They call for “peace” and commit more violence
The people demonstrating against racism and police violence in Ferguson, Mo., have kept up that fight despite every effort to intimidate or pressure them off the streets.
FERGUSON, MO., continues to be a war zone each night, a week and a half after 18-year-old Mike Brown was shot and killed by police for the "crime" of walking in the street.
From political leaders and media outlets, there are continuous calls for "peace," for "calm," for "reconciliation," for "restraint." But why are they demanding "peace" and "restraint" from only one side--and the wrong side at that?
It's true that every day and every night since Brown was killed, people have gathered in Ferguson--residents of the small city itself; others from the surrounding St. Louis area; still others who, yes, have traveled to Missouri to proudly express their solidarity--to demand justice and an end to police murder and repression.
They are right to do so. The demonstrators should be praised for their determination that this killing will not go unprotested--that there will be no peace without justice.
These are the people who are asked to be "calm"--but they aren't the ones causing the chaos in Ferguson. The responsibility for that lies with the police and the National Guard, supposedly deployed to preserve order, but whose presence perpetuates disorder. It lies with the political leaders ordering these cops and soldiers into action every night, even when it's obvious to anyone with an ounce of sense that an overwhelming show of militarized force escalates the conflict.
So obvious that CNN correspondent Jake Tapper--as mainstream a reporter as any in the U.S. media establishment--unexpectedly told it like it is on Monday night in a live report from Ferguson that likened police conduct there to U.S. troops waging war in Afghanistan:
I want to show you this, okay? To give you an idea of what's going on. The protesters have moved all the way down there...Nobody is threatening anything. Nobody is doing anything. None of the stores here that I can see are being looted. There is no violence.
Now I want you to look at what is going on in Ferguson, Missouri--in downtown America, okay? These are armed police, with...semi-automatic rifles, with batons, with shields, many of them dressed for combat. Now why [are they] doing this? I don't know. Because there is no threat going on here. None that merits this. There is none, okay? Absolutely, there have been looters. Absolutely over the last nine days, there's been violence. But there is nothing going on on this street right now that merits this scene out of Bagram. Nothing.
So if people wonder why the people of Ferguson, Missouri are so upset, this is part of the reason. What is this? This doesn't make any sense.
THE APPEALS by political leaders and law enforcement officials for "peace" are belied every night by the police occupation of Ferguson--initially carried out by a nearly all-white force in a majority African American city, later supplemented with more cops from around the area and now National Guard troops, all of them armed with the highest-tech weaponry and equipment.
Mustafa Abdullah, a program associate with the Missouri ACLU, described what it was like in Ferguson on the first day the National Guard was deployed:
I was threatened with arrest five times in the space of about an hour. The first time I was just standing on the sidewalk, I might have been standing there for no more than a minute, and I had three officers come up to me and tell me that I couldn't be standing for more than five seconds. They said if I stood for more than five seconds, then I would be arrested.
Later, Abdullah said, he was walking with a local reporter, and "the same group of officers came up to me and said, 'Are you lost? You need to get to where you're going.'...I told them that I was confused because I was just told that I couldn't be standing for more than five seconds so I just had to keep moving on the sidewalk."
It's hard to imagine a provocation more certain to produce unrest and distrust than this daily show of massive police force.
And, of course, there's the original provocation, too: an unarmed 18-year-old African American has been killed, shot at least six times by a cop who confronted him over walking in the street--and there is no sign that anyone will be held accountable for this cold-blooded murder.
Thus far, Wilson has not been charged with a crime, much less spent a moment in a jail cell--which would have been the instant fate of Mike Brown or any African American man, if somehow the roles were reversed in the shooting. As MSNBC correspondent Craig Melvin reported:
Everyone I've talked to--peaceful protesters as well as others I've talked to that didn't appear to be here protesting--all of them have said the same thing: if there were charges filed against the police officer responsible for the shooting, if he was indicted...they are fairly confident that these streets would be pretty close to empty shortly thereafter.
Yet authorities in Ferguson, in Missouri and beyond persist in the delusion that the problem is the protesters, not the racist atrocity the protesters are protesting--and so the answer is to ratchet up repression.
It took Ferguson Mayor James Knowles to convey just how out of touch with reality the state response to Mike Brown's murder has been. Asked during an appearance on MSNBC if his eyes had been opened to the grievances of the Black community regarding racial profiling and the lack of diversity in the police department, Knowles fired back:
There is not a racial divide in the city of Ferguson...There's 22,000 residents in our community, and this has affected about a half-mile strip of street. The rest of our community, the rest of the African Americans in our community, are going about their daily lives, going to our businesses, walking their dog, going to our neighborhood watch meetings...
St. Louis itself has had a history of segregation--that is not in dispute--but the city of Ferguson has been a model for the region about how we transitioned from a community that was predominantly white middle class to a community that is predominantly African American middle class.
Hours later, Missouri's Republican lieutenant governor, Peter Kinder, criticized Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon for lifting the curfew in Ferguson--and went on to extol the virtues of "Anglo-American justice" and "Anglo-American civilization," while denouncing those who pursued "justice in the streets."
