Now that the protests in Ferguson have subsided, the National Guard has left town and outside police forces are scaling back their presence. At their last daily briefing on Wednesday, police officials reflected a bit on the last two weeks, and St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar took the opportunity to defend the aggressive tactics used by his officers in the first few days after the shooting of Michael Brown. Belmar said police departments need military-style equipment because they’re patrolling “very urban areas,” and addressing “serious crimes” and “certain terrorist events” — though previously, he thought they would only be used in handling armed barricades and executing search warrants. “I never envisioned a day in which we would see that type of equipment used against protesters,” he said. “But I also never envisioned a day in 28 years [on the job] that we’d see the kind of criminal activity spin out of peaceful demonstrations.”
As for crowd control measures like tear gas and rubber bullets, Belmar said it could have been worse. “Our choices were to rip, wade into the crowd with nightsticks and riot sticks,” he explained, noting that “sometimes those injuries are long-lasting.” He said he knows tear gas is preferable, as he’s been hit with it about two dozen times in his career. “It’s not pleasant, but at the end of the day there aren’t any long-lasting effects,” he said, adding, “We’ve talked a lot about optics, the optics of nightsticks, dogs and other things like that.”
Belmar also recalled one time when he told his officers to stop pointing their rifles at protesters and use binoculars instead. “I said, ‘Why are we on those rifles?’ Because there’s a guy down the street with a gun,” Belmar said. “And I said, ‘What’s going on right now?’ And they said he’s just walked over right to where we can’t see him, and I said, ‘Lower the rifles, grab the binoculars.’”
The Huffington Post notes that there were many other times when “guns were trained on non-violent protesters even during daytime hours,” and some were even caught on tape. Why can’t people just appreciate all the times the police didn’t respond with excessive force?