The day began with questions about why a young man was killed. It ended as a referendum on the militarization of American police forces.
Inside of a week, two black teen-agers have been shot by police and, in both instances, the bureaucratic default setting has favored law enforcement, fueling a perception that the department is either inept or beholden to a certain nonchalance about the possibility of police brutality.
What transpired in the streets appeared to be a kind of municipal version of shock and awe; the first wave of flash grenades and tear gas had played as a prelude to the appearance of an unusually large armored vehicle, carrying a military-style rifle mounted on a tripod. The message of all of this was something beyond the mere maintenance of law and order: it’s difficult to imagine how armored officers with what looked like a mobile military sniper’s nest could quell the anxieties of a community outraged by allegations regarding the excessive use of force. It revealed itself as a raw matter of public intimidation.
Whatever happened to Michael Brown in the moments before he died has become secondary to what the response to his death has revealed. The name of the officer who shot him remains unknown. Even the number of times that Brown was shot has not been disclosed, despite the completion of a preliminary autopsy.