I have never been afraid of my government. Admittedly, the cards are stacked in my favor on this: I am a straight, white, middle-class man from a good home, with an education, with no criminal background. Generally speaking, there's no reason for me to be afraid of my government.
I've been sitting in front of my computer for the last 2 hours watching live video of the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, and following what's been going on since Sunday via Twitter and various news sources. I am stunned by what I've been seeing. People literally just standing in the street holding signs, chanting, occasionally yelling choice words at the police. No violence. No approaching the line of officers.
The officers who are decked out like characters from a particularly fantastical Call of Duty game or military movie. They have snipers. They have giant guns. They have tanks. Why does a police department have tanks?
Sunday night the protestors got way, way out of hand, rioting, looting, vandalizing. But tonight, Wednesday night, they're just standing in the street, facing down this overly-armed line of policemen.
And then the police started firing tear gas - which explodes like a massive firecracker, as I didn't previously know - and rubber bullets into the crowd. Again, the crowd has done nothing to warrant this response. And they push the crowd back into a neighborhood there, and keep firing, hitting houses, at one point setting someone's yard on fire with a smoke grenade.
This is insane.
I have never been afraid of my government.
Coupling what I saw tonight with the reports of the Ferguson police trying to prevent media access, damaging and/or seizing recording equipment, and arresting reporters and civilians seen recording their actions, this is a law enforcement agency that is out of control.
We have systems in place to protect our citizenry from tyranny, from violations of our civil rights, from violations of the law that threaten the peace. In 1794, when a group of around 500 men attacked the estate of a tax collector because they didn't want to pay a whisky tax, George Washington got the governors of Pennsylvania and surrounding states to lend him an army and lead them to the site to shut it down. (They'd mostly gone home by the time he got there, but the threat did end the "Whisky Rebellion.") In 1954, the governor of Arkansas used the Arkansas National Guard to prevent 9 black students from attending a newly integrated school. President Dwight Eisenhower sent the US Army to make sure they were allowed in.
This situation has been going on for 5 days and counting now. The governor of Missouri has yet to send the National Guard in; instead, at 11:45pm (EST) he tweeted that he was canceling his state fair appearances to visit Ferguson tomorrow and see what's up. The President was apparently just made aware of the details of what's going, as the Deputy Press Secretary tweeted at 12:04am (EST) that he had been briefed. Prior to this, the President had been attending a party to "hug it out" with Hillary Clinton. The mayor of Ferguson, perhaps the man who should be the people of Ferguson's first line of defense against an unruly police force, instead of reeling them in, told reporters that this demonstration of force "is not representative of our community."
I have never been afraid of my government because I have always believed in our system that was established to prevent exactly this kind of abuse of power and oppression. But right now we are witnessing the failure of the system, from the bottom up. The first line of defense for the citizens has betrayed the citizens trust and is abusing their power and violating the Constitution by restricting the freedoms of the press and assembly. And the people charged with making sure they don't do that - the mayor and the governor - are not taking action. And the people charged with making sure the state- and local-level officials don't do that - the President and Attorney General - are also doing nothing.
If the system is not enforced, the system is valueless. And if the system is valueless I have every reason to be afraid of my government.