Countless protests and acts of civil disobedience took place across the nation last week in response to a Missouri grand jury’s decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown.
The Los Angeles Police Department deserves credit for their thoughtful handling of protesters.
Thousands of protesters have marched through downtown LA and other regions of the city in different acts of civil disobedience since the decision Monday.
The protests have included hitting vehicles in the street, running through intersections and blocking traffic on U.S. Route 101. These acts have resulted in over 300 arrests in LA, accounting for around 60 percent of all Ferguson-related protest arrests in California, according to a Reuters report.
“When they will no longer comply with our requests and when it becomes dangerous, when they start running in and out of cars and put the public at risk, then we have to take action,” LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.
Acts of civil disobedience are always high-risk situations for both protesters and police.
Protesters risk arrest and bodily harm depending on how much force is used by law enforcement, while police departments can only harm their reputation depending on how poorly they handle the protesters.
Beck authorized the release of the 90 remaining incarcerated protesters Thursday morning so they would be able to spend Thanksgiving at home with their families. Had Beck not given that order, those protesters would have been forced to spend the weekend in jail if they were unable to post their $500 bail.
This was a small, but compassionate, gesture from a police department that has historically struggled with its public image. The gesture stands out even more when public hostility toward police couldn’t be any higher, reminding us that despite all the riot gear and tear gas, police departments can care about the people they serve.
This single act of humanity does not detract from the needed discussion of excessive violence from police toward the African-American community. However, it does show that police departments can occasionally display a capacity for tolerance.