Strange Fruit in Ferguson
Mychal Denzel Smith
August 20, 2014
I’ve been trying to figure out why so many people have had such a strong reaction to Brown’s killing. Because this isn’t new. His death is tragic, but fairly ordinary in the course of black people’s interactions with the police. We deal with this all the time.
On her MSNBC show this past Saturday, Melissa Harris-Perry demonstrated just how ordinary it is. She read a list of names of unarmed black men killed by police in the last decade alone, and it was chilling, to say the least. “Timothy Stansbury, unarmed. Sean Bell, unarmed. Oscar Grant, unarmed. Aaron Campbell, unarmed. Alonzo Ashley, unarmed. Wendell Allen, unarmed. Jonathan Ferrell, unarmed. Eric Garner, unarmed,” she said, before adding, “From 2006 to 2012, a white police officer killed a black person at least twice a week in this country.”
Twice a week. It’s business as usual for police to kill black people. And those are only a few names—many more black men and women have been killed by police. Many of them were also unarmed. Many were around the same age as Michael Brown. So what makes him special? Why did his death elicit such a strong reaction?
Of course, there are several factors to consider. That he was a young black man and not a young black woman is part of it. Black women/girls are often forgotten as victims in the discussion of police violence. That he was regarded as a “gentle giant” (Brown was 6'4" tall and close to 300 pounds) and a prospective college student are relevant. His image as “harmless” and “respectable” makes him more sympathetic to some people. That a mostly white police force routinely harasses black residents of Ferguson matters. And the fact witnesses say at the time of his shooting Brown had his hands up in the air, surrendering, also matters. It makes the six bullet wounds he suffered appear even more callous.
But for me, the detail that sticks is that Brown’s body was left in the street for at least four hours. Not only did people in the community witness the shooting, they were forced to look at the aftermath. For hours, they had to see Michael Brown’s bullet-ridden, bloody body lie rotting in the street.
It’s not unlike Henry Simmons’s bullet-filled body being hung from in tree in Palm Beach, Florida, in June of 1923. Or that of William Turner, whose body was hung, then cut down, then hung again before being burned in a bonfire in Helena, Arkansas, in November 1921. There was also Jim Roland, shot and killed by a mob in Camillia, Georgia, after having refused to dance for a white man who was pointing a gun at him in February 1921. And also Frank Dodd, shot and hung from a tree “in a negro settlement on the outskirts of DeWitt, Arkansas, in October 1916.” And so many more.*
They were lynched. They were killed and displayed publicly for the amusement of the lynch mobs and other white folks, and for the further terrorization of black people.
The police didn’t hang Michael Brown, but they made a public display of his killing. They left his body lying there for all to see. The psychic toll that exerts on a community calls to mind the eerie words once sung by Billie Holiday: “Southern trees bear strange fruit/ blood on the leaves and blood at the root…/ here is a fruit for the crows to pluck/ for the rain to gather, for the wind to suck.” But for Brown and Ferguson, the “poplar trees” were replaced with a city street.
It is an injustice that Michael Brown was killed. But injustice alone doesn’t move people to action. His killing is one of many. But the sight of Michael Brown’s body being left in the middle of the street is the closest this generation has come to seeing, in real life, the strange fruit of which Holiday sang. That’s an image you just can’t shake.
While the Ferguson protests revolve around racial strife, the class dynamics of the unrest are unmistakable on the besieged streets; structural racism has been imposed over the years through housing discrimination, massive impoverishment and white-dominated government.
A sense of economic disenfranchisement pulses through the protests, and the militarized police crackdown has only served to highlight the vicious divides of wealth and power that bind Ferguson. Labor activists are now deepening the conversation about what "justice for Mike Brown" should mean for the impoverished community that now grieves for him.
Bringing an economic justice message to the forefront of the demonstrations, activists with the Future Fighters, a millennials-focused offshoot of Service Employees International Union (SEIU), have been marching every day, in solidarity with rights organizations like the NAACP and Organization for Black Struggle. The group is devising programs to clean up the streets after protests, conduct know-your-rights trainings for protesters, and assist with coordinating crowds. They also seek to provide basic material support by distributing water, steering people toward safe spaces if they need a break from the protests, or just reaching out and talking to locals, to help them cope with surrounding trauma.
Local Future Fighters Chair Jerry Hart, a hospital tech in St. Louis, says organized labor has a key role to play on the ground, particularly with many SEIU members living and working in Ferguson: "If you're SEIU, the people that you represent live here. They have to go to work to and from here every day. If you want to call yourself a labor union, you have to be involved in something like this, because it is a labor issue as well."
The Fighters are striving to keep the climate of the nonviolent demonstrations relatively calm. But while they do not endorse the more severe tactics that damaged local property, they understand the impulse.
Te'Aun Bell, a hospital cook from Kansas City and Future Fighters activist, tells The Nation, "They want peace… The people of the community aren't okay with the looting, but at the same time, they realize that this is the lash out from anger, from frustration. I'm not saying it all is, but some of it is."
Drawing from his experience as a native St. Louisan, Hart has a grasp of the frustrations driving some protesters to lash out. He has family members who are "out looking for a job and can't find one, because in some cases, they may have a [criminal] record, or just minimal education. So those two things play [into each other]: you have nowhere to go, no education, no job. Because your back is against the wall, you're willing to do anything to survive."
When he's on the streets with the other demonstrators, he adds, "There's so much emotions going on out there. As soon as you step out there, you feel it. You can feel the tension. Not just Ferguson, but the city is hurting [over] this."
Future Fighters also wants to launch a grassroots media project to document and record stories from Ferguson for broadcast outlets, with the aim of shifting the media lens toward the everyday struggles of local residents, rather than just images of conflict in the streets.
Hospital tech and Future Fighters member Loreal Cornell hopes the Ferguson protests galvanize political action that could lead to a more accountable government and police force.
