixon, what message are you sending by putting weapons into the hands of troops — teachers, firemen, regular citizens — who put on a uniform for one weekend a month? And are you promoting peace, or demonstrating just how dangerous our law enforcement can be?
Sara Miller is a junior in Pierson College and a former photography editor for the News. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.