When the sun rose over Ferguson, Mo., about the only good news to come out of night of mayhem is that somehow, someway…maybe nobody died (although literally as I write this, a body was found in a car in the Ferguson area, but it’s not known yet if this is related to the events of last night).
If it turns out the fatality rate is even at one or zero, that result is particularly astounding if you were one of the millions watching on television at home as building after building–at least a dozen–in the epicenter of it all on West Ferguson Avenue went up in flames. Throughout Monday night across the news dial, we witnessed looting happening live right in front of our eyes, complete with some wearing Guy Fawkes masks out of V for Vendetta. We all saw the now-infamous split-screen of President Barack Obama calling for calm while chaos began to break out.
We may have seen one reporter from CNN (Sara Snider) hit by a rock (which is relatively tame compared to her time in Libya); two anchors from the same network (Chris Cuomo, Don Lemon) tear gassed on live TV. Fox’s Steve Harrigan’s camera operator (Dutch Wargo) being confronted by looters and his shot suddenly going dark (no one was hurt the camera was destroyed). Mike Tobin–also of FNC and also a veteran of more than a few war zones overseas in his own right–coughing and rubbing his eyes as he tried to continue with a report. Or perhaps we caught MSNBC’s Chris Hayes ducking for cover when shots rang out. As the night wore on, cars and buildings all emitting bright orange flames and smoke filling the screen. It was just completely surreal–again–as if this was some kind of bad scene out of a Die Hard 6, complete with a more F-bombs than a Tarantino flick.
As mentioned in this space yesterday afternoon, the time of the announcement couldn’t have been more ideal (for lack of a better term) for cable news from a ratings perspective: 9:00 PM EST…meaning the whole country would pretty much be home from work to see the verdict and the reaction afterward (Note: Potential ratings for the networks and the time of the announcement were obviously mutually exclusive). And the decision to make the verdict known to the public at night made zero sense given the cover of darkness allows and Ferguson’s recent violent, destructive history back in August once the sun went down. But local authorities had three months to prepare, or so we were told. The situation would be relatively contained. But no more than 80 minutes after the announcement, it all went downhill.
About two hours after the decision was announced that Officer Darren Wilson would not have to face trial in the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, the cable networks went all NFL Red Zone on us by showcasing what’s called a quad box (four squares showing four different live shots from across the country) in the form of protests out of Los Angeles, Philadelphia, New York and St. Louis (with Oakland, CA rotated in). The Manhattan shot was particularly interesting since it occurred in Times Square at around 48th Street, which just happens to be just one block from Fox News headquarters and 1.5 blocks from 30 Rock, the home of MSNBC. CNN wasn’t too far away, either, with Time Warner Center just approximately ten blocks north of that location. Things got hairy when reports came in on social media that NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton had been injured and blood was streaming down his face, but it (the blood) turned out to be fake with anarchists responsible for throwing it on him.
Still…you got the feeling at home that no one from Washington to New York to L.A. to Ferguson was really in control of anything. And it was easy to forget why this was happening in the first place. The story seemingly was no longer whether a grand jury–which included nine whites and three blacks, along with testimony from black witnesses supporting Officer Wilson’s account–got it right or not. And now we head into the next phase–that of the exploitation variety–as MSNBC’s Al Sharpton heads to Ferguson to demand justice as is standard protocol, which is rich considering that almost any other person on the planet would have been arrested by now given the millions he still owes in taxes. Somewhere, Wesley Snipes is seething.
In the end, everything we witnessed Monday night seemed almost expected given the timing of an announcement that surprised no one given all the leaks leading up to it. Ferguson became the real-life version of Monday Night Raw as events unfolded in real time, and in prime time, from across the country.
Many of the protesters were peaceful, but those whose only objective was to burn the place down and create chaos turned November 24, 2014 into a shameful display for all to see. All told: 61 arrests and (amazingly) only a few minor injuries reported. Thankfully–as least as far as we know right now–no one was killed as a result of the mayhem millions witnessed at home.
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