The recent wave of demonstrations sweeping the United States in response to a grand jury’s decision not indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for fatally shooting unarmed Michael Brown, Jr. continues to escalate. But after two nights of nationwide protests and, in some instances, looting and arson, streets in Ferguson were by and large calm during the Thanksgiving holiday.
Missouri Governor Nixon called-up over 2,000 National Guard soldiers to patrol the streets of St. Louis and nearby suburbs creating a reflective but tense atmosphere. However, violence persists as police continue to use deadly force against demonstrators.
The most recent victim of out-of-control police is Dornella Conner, a 24 year-old pregnant African-American woman who was shot in the face by a police officer who fired a “non-lethal” weapon using a “beanbag” projectile. The “non-lethal” projectile smashed through the windshield of the car Conner was traveling in and destroyed her left eye. Surgeons are concerned that Conner has also been blinded in her right eye as well.
Although officials insist that Conner was shot with a “non-lethal” weapon, it is has long-since been established that such projectiles are in fact lethal. Other police services around the world have been thoroughly scrutinized for using these weapons on civilians. In Northern Ireland, where British officials continue paramilitary and fully militarized policing efforts, many civilians have been killed using similar weapons. According to a recent report featured in The Guardian, British officials have been aware of the dangers of using so-called non-lethal projectiles for decades. In 1972, during the height of the most recent conflicts in the British-occupied county of Derry, Ireland, Richard Moore – age 10 – was struck in the head by British forces and permanently blinded. Later that year and through 1973, three other children were killed.
Today, as more soldiers are called to maintain civil order, people in the United States are concerned that the horrors that played-out in the marginalized communities of the North of Ireland during the 1970s and 1980s are a foreshadowing of similar events on the Western side of the Atlantic. In an under-publicized last minute action of former President George W. Bush, key provisions of the Insurrection Act of 1807 were repealed as the two-term Republican from Texas left office and the Democrat, Barack Obama, inherited the Oval Office. The provisions prohibited the deployment of Federal troops on U.S. soil largely in response to the brutality inflicted upon Southern civilians, both blacks and whites, by the Union occupation forces as part of Reconstruction of the defeated Confederate States. This 2008 repeal effectively legalized the use of U.S. soldiers against civilians in the event of a state of emergency.
What began as localized demonstrations in Ferguson continue to spread to cities across the United States, raising concerns by many civil libertarians and others that the unrest will become justification for intensified policing with instances of indiscriminate violence becoming more frequent. Although the precise circumstances in which the pregnant Dornella Conner was shot are unclear, according to Conner, police trapped the vehicle she and her boyfriend were traveling in and surrounded them with weapons drawn. She admits her boyfriend, the driver, tried to flee the scene as it was clear to her that they were intent on firing on the couple. Currently, the boyfriend is sought by police.