THE OTHER line of defense from police officials and political leaders is that their forces are really the victims--that they have been menaced by "a tiny minority of lawbreakers," according to Ron Johnson, the African American state Highway Patrol captain brought in to take over for the virtually all-white Ferguson police force.
At yet another post-midnight press conference early Tuesday to justify why the air over Ferguson hung heavy with tear gas once again, Johnson claimed that "violent criminals" were on the rampage among protesters--and even responsible for shooting at police.
But who has the guns in Ferguson? We know the cops do--and they don't hesitate to pull the trigger, even now. Later on Tuesday, only a few miles from Ferguson, St. Louis police shot to death another man who, according to the official story, was allegedly brandishing a knife--and two cops armed with guns apparently had no choice but to riddle his body with bullets.
This isn't to say, of course, that there hasn't been any looting or destruction of property since Mike Brown's murder--though the media has been less eager to report on the many instances, described by activists in Ferguson, of ordinary people preventing vandalism or attacks on property.
The anger stoked by a militarized police occupation and the ugly bigotry of local officials will inevitably boil over in these ways. But even then, the media doesn't tell the whole story. As SocialistWorker.org reported last week:
The biggest property damage was done to a QuikTrip convenience store that was set on fire and then tagged with anti-police graffiti. As it turned out, the crowd likely turned its anger on the store when word spread that someone at the store made the call to police reporting an alleged case of shoplifting, which was reportedly the pretext for the officer to stop Michael Brown in the first place. Other targets of protesters include a Walmart and check-cashing store--that is, symbols of poverty and exploitation in an impoverished neighborhood.
In addition, there may be some people among the protesters who are looking for a fight with police. St. Louis Alderman Antonio French, a fixture at the demonstrations from the start, charged on Twitter Tuesday night that a member of one left-wing organization was trying to "incite a riot," over the opposition of Ferguson residents.
Actually, the people of Ferguson have shown they need no such incitement to courageously stand up to police, night after night, despite the threat that they could be the cops' next victim, even if they remain entirely nonviolent.
But whatever the truth about this one incident, it is clearly the exception, not the rule--dwarfed by the continuous, routine and legally sanctioned violence of the forces of the state. Those among the political and media elite who insist otherwise--who persist in scapegoating "a tiny minority of lawbreakers"--are engaged in a smear campaign, with the purpose of squelching legitimate outrage and protest at a police murder.
FEW READERS of SocialistWorker.org will be surprised by deceit and hypocrisy from the corporate media--and even less so from the apparatchiks of the criminal injustice system. But it's more angering to hear similar logic from Black political leaders.
Rep. John Lewis, a leader of the civil rights movement who risked his life to confront Jim Crow segregation during the Freedom Rides and other campaigns, called on Barack Obama to declare "martial law" in Ferguson and federalize the Missouri National Guard "to protect people as they protest," Lewis told Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC.
The idea that Lewis could suggest the National Guard--notorious for firing on demonstrators during the urban rebellions of the 1960s, as well as hungry and homeless victims of Hurricane Katrina more recently--as a force for protecting the rights of Ferguson residents is stunning.
Throughout the past week and a half, Rev. Al Sharpton has called for protesters to curb their actions in the name of "calm." On August 17, he and the National Action Network provided a platform for Capt. Ron Johnson at a meeting at a church in Ferguson. The highway patrol officer apologized to the crowd and promised that it was going to be different on the streets. Instead, Johnson spent that night and each successive one explaining why police continue to attack protesters.
But among these figures, the most outrageous response has probably been from the first Black president of the United States, Barack Obama.
Obama did question Jay Nixon's decision to deploy National Guard troops to Ferguson--though he did nothing to countermand the order of his fellow Democrat. Otherwise, though, the president addressed protesters condescendingly, as if they were children who had misbehaved, rather than people struggling to get answers about the death of an unarmed Black teenager at the hands of police.
On Monday, answering a question about the polarized atmosphere that has led to nightly clashes, Obama declared that it was time for the community--not the police--to "listen and not just shout...That's how we're going to move forward together--by trying to unite each other and understand each other, and not simply divide ourselves from one another."
It's galling to think of the family of Mike Brown--not to mention the residents of Ferguson facing a nightly clampdown by the cops--hearing this sanctimonious lecture about the need to unite with the murderous cop who killed their son, or to understand the racist politicians who defend the police.
THE PEOPLE protesting racism and police violence in Ferguson have continued their struggle despite every effort to intimidate them off the streets--or to divert them into tamer channels.
At each turn, they've been scolded by government officials and political leaders--not only racist white police chiefs and Republican politicians, but people who claim to represent them--for refusing to accept "peace" in Ferguson on the terms imposed by the police occupation.
In 1965, the Black revolutionary Malcolm X gave an answer to questions about "peace" and "violence" that speaks for all of us today:
I don't favor violence. If we could bring about recognition and respect of our people by peaceful means, well and good. Everybody would like to reach his objectives peacefully. But I'm also a realist. The only people in this country who are asked to be nonviolent are Black people...I don't go along with anyone who wants to teach our people nonviolence until someone at the same time is teaching our enemy to be nonviolent.
The demonstrators in Ferguson are right to defy the campaign--carried out by cops in the streets and politicians over the airwaves--to stop them from fighting back. We must help them in any way we can to tell their story and continue the struggle.