"We have a lot of youth who don't know who their alderman is, or what a mayor does, or what a governor assists us with," she says, because young people are not learning in school about how the political process relates to their lives. For long-term political change, "we want to most definitely educate people on their rights, but also on how…we can elect officials who can [address] the things that we complain about… who are going to do the right thing and get our community to where they're uplifted and they're growing."
Labor and racial struggle have always braided together in St. Louis's history. The East St. Louis race riots of 1917 erupted when white workers attacked black migrants from the south who were seen as scabs. In the following decades, black workers consolidated their organized labor power in the St. Louis region and brought it into the foreground of civil rights struggles.
Today in Ferguson, the struggles of the working poor take a different tone. Segregation has shifted from Jim Crow to the structural exclusion of the racial wealth gap. Poverty has soared in Ferguson while jobs and public services have eroded. Since 1983, Missouri's union membership rate has dropped by half to under 9 percent, below the national rate.
The economic violence enveloping Ferguson will continue to challenge activists after the street clashes and tear gas have dissipated. Bradley Harmon, local head of the Communications Workers of America, tells The Nation via e-mail, "Once the immediate issues of justice for Mike Brown are off the table and his killer is convicted, we still have a community divided by race, still deindustrializing, with a public infrastructure falling apart. We still have a decline in the standard of living for the vast majority of working people."
Noting that labor is "probably the most racially integrated social force in St Louis," Harmon says Ferguson could catalyze entwined struggles for economic and racial justice: "I think if we're going to reverse the decline of organized labor, we're going to [have to] take on the systemic poverty and exclusion and withdrawal of public services that made Ferguson happen."
As part of a broader community resistance movement, Cornell says, Future Fighters are using union organizing tactics to help empower working people, by "getting the message to people in a different type of way and asking them, what would this situation look like if we actually won this movement? How would our community look? How would Ferguson be built up? And that I think is the question that gets minds rolling… This could be exactly what this community needs."
Missouri labor groups have many fights ahead of them—organizing workplaces, pushing the "Fight for 15" to raise fast-food worker wages, and demanding equitable funding for public services. But a first step would be to reclaim Ferguson's streets: from there, the community could demand justice and reparations, for the dignity that the state, the corporations and history have stolen from them.
by Deepa Iyer
In their ongoing war on undocumented immigration, federal and state law enforcement agencies have been accused of engaging in rampant profiling of Latino and Asian-American communities. Federal programs such as Secure Communities and "Show Me Your Papers" laws enacted in Arizona, Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah have led to stops and detentions of people based on their accents or skin color, and deepened both documented and undocumented immigrants' fears of engaging with law enforcement.
When law enforcement trample on the rights of any group, we must all resist: the oppressive, militarized tactics on display in Ferguson have undermined people's basic rights to peaceful assembly and movement, and it's not the first time. For Asian-Americans, the curfew that caused so much unnecessary violence in Ferguson over the weekend was reminiscent of the "enemy alien curfews" that restricted the movements of Japanese-Americans, as well as German, Italian and Japanese noncitizens, during World War II—also imposed for reasons ostensibly related to public safety. The military-grade hardware we've seen on the streets of Ferguson has also been deployed by law enforcement in border cities in California, Texas and Arizona, where reports of racial profiling, harassment and deaths of Latinos seeking refuge in the United States have been occurring for decades now.
How can we fight back against police brutality and profiling? To start with, we can push for concrete solutions already proposed by communities of color, such as requiring police to wear cameras, ensuring police accountability through the legal system, documenting police stops, ending racial and religious profiling, providing culturally and linguistically appropriate trainings for law enforcement that reflect the communities they serve, instituting diverse recruitment and hiring practices, and abiding by the concepts of community policing based on mutual trust and respect. Coalitions such as Communities United for Police Reform in New York City provide hopeful examples of how organizing black, brown and interfaith communities can lead to legislative victories that maintain public safety, civil rights and police accountability.
But police brutality is just one symptom of this country's larger structural racism, which segregates our schools and cities, increases the poverty and unemployment rates for people of color, has psychological consequences for families and young people, and decreases our life expectancy. African-Americans disproportionately bear the brunt of this structural racism, but it affects many immigrants and other minorities as well. In order to transform our communities, all people of color must find common cause in each other's movements. We can only end racial injustice through strategic multiracial alliances at the local and national levels that are informed by an understanding of our connected histories, and through working within our constituencies to address anti-black racism and stereotypes about one another.
We can and must start with Ferguson.
Read Next: Zoë Carpenter on why protesters in Ferguson can't stay home at night
As Police Continue Ferguson Crackdown, Protesters Vow to Keep Taking the Streets
Tuesday, 19 August 2014
By Mike Ludwig, Truthout | Report
Nixon said he learned from his mother that he was related to Michael Brown, the unarmed 18-year-old shot and killed by local police officer Darren Wilson on August 9, only after Brown died. His daily participation in the protests against the killing, Nixon said, is "all about family."
"Because it could have happened to any of us," Nixon told me.
As we spoke, a scuffle broke out across the street as a group of riot police grabbed and arrested a protester. Hundreds of people had just finished marching in protest of Brown's killing and the general treatment of black people in the St. Louis area by law enforcement.
Many of the marchers had already gone home, but dozens of activists, journalists, community leaders and youth - visibly angry about the murder of their peer - had stayed at an intersection, where a row of riot cops and National Guardsman stood with weapons drawn. Behind them was a line of armored vehicles and squad cars leading back toward a command center established in a strip mall by state police.
Local businesses on the street had boarded up their windows after several nights of clashes on West Florissant Avenue, where the city's most confrontational protests have occurred over the past week.
People in Ferguson have been protesting for 10 days now and are showing no sign of stopping. Police have blamed "criminals" and outside agitators for stirring up violence during nighttime demonstrations, but on Monday night, it was clear that the police - along with their military-grade weapons - were a provocation in and of themselves. It was a cop that fatally shot Michael Brown, after all.
"We're just trying to have the same rights as you," one angry demonstrator told a group of mostly white journalists.
