The National Guard's arrival may bring order to Ferguson, Mo. It probably won't bring peace.
It didn't in Newark and Detroit after race riots in 1967, nor in Los Angeles after the Rodney King verdict in 1992. However necessary, sending in the Guard — as Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon did for Ferguson early Monday — is usually an admission of failure that becomes as much a part of a community's stigma as the rioting it's designed to stop.
"It's the worst scenario,'' said Eugene O'Donnell, a former police officer and prosecutor who teaches at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. "It's an indictment of the political establishment, of civil society itself. It says there's so much despair and alienation that you need a military occupation. It shames the country to see soldiers patrolling the streets.''
In Ferguson and across the nation, Americans debated what could bring peace to the Missouri community and, implicitly, to the many cities and towns like it.
"What's happening in Ferguson could happen in a lot of places,'' said Thomas Reppetto, former president of the Citizens Crime Commission of New York. "Who ever heard of Ferguson before this?''
He and O'Donnell said the intersection of poverty, racial tensions and policing produce tensions that could explode almost anywhere, anytime.
The National Guard is the next-to-last resort before the Army (Detroit, '67) and Marines (L.A., '92) for quelling a civil disturbance. Sometimes it works; sometimes (Newark, '67) it arguably makes the situation worse.
In Ferguson, the guard's deployment comes nine days after the shooting of an unarmed black teen, Michael Brown, by a white policeman. The shooting touched off a week of bitter, sometimes violent protests in this St. Louis suburb.
Nixon's decision to call in the guard Monday followed a series of other moves designed to contain the situation. Command was shifted from the Ferguson Police Department to the state Highway Patrol under the leadership of a black officer with local ties. A midnight-to-dawn curfew was imposed.
Bernard Melekian, the Justice Department's former director of community policing, said the Guard can fill a need.
"There were steps that probably could have been taken in the first days, but here we are at Day 9, and now it is critical … to ensure the protection of lives and property,'' said Melekian, a former Pasadena, Calif., chief. "It could help provide some breathing room — some space to put some faith back in the (investigative) process.''
The Guard's presence alone will not ensure peace, he said, adding, "Trust is a valid question here.'' Melekian said investigators should find a credible, independent party to oversee the inquiry into the fatal shooting.
"Now that everyone has chosen sides, anytime the local authorities release information that doesn't jibe with the family's understanding, there are going to be more questions," Melekian said.
In an interview with ABC News, Brown's mother, Lesley McSpadden, was asked how peace could be restored in Ferguson. "With justice,'' she replied. Asked what justice meant to her, she said, "Being fair. Arresting this man (the officer, Darren Wilson) and making him accountable for his actions.''