The situation in Ferguson could not be more clearcut: Under the First Amendment, people have the right to peaceably assemble to protest, which means not being teargassed, and not have police who look like an invading force in Iraq point all kinds of military weapons at you. Under the First Amendment, reporters have the right - the obligation - to convey what is happening before them to the American people, and not be arrested as happened to two reporters (one of whom works for the Washington Post - African-American, perhaps not coincidentally). When citizens and journalists are threatened and arrested by local police, it is the duty of the President to send in the National Guard to protect the people and physically restrain the police when necessary.
All of this, of course, in addition to the apparent murder of Michael Brown requiring justice.
It's unfortunately not surprising that Obama has done so little to protect the people in Ferguson. He said little or nothing when the out of control cop pepper sprayed an innocent student in California during the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations. He said nothing against Michael Bloomberg's consistent use of New York police to trample on the rights of citizens, journalists, and citizen journalists during Occupy Wall Street. As I described at length in New New Media, it's a good thing that courageous people recorded some of this police misconduct on their phones.
MSNBC did a great job last night in providing live, ongoing coverage of the events in Ferguson. Not so much the New York Times, which put the Ferguson story below the fold in today's edition, with Iraq on top (fair enough, maybe), accompanied by stories about the Bloomberg era at Rikers, poverty in America, and college sports (totally ridiculous!). Perhaps if the arrested reporter had been working for the New York Times, the events in Ferguson would have received better coverage from the newspaper of record.
This is not the first time in American history that the Federal government has been required to step in when the local authorities have been violating the law to the peril of its citizens. Eisenhower did it in the 1950s, and Kennedy in the 1960s, to protect citizens who were being blocked by local authorities from attending their schools. In both cases, the National Guard was sent in to literally push the local authorities aside.
As Obama concludes his second term, he might want to think about this. At this point, regarding the protection of the constitutional rights of American citizens, he not only has been no JFK, he's been no Eisenhower. But there's still time for Obama to do the right thing. I urge him to do so - as Representative John Lewis and others in the legislative branch have requested - before further damage is done to the American people.