"I think it's the fact that everybody is upset. This has happened too many times," said a local man who told me his name was Gerard. "First I thought they were going to continue with [the protests] until they released the officer's name, you know, but now I think they are going to keep going until the officer is convicted."
A few skirmishes broke out in the intersection where police had drawn their line in front of the command center and constructed a media pen for journalists in a parking lot, but after a few arrests were made, the crowd thinned and it seemed like the protest was over. Then, down the street, the familiar sounds of flash bang grenades were heard as sparks and tear gas filled the air.
Protesters had dragged traffic cones and portable toilets into the street, and a few small fires could be seen burning through the tear gas. Gunshots rang out from a side street. Some protesters grabbed the gas grenades and threw them back.
As the smoke cleared and activists treated people blinded by tear gas, police could be seen casing a restaurant with automatic weapons drawn. Protesters told reporters that the police starting filling the street with tear gas after a few plastic bottles were thrown.
"My anger is seeing my people, black or white, brown or blue, getting hurt," said Travis Sowell, a 19-year-old black man who gave an emotional testimony to reporters after the clash. "What I'm going to do is stand here every night . . . no pillow, no covers."
A group of young protesters, unfazed by the clash and the tear gas, soon began chanting "Mike Brown" in front of the news cameras.
Gerard's friend Mike, who had a T-shirt wrapped around his face, told me that violence broke out during a protest on the night of August 17 only after the police tried to contain demonstrators.
"Everybody from Ferguson is from around here, this is their neighborhood," Gerard said. "Even outside people, it hits home. St. Louis is not a big city; we're a big little city . . . if this guy doesn't get convicted, man, for shooting an unarmed 18-year-old, then it's going to be chaos."
Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.
Mike Ludwig is a Truthout reporter. Follow Mike on Twitter @ludwig_mike.
Michael Brown and Anti-Black Violence
By Staff, The Feminist Wire | Op-Ed
How the Mainstream Media Helped Kill Michael Brown
By Aaron Cantu, Truthout | News Analysis
Ferguson and Resistance Against the Black Holocaust
By Chris Crass, SpeakOut | Op-Ed
Michael Brown and the United States' Structural Violence Epidemic
By David Ragland, SpeakOut | Op-Ed
Ferguson Exposes the Reality of Militarized, Racist Policing
By Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers, Popular Resistance | News Analysis
The Killing of Black Men Continues
Tuesday, 19 August 2014
By Dr. Ron Daniels, Institute of the Black World | Op-Ed
Once again legions of Black people and people of conscience and goodwill are in the streets in Ferguson, Missouri and in solidarity rallies across the country. But, to add insult to injury, in scenes reminiscent of the brutalizing of civil rights protesters in Birmingham and Selma in the 60’s, St. Louis County Police units with sharpshooters, sniper squads, mine-resistant trucks and a “Bearcat armored truck” unleashed a ferocious assault on peaceful marchers, firing tear gas, stun bombs and rubber bullets into the ranks of terrorized protesters. The whole nation and the world witnessed this vicious onslaught against the First Amendment by highly militarized police that looked more like soldiers on the frontlines in Iraq and Afghanistan than the suburb of a major American city. There was “shock and awe” throughout the land.
The question of the hour is, and has been for far too long, when will the killing of Black men and the occupation of Black communities stop? For the past several years, I have been repetitively crying out that there is a State of Emergency in Black America, mostly in poor urban, inner-city areas – the “dark ghettos.” The police occupation of Black communities, the abuse and killing of Black men and, yes, mass incarceration are the manifestations of this crisis. But, lest we only get caught up in the tragic particulars of the moment, we must be clear that the root cause of this crisis is the utter failure of this nation to finish the unfinished civil rights/human rights agenda for equitable inclusion of people of African descent, Black people, into the socio-economic fabric of this society. Black people continue to suffer the consequences of the “bounced check,” the promissory note,” that keeps coming back marked “insufficient funds” that Dr. King poignantly pointed out on the National Mall more than a half century ago.
In a book edited by Jill Nelson in 2000 entitled Police Brutality: An Anthology I wrote, “The policy of more police and prisons has been used as a substitute for policies that promote social, economic, and racial justice for people of color. This formula of ill-conceived public policy and policing practices has produced a highly combustible situation in communities of color throughout the nation.” These words were penned in the wake of the police torture of Abner Louima, the police slaughter of Amadou Diallo and the killing of a number of Black and Latino young men in the greater New York area under suspicious circumstances. Nearly fifteen years since the publication of Jill Nelson’s book, much has changed, but the killing of Black men continues.
As Michelle Alexander brilliantly discusses in her milestone book The New Jim Crow, rather than finish the unfinished civil rights/human rights agenda, this nation, including the Mayors and Police Chiefs of cities across the country, embraced the “War on Drugs” and adopted crime containment and community “pacification” tactics clearly targeting America’s “dark ghettos.” The media was complicit in this strategy by helping to create and popularize images of dangerous, crime-infested Black communities and the “dangerous Black man.” Under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani New York led the way in instituting so called “zero tolerance” policing, based on harassing and arresting people for petty offenses, and the militarization of the police by the creation of specialized paramilitary units that conducted sweeps of Black and Brown communities. Racial profiling through the wide-spread use of Stop-and-Frisk was an integral component of a racially biased and inflammatory policing strategy. The Giuliani method of policing became the model for the nation.
It is useful to provide this background and analysis because the police occupation of Black communities and the killing of Black men will not end until the ill-conceived policies and strategies contributing to the State of Emergency in America’s” dark ghettos” are eliminated and replaced by just and humane alternatives. Black people and people of good will must move beyond essential but episodic protest of police occupation, abuse and killings to more sustained strategies and campaigns to end racially-biased drug, criminal justice and policing policies and practices once and for all. And, these strategies and campaigns must begin at the local/county level and reach all the way to the federal government.
