by Thomas Nolan, Associate Professor of Criminology & Director of Graduate Programs in Criminology, Merrimack College; former Senior Policy Advisor at the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties; former lieutenant, Boston Police Department
Attorney General Eric Holder recently announced an initiative sponsored by the Department of Justice through the Bureau of Justice Assistance and the Office of Community Oriented Police Services that provides guidance and support for law enforcement agencies in their response to protesters who are engaging in constitutionally protected activities, particularly those activities protected by the First Amendment such as freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of the press. The provision of this guidance appears to coincide with the expected announcement of the findings of a grand jury hearing evidence in the case of the death of Michael Brown at the hands of Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9, 2014.
In the aftermath of the shooting death of Brown, the world watched as protesters took to the streets in Ferguson and were met with a hyper-exaggerated, highly militarized response from the police in Ferguson that unilaterally trounced the First Amendment rights of the protesters and unequivocally suspended the provisions of the United States Constitution that guarantee the protections of free speech, free assembly, and a free press. The world saw law enforcement officers engage in a shameless and hysterical display of unrestrained force against a relatively small group of largely peaceful protesters using sound cannons (designed for use in wars by the military), tear gas (chemical weapons banned by the Geneva Conventions for use during war), rubber bullets (potentially lethal), smoke bombs and grenades, stun grenades (potentially lethal), wood bullet projectiles, pepper pellet rounds (of the type that killed student Victoria Snelgrove in Boston in 2004), and bean bag rounds (also potentially lethal).