Resistance in Ferguson
We Have Rights and We Do Not Accept Police Killings of Our Youth!
The unity of the fighting forces was seen in tweets sent from Gaza to Ferguson, encouraging the resistance and letting people know how to contend with tear gas and continue fighting. On August 25 students on dozens of campuses walked out of class and held demonstrations, vigils and meetings. Like protesters in Ferguson, they stood with their hands in the air — a sign that has become one of defiance, one that says to all police that even unarmed and with hands up, we will confront you and continue our fight!
The police killing of unarmed African American teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, sparked more than two weeks of daily demonstrations demanding justice and an end to police impunity. For days the people of Ferguson courageously represented the broad and burning anger nationwide at the police killings of unarmed national minority youth. They demanded not only that the police officer responsible for Brown’s killing be identified and charged with murder, but that the racist profiling and use of excessive force characteristic of U.S. policing agencies be stopped. Police impunity to get away with killing, beating, profiling, harassing and jailing minority youth with no punishment or consequences simply is no longer acceptable.
Ferguson, near St. Louis, is itself is a small town of about 21,000, about two-thirds African American. Its police statistics, typical of those in major cities and small towns across the country, reveal government racism: 86% of people pulled over in traffic stops, 93% of those arrested after such stops, and 92% of those searched by Ferguson police are African American. And, like policing agencies everywhere, there are no statistics concerning excessive use of force. But there is enough broad and repeated experience to demand that it be banned and severely punished, from top to bottom, from the federal level on down. Disarming the police, not the community, is on the minds of many.
While people everywhere applauded the people of Ferguson for their just actions, government at all levels confronted them with more use of violence and excessive force. Indeed, not only did the world witness the militarization, in both equipment and orientation of policing agencies. What occurred in Ferguson was a live exercise in joint policing that included the FBI and military, in the form of the National Guard.
St. Louis area police agencies were trained in such joint actions, including use of tear gas, stun grenades and mass arrests, at the Chicago demonstrations against NATO in 2012. They are well-versed in containing demonstrations using police barricades, in attacking or standing down, in clearing an area or leaving protesters to demonstrate. So what may have appeared as “confused” tactics of hours of tear gas one night and standing back the next very likely were part of an organized joint live-exercise. As one example, barricades, lines by police, are commonly used to keep protesters within a certain area. In Ferguson, this often was not done and instead gangs of police, automatic weapons at the ready and often pointing at protesters were used to arbitrarily move protesters, force people from areas they had been allowed in and so forth. The joint enforcement and various tactics and are part of efforts to unify the various police forces under a single, commonly federal, command and also to accustom everyone to such arbitrary policing done with impunity and brutality.
In addition the combat readiness and combat operation of this joint action against what generally was a few hundred peaceful protesters stands out. It is indicative of the fact that the U.S. government, from the top down, is now acting against people inside the country much as the military attacks outside the country. The racist government will especially target minorities and immigrants but not hesitate to go after all those who resist.
This was evident in their attacks on demonstrators. Clergy, well-known poets and musicians who joined the actions, journalists, all had to contend with having automatic weapons pointed at them by groups of police, tear gas, being told to keep moving, clear an area or face arrests. Hundreds were arrested. And whatever President Obama may have said about there being “no excuse” for excessive use of force, what actually took place was complete impunity for its use, with no consequences at all from the federal or state government.
One or two individuals may be sanctioned in some form, but the problem across the country of highly armed policing agencies imbued with the racist militarist culture of the U.S. state is not to even be addressed by governments, let alone dealt with. Resistance in Ferguson is what has put these problems front and center and it is the people themselves that are targeting the racism and militarism at all levels and making them a part of what it means to have justice. This is in part why people have no confidence in the FBI or the grand jury system, controlled by the prosecutor. Too much experience says they are integral to the enforcement of the racism and militarism.
No doubt the refusal of the people of Ferguson to back down despite brutal repression surprised the policing forces — much like the determination of Palestinians. The unity of the fighting forces was seen in tweets sent from Gaza to Ferguson, encouraging the resistance and letting people know how to contend with tear gas and continue fighting.
The determined stand in Ferguson served to deprive the rich and their police agencies of their power to dismiss police killings and this inspired people and demonstrations across the country. The actions were applauded and supported by democratic minded people everywhere, as they reflect the desire of the people to end police killings and racism and create conditions, as one protester put it, of equality for everyone.
People of Ferguson welcomed the many who came in support and the many local residents who persisted in the protests. People provided water, fruit and other food for participants. They organized together to clean up the shells and canisters and other debris left behind by the police actions. McDonald’s workers, and healthcare workers joined the fight. Everywhere, the stand of the people could be seen and heard: We will keep fighting for justice. We have rights and we will not accept police killings.
On August 25, as school started, many students in the area and across the country organized actions honoring the fact that Brown was to have started college that day and joining in the demand for Justice Now! On dozens of campuses students walked out of class and held demonstrations, vigils and meetings. Like protesters in Ferguson, they stood with their hands in the air — a sign that has become one of defiance, one that says, even unarmed and with hands up, we will confront you and continue our fight!
As the fight goes forward in various forms, such as a demonstration at the Federal Building in St. Louis and at the Justice Department in DC, it is becoming clear that advancing the fight lies not simply in making more demands to those in power, but rather in finding the ways and means, as those in Ferguson did, to deprive the rich of their ability to deprive us of our rights. The Ferguson stand of repeated actions and refusal to back down is one such tactic. Others will no doubt emerge as people persist in taking matters into their own hands and rely on their own efforts to meet impunity with resistance.