Black people must exercise political and economic muscle to demand greater civilian control and oversight of the police. In Ferguson, Missouri Blacks are 67% of the population but all the political structures are dominated by Whites. This must change. Blacks and their allies must march on ballot boxes to seize the reins of power as a major step towards changing policing policies and practices in Ferguson. However, replacing White faces with Black faces in the corridors of power is not sufficient. Ultimately there must be a change in the policies and practices of the police. In local communities across the country we must demand an end to the militarization of the police, the utilization of military tactics as control mechanisms and the profiling/targeting of Black communities. We must also demand an end to the “broken windows” and “zero tolerance” strategies that insult the intelligence and infuriate Black people. Community-Policing must become the center-piece of a human-centered, holistic approach to crime prevention and public safety in Black communities.
SIRIUSXM Radio Talk Show Host Mark Thompson has been advocating for increased community oversight of the police through the creation of Civilian Police Review Boards. This is not a new idea, but it is worthy of consideration as long as Review Boards are well funded and have independent investigatory and prosecutorial powers. In the past Fraternal Orders of Police (police unions) have fiercely opposed strong Review Boards. As a result, many of the Review Boards around the country have been like toothless tigers, defanged and incapable of effectively holding police accountable for abuse and misconduct. Rev. Heber Brown, Pastor of Pleasant Hope Baptist Church in Baltimore, is also suggesting that Black people lessen their dependence on policing authorities by instituting more self-policing structures and mechanisms in the Black community. This idea seems to be gaining resonance around the country.
Black people must also use economic sanctions/boycotts to complement protests and political action to achieve just and humane alternatives to police occupation and racially-biased policing practices. Economic sanctions campaigns should be coupled with demands for private and public sector investment in Black communities to create jobs and develop business/economic infrastructure. Ending bad policing is not enough. Black people must struggle to revitalize Black communities. At all levels, the approach must be holistic.
To devise and implement local action agendas for change in drug, criminal justice and policing policies and practices in local communities, as Kwame Ture aka Stokely Carmichael would say, “Black people must be organized.” There is an urgent need for permanent coalitional/collaborative type structures, comprised of organizations and leaders committed to working cooperatively and collectively to mobilize/organize for substantive change. The effort of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century (IBW) to build Drug and Criminal Justice Policy Collaboratives (Justice Collaboratives) in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and Baltimore could serve as a model for the development of these types of structures across the country.
At the national level we must demand that the federal government stop providing funding for local police departments to purchase the kind of military hardware the nation and world witnessed being used in the assault on peaceful protesters in that night of infamy in Ferguson, Missouri. At the direction of President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder should decline to fund proposals for military equipment and expand funding for proposals that promote Community-Policing. There must be a strong signal from the White House and Justice Department that military policing is taboo and Community Policing is the national priority.
As IBW strongly advocates in the recently released Report Card On President Obama’s Drug and Criminal Justice Policies [www.ibw21.org], the President and the Attorney General must vigorously continue dismantling the “War on Drugs” and all the damaging policies and practices related to this longstanding, racially-biased strategy. President Obama should also seize the moment to convene an Emergency Summit on Policing Policy and Public Safety to identify and share best practices for building effective police/community relations. Community advocates, scholars/experts in the field, public interest legal organizations, Chiefs of Police and Presidents of Police Unions should be at the table. Though skepticism about such a Summit is warranted, it could have the effect of providing the President and the Attorney General with a high profile platform to articulate principles for a different kind of policing in this country. Mayor Bill Di Blasio, as a self-proclaimed new progressive, would do well to convene such a summit among stakeholders in New York as well – since this city has been the trendsetter for the kind of racially-biased policing that has been so destructive of Black communities nationally.
Finally, creating a new paradigm for policing is necessary but not sufficient to end the State of Emergency in America’s “dark ghettos.” The damages to Black families and communities must be repaired. Black America must stridently renew the demand for a “Domestic Marshall Plan,” (IBW has created a framework entitled The Martin Luther King-Malcolm X Community Revitalization Initiative) with massive investment in jobs, economic development, housing, health and education to create safe, wholesome and just communities. In fact, given the enormity of the State of Emergency, President Obama should convene another 1968 Kerner Commission type body to examine the root causes of the persistent crises afflicting America’s “dark ghettos.”
I conclude with the final passage of my essay in Jill Nelson’s Anthology Police Brutality. “Unless and until this nation makes a firm and irreversible commitment to ensure that all people who live in this society will enjoy access to the same social and economic rights – good jobs, quality education, housing, health care, clean environment — instability, violence, and crime will continue to be problems that no amount or method of policing can contain for long. As community-based organizations, civil and human rights organizations, and public-interest advocacy groups struggle against police brutality and misconduct, the fight to create a new paradigm of policing must necessarily be seen as part of the broader struggle to create a more just and humane society. Therefore, the demand for police reform and accountability must necessarily be coupled with the demand for public policies that promote social, economic, and racial justice. Our goal must be nothing short of creating a just, humane, and peaceful society. If there is no justice, there will be no peace in these United States of America.” “It’s been a long time coming, but change gone come!”
This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.
DR. RON DANIELS
Dr. Ron Daniels is President of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and Distinguished Lecturer at York College City University of New York. His articles and essays also appear on the IBW website www.ibw21.org and www.northstarnews.com. To send a message, arrange media interviews or speaking engagements, Dr. Daniels can be reached via email at email@example.com
Most Whites Still Don't Understand the Dangers Of Being A Black Man in the U.S.
by Mark Karlin
BuzzFlash at Truthout
Blacks and whites have sharply different reactions to the police shooting of an unarmed teen in Ferguson, Mo., and the protests and violence that followed. Blacks are about twice as likely as whites to say that the shooting of Michael Brown "raises important issues about race that need to be discussed." Wide racial differences also are evident in opinions about of whether local police went too far in the aftermath of Brown's death, and in confidence in the investigations into the shooting.
The new national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted Aug. 14-17 among 1,000 adults, finds that the public overall is divided over whether Brown's shooting raises important issues about race or whether the issue of race is getting more attention than it deserves: 44% think the case does raise important issues about race that require discussion, while 40% say the issue of race is getting more attention than it deserves.
