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Noah Feldman

One Man Now Rules Ferguson

"State of emergency" is often invoked to quell dissent.
Freedom of speech continues.

Freedom of speech continues.

Photographer: Scott Olson/Getty Images

It’s more than a little eerie to hear that authorities have declared a state of emergency in Ferguson, Missouri. The state of emergency, aka the state of siege, casts a long shadow over the history of government attempts to produce and maintain public order. States of emergency are the favored tool of dictators and would-be dictators who want to suspend regular, constitutional procedures. Their invocation often heralds a crackdown on civil liberties.

In the case of St. Louis County, the reality is more complicated. The declared state of emergency does in fact give the elected county executive, Steve Stenger, almost absolute authority to declare a curfew and thereby order arrests and end protests.