Villanova University's Derek Arnold, instructor of Communication, expert on crisis communication and issues management offers the below thoughts in response to the Ferguson, MO riots and the death of Michael Brown. Derek is available for media comments surrounding this issue.
"I think the riots in Ferguson, Missouri are certainly an issue that is getting more complex over time. I see three issues that are still developing, causing more long term damage to the relationship between the police of the area and the public:
1) Time is one of the big concerns. Instead of promising transparent justice and an investigation where representatives of groups protesting the police action can be assured the police aren’t hiding anything, it has been four or five days after the initial shooting, and that has allowed rumors and side stories (like the two reporters who were briefly detained at a McDonald’s in the area) to grab more of the headlines, worsening the public opinion about the St. Louis County Police Department.
2) The issue as it is understood by and large by the public is still being “fought” over in a way. While the protesters involved have had visits by Al Sharpton, organized several marches and formal protests with those involved doing things like raising their hands and chanting “Don’t shoot!” (based on remarks that the person shot (Michael Brown) had his hands raised when the officer involved shot him), the city of Ferguson and the use of St. Louis County police and SWAT teams deployed has been increasingly questioned. In short, the protesters' “definition” and the images associated with their side of the issue of what is going on is being accepted by more people outside the area, which makes it harder for the police to be able to show they have control over the issue in hand.
3) Because of these things, the official story is still being debated and issues like the name of the officer that supposedly fired the shots not being released are being focused on even more. And even though there are nominally good reasons why this action is happening, much has happened to show the appearance (and accusation of some) of the County Police and SWAT teams sent as that of a “police state” (as mentioned in 115,000 references according to Google as of this morning 8-14-14). Until the city is able again to regain rhetorical “control” of the issue in a way that the public feels the protesters in the area are satisfied with the way things are being handled, there will still be unease not just in that specific area, but across the country as well as to how well this situation is being handled."