From the chief of the police department to the president of the United States, government officials last Thursday promised a different approach to the racially charged unrest in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. But the situation demands a lot more than a stand-down by assault-rifle-toting police. It might require an act of Congress.
Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson said officers would "facilitate" protests, which began on Sunday after a police officer shot an unarmed black teenager on Saturday. President Obama assured the country that the FBI and the Justice Department were keeping a close eye on how local officials were handling the shooting investigation and the outraged street demonstrators. Some of those involved in forcefully dispersing protests won’t have a chance to do better: Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) officially relieved the St. Louis County Police, the principal authority on the ground in Ferguson, and put the Missouri Highway Patrol in charge.
That was justified in light of what Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. termed "unnecessarily extreme displays of force." Nothing justifies looting or assaulting police, but law enforcement officers in Ferguson did not need to respond to mostly peaceful protests by deploying armored vehicles, pointing sniper rifles at civilians and tossing tear gas and shooting rubber bullets liberally into crowds. These tactics have been an affront to a community that needs to be heard, not suppressed.
Nor does the cause of public safety excuse the documented abuse of several journalists, including The Post’s Wesley Lowery, whom police detained for "trespassing" in a McDonald’s, and an Al Jazeera film crew, which was tear-gassed.