By about four-to-one (80% to 18%), African Americans say the shooting in Ferguson raises important issues about race that merit discussion. By contrast, whites, by 47% to 37%, say the issue of race is getting more attention than it deserves.
In a summary of the poll, Pew recalls that in its survey after Trayvon Martin was gunned down by George Zimmerman, "60% of whites said race received more attention in that case than it deserved."
Years ago, I heard a speaker discuss how the history of the United States cannot be viewed through a focused lens unless one considers the legacy of slavery, the suppressive humiliating period of Reconstruction, the plantation ghettos of cities in the north and south, and the criminalization of being a black male. All of these require an open racism among many whites and a sub-conscious racial bias among many persons who think of themselves as liberals.
Yes, there are black males who have made it in the world of the white ruling elite, such as the president of the United States and the attorney general. However, there are two major caveats to consider in this regard.
First, it is clear that even though Barack Obama has the academic pedigree, intellectual capabilities and irrepressible desire to accommodate whites by not pressing on the pedal of assisting African-Americans who have - as Eugene Robinson notes in a commentary on BuzzFlash today - been left behind, he is still vilified by a large segment of the white population in the United States because he is black.
Second, the number of black men and women who have made it through the racial barrier, while significant, is miniscule in relation to the number of blacks (and other people of color) under siege by police and a criminal justice system that works on the principle of guilty until proven innocent for most non-whites. This is why the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world.
Yes, there is a class issue in race bias, but the racist backlash to President Obama's presidency (symbolized most blatantly by the "birther" accusations that morphed into the war on "Obamacare") indicates that the white racial prejudice of thinking blacks more violent, more disinterested in working, more dangerous to society has long been - and still is - an institutionalized racism that permeates the US economic and criminal justice system.
It is sadly ironic that President Obama came to national prominence with a speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention that claimed that the United States was not composed of red and blue states, but that we all belonged to one blend of red and blue mixed into a unified purple nation.
As the events in Ferguson - joining a long list of daily acts of police-sanctioned racial brutality, harassment, arrests and murder - indicate, the racial gap in the United States about what constitutes justice and freedom is still as wide as the Grand Canyon.
The Pew Poll does raise a glimmer of hope in the wider recognition among young people - as compared to the older population - of the racial implications of the Mike Brown shooting:
By a wide margin (55% to 34%), adults under 30 think the shooting of the unarmed teen raises important issues about race. Among those 65 and older, opinion is divided: 40% think the incident raises important racial issues while about as many (44%) think the issue of race is getting more attention than it deserves. [These figures represent the overall polling group not broken down by racial category.]
That is a foundation to build upon in a moment of mourning, police militarization and racial rancor among those in the US who have been stigmatized, stalked by police and economically left behind, but only if ignorance is counteracted by an active uprising of social justice.
The poet Gwendolyn Brooks described in a famous lyric how truth is not always welcome. It makes demands upon us to change, to encounter the uncomfortable. Supposing, Brooks ponders, our lack of self-knowledge one day encounters the enlightenment provided by the shining clarity of the sun?
Though we have wept for him,
Though we have prayed
All through the night-years—
What if we wake one shimmering morning to
Hear the fierce hammering
Of his firm knuckles
Hard on the door?
Brooks does not think we would welcome what we had so long sought:
Shall we not shudder?—
Shall we not flee
Into the shelter, the dear thick shelter
Of the familiar
Sweet is it, sweet is it
To sleep in the coolness
Of snug unawareness.
The murder of Mike Brown and the disastrous aftermath of police oppression in Ferguson, Missouri, reminds us all that we cannot continue as a union in a state of "snug unawareness" if we are to achieve the equality that is part of our national narrative, but is still parceled out with institutionalized racial selectivity.
Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission
Tuesday, 19 August 2014
By Amy Goodman, Democracy Now! | Video Report
As protests continue in Ferguson, activists are traveling to Missouri to join the movement in solidarity. We speak with one activist who has just arrived to Ferguson from Florida, Phillip Agnew, the executive director of Dream Defenders, a network of youth of color and their allies who engage in nonviolent civil disobedience and civic engagement to bring about social change. "I came here to be part of resistance," Agnew says. "We have not seen a reaction of nonviolent civil disobedience [to] officers of the state like this in my lifetime." Agnew helped organize protests to the 2012 shooting of unarmed, African-American teenager Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida.
AMY GOODMAN: A new survey by the Pew Research Center finds the public reaction to the shooting of Michael Brown is sharply divided along racial lines. Eighty percent of African Americans say the case raises important issues about race that need to be discussed. Less than 40 percent of whites agree. In fact, nearly half of whites say race is getting more attention than it deserves. African Americans are also more critical of the police response to the protests, with 65 percent saying police have gone too far, compared to just 33 percent of whites.
That rift has called to mind the racial divisions that split open in the ’60s with a series of uprisings in cities across the country. In 1967, President Lyndon Johnson established what became known as the Kerner Commission to investigate the causes of the unrest. In February 1968, the commission famously concluded, quote, "Our nation is moving toward two societies—one black, one white—separate and unequal." Well, just over a month later, the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. sparked uprisings in more than a hundred cities across the country, including Kansas City, Missouri, where the National Guard was deployed and at least five people were killed.
Our next guest, Jamala Rogers, was born in Kansas City, Missouri, and witnessed the 1968 uprisings. She recently wrote a piece for the St. Louis Public Radio titled "Kerner Commission Warning Comes True—Two Societies, Separate and Unequal." Rogers is a founder and past chair of the Organization for Black Struggle in St. Louis, Missouri. She was on a conference call Monday about the Michael Brown shooting with Attorney General Eric Holder and senior Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett.
We’re also joined by Phillip Agnew, executive director of Dream Defenders, a network of youth of color and their allies, who engage in nonviolent civil disobedience and civic engagement to bring about change. He just came into Ferguson last night, and we’re going to find out why. But first to—we’re going to start with—we’ll start with Phillip Agnew.
