Watching the response of the roughly 50-member-strong Ferguson Police Department to protests sparked after a Ferguson officer killed 18-year-old Mike Brown, Missouri's Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon said: "All of us were thunderstruck by the pictures we saw, I mean, the over-militarization, the MRAPs rolling in, the guns pointed at kids in the street. All of that I think instead of ratcheting down, brought emotion up."
He's absolutely right. In the past week, which has seen protests every night, the Ferguson Police Department has clashed with demonstrators. In some cases, the Ferguson police said they were responding to violent threats that required tear gas and rubber bullets. In other cases, the cops' actions have been more confounding.
Certainly, cooler heads—among the police and protesters alike—could prevail. As Nixon points out, police provoke the protesters who become more determined to provoke the police until something bad happens.
Jackson is no Ferguson. Like Ferguson, we are a majority-black city, but unlike Ferguson, the capital city's leadership and police force more closely reflects the rest of Jackson (though we would point out that opportunities exist for JPD to further diversify its ranks).
Despite this, there's a feeling that it's not inconceivable that something similar to Ferguson could happen here. Crime—real and perceived—has long been a complaint of local residents. In recent months, after several high-profile murders in the city, Jackson has launched a new crime-prevention program, and city leaders have vowed to be tougher on crime.
All too often, "tough on crime" translates into to being tough on people who run afoul of laws out of desperation or myriad other reasons. And too often, political officials think that the harder you come down on criminals, the more you care about stopping crime.
The seeds of a Ferguson-type situation are firmly in place in Jackson. The search for a new police chief, however, presents an excellent opportunity for conversations about how to best train police. Mayor Tony Yarber, who has said he wants to have a new chief in place by the end of this week, has said that the next man to lead JPD—either interim Chief Lee Vance or former JPD officer and union head Juan Cloy—will have strong ties to Jackson and emphasize training and professionalism.
Right now, Ferguson is a case study in how not to run a police department, much less a city. We hope that Mayor Yarber and the candidates for police chief are watching the situation closely, taking notes from Ferguson and learning what not to do.
See the JFP's full archive of Ferguson coverage here.