Police fire teargas in Ferguson, Missouri. 13th August, 2014. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images
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Why are US police firing tear gas and rubber bullets in Ferguson, Missouri?

Armoured vehicles, journalists arrested and protestors shot at – a summary of recent events in Ferguson, Missouri following the shooting of teenager Michael Brown.

Last night, police in Missouri fired tear gas and rubber bullets at crowds protesting against the shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager. The shooting occurred on Saturday afternoon, and demonstrators have now gathered for four consecutive nights, and have been met with a “military” style police response.

Police claim officers were responding to violence from crowds, while other reports suggest that protestors were “backing away with their hands up” when being shot at. Officers were reported to have warned crowds before firing, declaring that the “peaceful protest is no longer peaceful”. The confrontation involved armoured trucks, and sniper rifles were reportedly trained on demonstrators.

Among those arrested were two journalists, raising concerns over press freedoms. The editor of the Washington Post, the employer of one of the arrested reporters, commented that the event was “an assault on the freedom of the press to cover the news”. The Huffington Post also criticised the “militant aggression” of the police response.

Meanwhile, an Al-Jazeera camera crew have reported being shot at with rubber bullets. Further concerns about media reporting were raised after county police imposed a ban on flights operating below 3,000 feet above the city, which is believed to have restricted coverage from news helicopters.

There is widespread anger about how the case has been handled, and crowds are demanding to know identity of the police officer who carried out the shooting. Although having planned to release the name of the officer, the police reversed their decision, citing “threats made against all Ferguson officers on social media sites” as their reason. It is understood there are currently no plans in place to release the officer’s identity.

Accounts of the shooting vary. Details released by St Louis County Police Department suggest that a scuffle took place after officers asked Brown and another teenager to get out of the street. Following this, an officer fired at Brown from inside the patrol car. The officer reportedly received hospital treatment for a facial injury after the event.

However, others recount the shooting differently. One witness recalled how Brown was grabbed by police after refusing to get on the pavement, before being shot multiple times as he tried to run away. St Louis County Police are still investigating, with a spokesperson claiming that being unable to speak to many “critical witnesses” was slowing the investigation.

A key issue is the concern about racism within the police force. Ferguson’s 21,000 population is two-thirds black, yet the town only has three black police officers out of a total of 53.

Police have asked protestors to only gather during the day and to disperse “well before evening hours”. Yet citizens are concerned about this limitation on their liberty, with one protestor commenting that he planned to “retaliate to the force they are using”. Despite demonstrators mainly consisting of younger members of the community, reports suggest that they have the sympathy of older generations, and it is unclear what course future events will take. 

See below for CNN's video footage of the event:

 

George Gillett is a freelance journalist and medical student. He is on Twitter @george_gillett and blogs here.

Photo: Getty
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Empty highs: why throwaway plastic goes hand in hand with bankrupt consumerism

We are in the throes of a terrible addiction to stuff.

A University of California study revealed this week that mankind has produced more than nine billion tonnes of plastic since the 1950s, with almost all of it ending up in landfill or the ocean. With the terrible effects of our decades-long addiction to throwaway packaging becoming increasingly apparent, it’s clear that a fresh approach is needed.

In April 2010, David Cameron set out his vision for Britain in the Conservative Party’s manifesto. Keen to show that the Tories had turned away from the "I’m Alright Jack" individualism of the 1980s, Cameron sought to fashion a softer, more inclusive brand.

The good society, Cameron argued, embraced much higher levels of personal, professional, civic and corporate responsibility. There was such a thing as society, and we’d all do well to talk to our neighbours a bit more. The Big Society, however, was roundly derided as a smokescreen for an aggressive tightening of the Government purse strings. And on the advice of his 2015 election fixer Lynton Crosby, Cameron later dropped it in favour of well-worn lines about economic security and jobs.   

While most would argue that the Big Society failed to amount to much, Cameron was at least right about one thing. We are happiest when we are part of something bigger than ourselves. No matter how much the credit card companies try to convince us otherwise, mindless individualism won’t make us nearly as contented as we’re led to believe by big conglomerates.

By any measure, we are in the throes of a terrible addiction to stuff. As a nation, we have run up unsecured debts of more than £350bn, which works out at £13,000 per household. Fuelled by a toxic mix of readily available credit and interest rates at historic lows, we cripple ourselves financially to feel the empty high derived from acquiring yet more stuff.

Purchasing has become a leisure pursuit, ensuring the rate at which we acquire new stuff exceeds the rate at which we can find somewhere to put it. Burdened with ever increasing amounts of stuff, consumers are forced to outsource their storage. The UK didn’t have a self-storage industry 30 years ago, but now it is the largest in Europe.

With the personal debt mountain soaring, we’d all do well to realise that we will never have enough of something we don’t need.

The growth of rampant consumerism has coincided with an explosion in demand for single-use plastic. Like the superfluous possessions we acquire, throwaway plastic packaging helps satisfy our desire to get exactly what we want without having any thought for the long-term consequences. Plastic packaging is easy and convenient, but ultimately, will do us immense harm.

In 1950, close to 1.5 million tonnes of plastic was produced globally. Today, the figure stands at more than 320 million tonnes. The vast majority of our plastic waste either ends up in landfill or the ocean, and our failure to kick the plastic habit has put is in the ludicrous position where there is set to be more plastic than fish in global seas by 2050.

There is also growing evidence that our penchant for endless throwaway plastic might be storing up serious health problems for our children later down the line. According to a University of Ghent study published earlier this year, British seafood eaters risk ingesting up to 11,000 pieces of plastic each year. The report followed UN warnings last year that cancer-causing chemicals from plastic are becoming increasingly present in the food chain.

Something must give. Unsustainable as our reliance on fast credit to finance ever more stuff, our addiction to plastic packaging is storing up serious problems for future generations. The instant gratification society, high on the dopamine rush that fades so quickly after acquiring yet another material asset, is doomed unless decisive action is forthcoming.

So what is to be done? The 2016 US documentary Minimalism points to a smarter way forward. Minimalism follows the lives of ordinary people who have shunned the rat race in favour of a simpler life with less stuff and less stress. The most poignant bit of the film features ex-broker AJ Leon recounting how he chose to forgo the glamour and riches of Wall Street for a simpler life. After a meteoric rise to the top of his profession, Leon decided to jack it all in for a more fulfilling existence.

While challenging the view that to be a citizen is to be a consumer is easier said than done, there are small changes that we can enact today that will make a huge difference. We simply have no choice but to dramatically reduce the amount of plastic that we can consume. If we don’t, we may soon have to contend with the ocean being home to more plastic than fish.

Like plastic, our bloated consumer culture is a disaster waiting to happen. There must be a better way.

Sian Sutherland is co-founder of campaign group A Plastic Planet which is campaigning for a plastic free-aisle in supermarkets.

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