Why did you come to Ferguson, to the streets of Ferguson, Phillip?
PHILLIP AGNEW: I came here as a young person who knows all too well what it’s like to live on the second rung of society. I came here to be a part of resistance. We have not seen a reaction of nonviolent civil disobedience by officers of the state like this in my lifetime. And I came here to stand side by side with folks and to learn how we can help. I came here because just last year we had a young man murdered by an officer of the Miami Beach Police Department in cold blood, and a year later he’s still paid and on the force. I came here because this moment, this town has become the epicenter and a test ground for what American officers of the state will do and have done around the country to repress First Amendment rights, the rights to peaceably assemble. And anybody that does not see it, doesn’t wake up right now, is in for a rude awakening tomorrow.
AMY GOODMAN: Your response, Phillip, to the National Guard being called in?
PHILLIP AGNEW: Listen, the protocol is not working. The police are the people that caused this problem. The police are the people that exacerbate the problem. And bringing in the National Guard, I don’t think, will do anything to quell a community who, as I said before, is reacting in the only way humanly possible when you see one of your own children murdered in cold blood by the very people who are supposed to protect them. And so, the National Guard coming in is going to do nothing to alleviate the grief and the pain from a community that continuously has salt poured in the wound by the people who are supposed to serve and protect them. So, the National Guard, I’ve heard, is the last attempt to restore peace and order. If there is any peace and order to be had in this community, the police need to go. There is a war zone here. I feel like I’m a war correspondent. There’s Army tanks here. There are Army men here. There are people in fatigues. You’re asked where you’re going when you want to go anywhere in the city. And this is not what you would imagine an American city to look like. You would imagine America would do things like this to people in Gaza, but not here in Ferguson, in St. Louis, Missouri.
AMY GOODMAN: You know, it’s interesting, Phillip. Yesterday we talked about the Dred Scott case, Dred Scott buried just down the road, miles down Florissant at the Calvary Cemetery. His case is known as Dred Scott v. Sandford, which made me think, just in free association, of Sanford, Florida. You really rose to national prominence—
PHILLIP AGNEW: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: —in dealing with the Trayvon Martin case, the killing of another young man by a wannabe police officer, a local volunteer security guy, right, George Zimmerman, who was acquitted. Can you talk about connections you see, coming here from Florida?
PHILLIP AGNEW: There are plenty of connections. You talked a little bit earlier about living in two Americas. There have been two Americas since the founding of this country, and we live in it in Florida, and we live in it—and they’re living in it here in Ferguson, as we speak. There is an America where people are able to voice their concerns. There is an America where people are actually able to live freely, to live happily. As I drove around, I saw people walking their dogs and going about daily life. And just down the blocks, there’s another— [no audio]
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to a break and just fix the audio. You’ve been listening to Phillip Agnew, who’s the head of Dream Defenders. He just came into Ferguson, Missouri, from Florida, as people are gathering there deeply concerned about racial justice in this country. We’ll also be joined by Jamala Rogers of the Organization for Black Struggle. Again, we’re on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri. Stay with us.
This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.
AUGUST 20, 2014
Convicting Darren Wilson Will Be Basically Impossible
You can thank Missouri law for that
By Yishai Schwartz @YishaiSchwartz
The New Republic
We may never know what actually happened during the violent encounter between teenager Michael Brown and policeman Darren Wilson. But legal judgments rarely happen with perfect knowledge and absolute certainty. In their place, we rely on presumptions and standards that guide our thinking and discipline our judgments. In general, we presume innocence. But when we know that a killing has occurred and can definitively identify who committed the act, traditional common law demanded that our presumptions shift. We are supposed to presume guilt, and it is the shooter who must prove that his actions were justified. Unless the shooter is a policeman. And unless the victim is a black male. And unless the shooting happens in a state with self-defense laws like Missouri.
In any clash of witness testimony, police officers begin at huge advantage. Although the courts insist that juries give policemen no extra credence because of their badges as an “essential demand of fairness,” that’s not how jurors actually think or behave. Large percentages of potential jurors readily admit to giving police testimony extra weight, and many more likely act on this implicit bias. And in this case, the favoring of police testimony is compounded by another more pernicious bias: racial prejudice. Extensive research shows that Americans are far more likely to believe that African Americans—and especially young black men—have committed crimes and display violent behavior. It therefore won’t take very much to convince a jury that Officer Wilson was acting out of self-defense.
But these cultural biases are only part of the story of why a conviction will be near-impossible. The central reason is a recent trend in many states' criminal laws. Throughout history, claims of self-defense and compelling police activity have served as justifications for the use of deadly force. Most people intuitively understand that self-preservation is a basic right and that police must sometimes use violence to protect society and apprehend criminals. But generally, we expect situations of justified violence and legal killing to be the rare exception, and most people would probably imagine that policemen and citizens raising claims of justifiable homicide must meet a substantive burden of proof. But today, in states like Missouri, these justifications barely require any evidence at all.
In other states, claims of self-defense need to be proven as more likely than not, or in legal speak, to a “preponderance of the evidence.” It’s still the state’s obligation to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the defendant actually killed the victim. But once that’s established, the prosecution doesn’t also have to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the killing wasn’t justified. That’s because justifications—like self-defense—require the accused to make an active case, called an “affirmative defense,” that the circumstances were exceptional. The logic here is simple: As a rule, homicide is a crime and justification is reserved for extraordinary cases. Once the state has proven that a defendant did in fact kill someone, it should be the accused’s obligation to prove his or her actions were justified.
