WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – According to civil rights attorney and Pace Law School professor Randolph McLaughlin, the scenes transpiring in Ferguson, Mo., are reminiscent of the most violent civil rights disputes during the 1960s.
Protests and riots erupted in outrage after Michael Brown, an 18-year-old unarmed African-American man, was fatally shot by a police officer on Saturday, Aug. 9, his body reportedly left on display for hours in the hot sun.
According to reports, police have aggressively responded to riots in the days since, using tear gas, rubber bullets and smoke bombs to deter protesters from the area.
Reports state that several journalists have been chased away and assaulted by policemen, including two journalists from The Washington Post and Huffington Post, who were beaten and detained for "trespassing," in a McDonald's where they were using WiFi.
"I couldn't believe I was seeing pictures of police lunging at protesters with snarling German shepherds," McLaughlin said, "It's like the worst of the riots in the South during the '60s."
McLaughlin, who is a co-chair of the civil rights practice group at Newman and Ferrera law firm, has worked on several high-profile cases in Westchester, including the deaths of Kenneth Chamberlain Sr. of White Plains and Christopher Malone of Ossining, both African-American men allegedly killed wrongfully by police.
"Cases involving police use of force are always difficult to assess without a full and complete understanding of what transpired," he said. "The fact that causes me greatest concern is that the witness said Mr. Brown was 35 feet away when the officer shot him, and he was unarmed."
McLaughlin said he was having a hard time seeing how the shooting was justified. However, he didn't believe the actions of the rioters were appropriate either.
"It is never appropriate to burn stores and loot stores at a protest to proceed grievances against the government or police. It's also unacceptable for police to randomly arrest people and use riot gear against them," he said.
According to McLaughlin, the biggest lesson residents in Westchester can learn from Ferguson is that without proper police supervision, what happened to Brown could happen to anyone.
"This could happen to anyone, regardless of of race," he said. "Race is definitely an issue and a factor, but this is an issue across the board. There needs to be accountability for officers that use deadly force. ... You have to police the police. If you don't discipline officers, they will continue to act inappropriately.
"Police need the trust of the community in order for the community to want to cooperate with the criminal justice system to put the bad people away."
What do you think about the situation in Ferguson, Mo.? Let us know in the comments below.