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At one end of the city street, thousands of protesters angrily decry the actions of what they see as an oppressive system.

At the other end of the street, a heavily armored, military-style police force prepares to disperse the crowd.

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Tear gas is deployed, rubber bullets are fired as rocks and Molotov cocktails are thrown in the police force’s direction.

These are not streets in Middle Eastern countries such as Syria, Egypt or Libya during the Arab Spring uprising.

This is America. This is Ferguson, Mo.

Ferguson has resembled more of a third-world hot spot than a St. Louis suburb the past week after an unarmed black teenager was shot and killed by a white police officer. Protests and demonstrations began almost immediately after the news Michael Brown, 18, died from gunshots he suffered after he and a friend were stopped by a police officer the afternoon of Aug. 9. Those protests and demonstrations have spurred almost nightly violence. That led to the governor calling for a curfew, which only ramped up tensions more. On Monday, the governor cancelled the curfew, but also called in the National Guard to help quell the situation. More military on top of the already militarized police force may only stoke the flames.

For sure, many of the demonstrators are peaceful and only want to call attention to and demand answers for Brown’s killing. Clergy, civic leaders and even Brown’s family have called for peace, but there will always be those who take a situation such as this and seize it to cause destruction, looting and burning property. The heavy-handed response of law enforcement can not be overlooked as well. Images captured from Ferguson streets look more like a war zone than a U.S. protest. Much has been made of the militarization of police forces in recent years, using military equipment returned from, or that was once destined for, those actual foreign war zones.

The constant presence of the 24-hour media machine, while there to rightfully document the situation, sometimes only propels the situation. Are we asking the tough questions, or just providing television time for rioters and looters? There’s also been scary reports of those journalists arrested or threatened with violence by law enforcement as they cover the nightly flare-ups. Another step in the growing control-the-message news cycle.

There have been differing eye witness accounts of the Brown shooting, and the release of autopsy results late Sunday and Monday only sparked further debate on who was to blame. Brown’s background, and that of the officer, Darren Wilson, now have come under scrutiny.

One thing is for sure, the Ferguson situation remains fluid; we can’t say for certain what will happen over the next few hours, days, weeks. Brown’s death again raises the issue of race relations and racial progress in the country, or lack thereof. We fear that at any moment, a spark could trigger events similar to the 1992 Los Angeles riots, which occurred after the acquittal of white police officers in the savage beating of a black man.

It’s clear that in the 22 years from the Rodney King riots to the Michael Brown protests, America still has a lot of work to do in the area of racial progress. What’s also clear is that violence, looting, militarized police and media suppression is not the way to go.

— Bemidji Pioneer

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