Not in most states today, including Missouri. Instead, as long as there is a modicum of evidence and reasonable plausibility in support of a self-defense claim, a court must accept the claim and acquit the accused. The prosecution must not only prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime, but also disprove a defendant’s claim of self-defense to the same high standard. Under Missouri law, all a citizen claiming self-defense or a police officer claiming to have fired while pursuing a dangerous criminal need do is “inject the issue of justification.” In other words, he only needs to produce some evidence (his own testimony counts) supporting the claim. Once he does so, “any reasonable doubt on the issue requires a finding for the defendant.” In Missouri, the burden doesn’t budge an inch, even after we know that the defendant has killed the victim. It doesn’t matter that there is certainty that Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown. As long as there is still the slightest possibility that Wilson acted in his own defense, Missouri law favors Wilson.
Within reason, legal protections for, and presumptions in favor of, policemen acting in the line of duty make sense. Society has chosen to give these men and women guns, after all. And if we expect these officers to put their lives on the line, we owe them some measure of trust and due deference. But trust cannot become a license to kill. We have a word for a situation where killing is the default, where violence is so expected that the burden is no longer on a killer to prove his actions are justified. That word is war. It has no place in suburban St. Louis.
Correction and update: A previous version of this article implied that Missouri's low burden for self-defense claims made it an outlier among U.S. states. Although historically, many states required defendants to actively prove a justification defense (and Ohio still does), in the last few decades most other states have moved away from Ohio’s approach and resemble Missouri’s. The legal situation is therefore perhaps even more troubling than originally implied. The language of the story has been updated to reflect this.
If you really want to know what "it's really like" to live (and die) in these United Hates during what is ominously called the 'Age of Obama' check out these photographs...and pass the word...(SAME AS IT EVER WAS INDEED)...
P.S. How many miles is Ferguson, Missouri from the Gaza strip in Palestine any-damn-way...anybody got a MAP?...
What a Getty Photographer Captured Before He Was Arrested in Ferguson
Scott Olson, who was arrested Monday, has taken some of the most iconic pictures from the protests in Missouri.
By Reena Flores and Matt Berman
August 18, 2014
Getty Images photographer Scott Olson was arrested Monday night during protests in Ferguson.
Reporters on the scene captured photos and videos of his arrest. An Instagram video appears to show Olson as police tie the photographer's hands behind his back.
"Media are required to be in a certain area," Olson says in the video. He goes on to identify himself as a photographer with Getty Images.
Olson was released just before 10 p.m. ET, according to Getty Images VP Pancho Bernasconi on Twitter. According to Bernasconi, Olson said upon his release: "I want to be able to do my job as a member of the media and not be arrested for just doing my job."
Getty confirmed the release in a statement Monday night. "Getty Images condemns Scott's arrest and is committed to ensuring that he and our other photographer colleagues are able to report this important story," Bernasconi said in the statement.
"We strongly object to his arrest and are committed to ensuring he is able to resume his important work of capturing some of the most iconic images of this news story," Bernasconi said in an earlier statement Monday night.
Getty managed to capture several pictures of Olson being arrested, and identified him in their captions. Olson has been in Ferguson since early last week, and has taken some of the most memorable pictures of what has happened there since 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot by a police officer on Aug. 9.
Here are the most striking photos of Olson's coverage from Ferguson.
No Rights That a White Man Is Bound to Respect: The Occupation and Ethnic Cleansing of Africa-America
Thursday, 21 August 2014
By Dr Marsha Coleman-Adebayo and Kevin Berends, Black Agenda Report | Op-Ed
There is always context – the larger gestalt of any given time. The sixties are symbolized by Birmingham, Selma, Little Rock. Both racial divides and historic photographs are frozen in black and white of menacing police, German shepherds, water hoses. Whether we add Ferguson, Missouri, to this lexicon of moments defining African-America—and America—will depend largely on whether or not the courage on display in Ferguson is isolated or is conveyed through progressive action to the wider population.
The persistence of the Ferguson uprising has the signature of something larger and deeper, with hundreds of citizens giving new meaning to the universal sign of surrender, by lifting their arms—not in capitulation—but in refusing surrender. Chanting, "Don't shoot!" protesters invoke the last words of police-murdered-teenager Michael Brown, executed by a white police officer who hit him with at least six shots—Brown's unarmed hands raised in the air.
This time the images come in hi-definition and real time. Sharp against the police officer's pant legs straddling it we can see the almost green cast to the German shepherd's fur and muscled, gloved white arms holding the leash. This time there is little discernible difference between the occupying military equipment we have seen deployed in Middle East occupied war zones and the bullet-proof, cammo vests marked “POLICE” in bold letters on the back, with tanks, personnel carries and snipers training tripod-steadied, high-powered rifles on the protesters.
The acquittal of George Zimmerman in the 2012 murder of 17 year-old Trayvon Martin is as good a place as any to look for the underpinnings of this uprising. That decision sent an undeniable message that the Supreme Court's 1857 Dred Scott v. Sanford decision remains solidly in place. Chief Justice Roger Taney issued the court's opinion:
"[African Americans] had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold, and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic, whenever a profit could be made by it."
Black people summarized as "it."
"Dred Scott's core values—the very DNA of racism—remain largely the same.”
Not surprisingly, after Dred Scott 3,500 African-Americans were lynched from 1882 to 1920. The country transitioned through one historic epoch to another: Reconstruction, Jim Crow, segregation, the Civil Rights movement and now into our so-called current "post-racial" period where one black man is killed by police or vigilantes every 28 hours. Dred Scott's core values—the very DNA of racism—remain largely the same. African-Americans have no rights that white men or white women are bound to respect.
Predictable outgrowths of the Brown murder are the arrests and injuries that have occurred as a result of the popular resistance by both the citizens of Missouri and people who have traveled there to stand in solidarity with the embattled community. Mya Aaten-White, for example, a graduate of Howard University, was shot in the head by St. Louis police while she peacefully protested Brown's murder. The police initially tried to blame that attempted murder on a drive by shooter.
From Palestine to Nigeria the Brown case has captivated the global community for two striking reasons: its exposing escalation in police violence targeting the public; and its revealing African-Americans communities as occupied territories. The illusion that white supremacy is dead and African-Americans integrated into US society is only sustained during periods of détente. Quiet for quiet as the saying goes. During periods of the citizenry rebelling against violence, repression and racism, the state exercises the full range of its fine-adjusting tools, including tanks, armored vehicles and swat/assassination teams armed with precision weaponry.
