Ferguson violence provides lessons for cities, police

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For the last several nights, Ferguson, Missouri has looked more like a war zone than an American city.

Cities across America are watching and wondering how this could happen and how it can be stopped. There are also costly lessons for other U.S. cities and their police departments.

We looked for answers and found a soldier, lawman and educator who's been under fire. Jim White at IU's School of Public and Environmental Affairs, is startled by what he's seeing in Missouri and hopes other communities see what is apparently going wrong there.

"I would say to every police chief, you need to be proactive, because if you look at Ferguson, they've been in the reactive mode since everything started," White said.

White spent his adult life commanding and training solders and state troopers. Now, he teaches public safety at Indiana University.

"A handshake goes a long way, instead of pointing a gun, but we aren't there and don't know what officers are going through," he said.

Preventing the violent confrontations a nation is watching, White says, relies on handshakes and building relationships before the trouble starts.

"From all indications, it appears Ferguson, there is no relationship between the community and the police. That's a problem. You have to have a good relationship," White said.

Another problem is the militarization of police, armed and dressed like assault soldiers, at times, pointing guns at protestors.

"I think we have to take a step back and say, 'Is this the right way to go?'," White said. "Sometimes, it puts us on the offensive when we need to be on a defensive measure."

But it's a tough call for a police department under attack. There are reports of gunfire and rioters hurling fire bombs, rocks and bottles at officers.

Last night, police arrested two print journalists covering the violence. Fighting with reporters, White says, is a mistake.

"If you work with the media, they will work with you. Many times, the media can help you diffuse a situation," White said.

So how does a community get out of a situation where, night after night, its streets look and sound like war zones?

"I think the community needs to get out of this mess by being honest. Sane heads need to come together," White said.

Police, community and church leaders seeing through the fog of battle to build a truce and then a trust that is apparently long overdue.