Such is the history of previous up-risings. In July 1964 Harlem and Rochester, New York, erupted a week apart; Watts went up in 1965; Detroit, in 1967; Washington, DC, in 1968, Los Angeles, in 1992. Patterns emerged where black overseers in the form of police officials and political talking heads get dutifully deployed—in hope of quashing the insurrection while scrambling for the crumbs that may fall from their master’s table once the tear gas dissipates and the carnage is hosed away. The usual suspects converge again in Ferguson.
Brown's is the latest in an alarming series of murders and public humiliations inflicted over a short period of time on the African American community. On August 5, four days before the police execution of Michael Brown, John Crawford III, a 22 year-old Ohio man was murdered by police while shopping in Walmart. He reportedly picked up a toy rifle within the store while talking on his cell phone. Shoppers in the store were alarmed by seeing Crawford with the toy gun. Police were called and opened fired. John Crawford died at a local hospital, his death ruled a homicide by the coroner’s office. Predictably, Crawford officials refuse to release the surveillance tape to his family.
"Black overseers in the form of police officials and political talking heads get dutifully deployed in hope of quashing the insurrection.”
Eric Garner was murdered during an arrest by New York City police on July 22, 2014. The Staten Island man and father of six was placed in an illegal chokehold which triggered an asthma attack. Video shows Garner struggling to tell the police that he could not breathe. Nevertheless, the police continued to choke him until he was unresponsive. His death has been ruled a homicide by the New York Medical Examiner’s Office. Garner’s alleged “crime” was that he was selling untaxed individual cigarettes. When police approached him he simply asked why he was being harassed. His life was the answer to that reasonable question.
An Arizona professor, Ersula Ore was walking down the street after teaching her English class at Arizona State University. In order to avoid a construction zone, she walked around the site in the street. A campus police officer stopped her and when she questioned him as to why she was being charged, the officer threw her on the ground and handcuffed her. During an interview on CNN's New Day, Ore was asked about the incident.
"I think I did what I was supposed to do. I was respectful. I asked for clarification. I asked to be treated with respect, and that was it."
Ore faces charges of assaulting a police officer, resisting arrest, failing to provide ID and obstructing a public thoroughfare. Arizona State University has sided with the campus police over its faculty, a situation that might be considered bazaar were it not a case of a black woman being attacked by a white man. Michael Brown was executed for the same “offense” of walking down the street.
Renisha McBride, 19, was murdered on November 2, 2013 outside her hometown of Detroit, Michigan. The brutality of Renisha’s murder has shocked even veteran urban dwellers. The accused murderer, Theodore Wafer, 54, literally shot Renisha’s head off with a 12-gauge shotgun through his locked screened door.
As in the Brown case, the police department rushed to criminalize the victim. Instead of investigating what role racism played in this tragedy, media reporting Renisha’s death have focused on autopsy results that indicate elevated alcohol levels and a trace of cannabis. McBride's attorney responded: "I don't think the fact that she was intoxicated changes anything," he said. "The bottom line is, he should've called 911 when he heard a disturbance, and we know for a fact that the police would've been there in two minutes. Instead, he did the reverse. He took his shotgun, went on the porch, blew her head off and then called 911."
"The list of crimes against African-Americans goes on and on even as the arsenals arrayed against them escalates beyond control.”
Wafer was recently convicted of second degree murder and manslaughter—little consolation for her loved ones. Still, one must wonder if a zero-tolerance for racism may have spared Renisha's life had her murderer been ingrained with the belief that in America it is not okay to kill black people.
And finally, the country witnessed another case of gruesome police brutality. In broad daylight a California Highway Patrolman without fear of punishment viciously beat a homeless black woman. Onlookers drove past in cars and pedestrians watched. In this case, the victim was pummeled lying face up on the ground on the side of a Los Angeles freeway. Not surprisingly, the Highway Patrol refused to answer questions about the incident. It was only after a pedestrian's video of the incident went viral that the police parroted a statement about conducting an investigation. The list of crimes against African-Americans goes on and on even as the arsenals arrayed against them escalates beyond control.
Ferguson experienced that arsenal in the aftermath of Brown's summary execution when the police brought SWAT teams and heavy military equipment into that suburban American neighborhood. When the police realized the optics of their operation were all wrong they brought in, predictably, Officer Friendly—Highway Patrol Captain, Ron Johnson—to mollify the mobs. At first, Capt. Johnson found warm receptivity with the residents as he walked along Ferguson's streets with them on Saturday listening to their pain. This came on the heels of calls for restraint from the Brown family, the president, religious and other cultural leaders after the heavy-handed military deployment failed.
By Sunday night Officer Friendly had abandoned his conciliatory overtures in favor of branding the uprising on Sunday night, “shootings, vandalism and other acts of violence that clearly appear not to have been spontaneous but premeditated criminal acts...The catalyst was not civil disobedience, but pre-planned agitation.”
What a difference a day makes. Gone was Officer Friendly, replaced by statements one would sooner expect form Lester Maddox.
There are in Ferguson's symbolism motifs from other epic struggles: the lone protester who stopped a file of tanks in Tianamen Square. Tahrir Square's fruit vendor. The people of Gaza standing defiantly in the rubble from Operation Protective Edge in opposition to vastly superior force, refusing the demand of “quiet for quiet.” Instead, after a week of unrest, the people who have taken to the streets remain determined—even to death—in their pursuit of justice.
Ferguson has already waged a good fight. Without the well-deserved support of a broad left/right coalition that can see this as a moment when the powerless outstrip the powerful, Michael Brown's name can be added to the anonymous statistics and meaningless deaths of African-Americans at the mercy of a merciless system. Ferguson throws itself against the iron gate of that system. It is up to the rest of us to see that gate gets flown wide open.
This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.
DR. MARSHA COLEMAN-ADEBAYO