On Wednesday, August 27 at 4pm, activists will rally outside the Justice Department in Washington, DC to call for an overhaul of U.S. law enforcement tactics in order to stop police brutality and the militarization of our police forces. They are calling on the Attorney General to help secure justice for Michael Brown and the people of Ferguson, Missouri. The rally speakers featured legal experts and community organizers. [...] After the rally, the group will march to Busboys and Poets on 5th & K St NW to attend “Ferguson and Beyond – The Way Forward,” a town hall meeting on police killings of black men. [...]
“Michael’s murder is symptomatic of a systemic, racist culture that condones the murder and incarceration of black boys and men at rates highly disproportionate to the general population. U.S. police or vigilantes kill a black man every 28 hours,” said Coleman-Abedayo. Matthew Fogg, a retired U.S. Marshall stated: “The criminal justice system is racist and aimed at destroying the lives of African-American boys and men. I was ordered to target the Black community for drug related imprisonment instead of following the evidence. There are Michael Brown situations occurring throughout the country and the next one could be a member of your family.”
The organizers addressed the following letter to Attorney General Eric Holder:
“We, the undersigned, are outraged by the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri. Michael Brown, an unarmed, black teenager — who was allegedly surrendering with his arms up — was shot at least 6 times by a white police officer. Michael’s murder is symptomatic of a systemic racist culture that condones the murder and incarceration of black boys and men at rates highly disproportionate to the general population: African-American and Latino boys and men comprise under 30% of the general population yet represent upwards of 60% of Federal inmates; U.S. police or vigilantes kill a black man every 28 hours.
“Beyond their literal murder, incarcerating black men and boys — often for minor offenses — is a symbolic form of murder that annihilates families and weakens communities. Prison sentences confine people of color as indentured servants to for-profit prisons. Combined, these factors constitute domestic genocide.
“Birmingham, Selma and Little Rock symbolized the sixties with racial divides frozen in black and white photographs of menacing police, German shepherds, and water hoses. Whether we add Ferguson, Missouri to the lexicon of moments defining African-America — and America — will depend largely on whether your office shows the courage and leadership necessary to stop this systemic assault.
“African-American and progressive communities will not tolerate continued and routine human rights violations, incarcerations, and reckless use of deadly force by police against black boys and men.
“In 1857 the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States wrote in the Dred Scott decision that African-Americans “have no rights that white men or white women are bound to respect.” Within 50 years of that ruling 3,500 African-Americans were lynched. Today’s incessant police violence against black and brown communities shows that Dred Scott and the Constitution’s original decree that Africans are only 3/4 human remains the de facto law of the land. According to the NAACP:
• African-Americans now constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated population.
• African-Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites.
• African-American and Hispanics comprise 58% of all prisoners in 2008, even though African-Americans and Hispanics make up approximately one quarter of the U.S. population.
“Dred Scott’s core values — the very DNA of racism — remain largely the same today. Mr. Attorney General, you have the authority, capability and responsibility to stop this today.
“In Ferguson, American citizens, engaged in Constitutionally-protected public assembly petitioning their government for redress of grievances, are looking down the barrels of high-powered rifles that are trained on them by “police” with little discernible difference between the occupying military deployed in war zones. The police response to Mr. Brown’s murder has been to inflict more injury through arrests and injuries on citizens of Missouri and people who have traveled there to stand in solidarity with the embattled, grief-stricken, and rightfully outraged community.
“The militarized presence in Ferguson must be withdrawn immediately. Further, the national militarization of police forces must be dismantled.
“In keeping with your own statements as Attorney General about the standards for determining civil rights violations as being too high, you must now provide new guidelines that lower those standards so that it is possible to hold offending police officers, departments and individuals accountable for violations of citizens’ civil rights.
“Our Coalition respects and endorses the demands of the local population of Ferguson. We attach those demands at the end of this letter. Mr. Brown’s slaying is an individual tragedy yet it is by no means an isolated incident. We, therefore, submit the following demands to be implemented nationally:
• Black boys and men incarcerated for minor crimes must be released immediately.
• Legislation must be introduced that will impose life-sentences for law enforcement officials who murder unarmed boys and men.
• The excessive use of force by police must be prohibited with strong disciplinary sanctions.
• All military personnel and equipment must be withdrawn from Ferguson.
• Assign an independent prosecutor to the Michael Brown case.
• Transparency requires the establishment of an independent citizens’ advisory/review board composed of volunteers from civil society to fully participate in the investigation of Michael Brown’s execution and all domestic instances of law enforcement involving the use of lethal and/or excessive force.
• Body cameras must be issued to all law enforcement officers to help ensure and protect citizens from harassment, police brutality and murder and to vindicate officers acting lawfully.
• Recall all military equipment already given to cities and states and prohibit its ever being used domestically against U.S. citizens exercising their Constitutional rights.
“Ferguson has already waged a good fight. Without the well-deserved support of your office and 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 has thrown itself against the iron gate of that system. It is up to you and the rest of us to see that the gate gets flown wide open. We offer our assistance to your office and other civil and human rights organizations to finally end what has been an unrelenting history of police brutality, mass incarceration and murder of black and brown boys and men.”
As tear gas hung over protesters Sunday, August 17 in Ferguson, Missouri, parallel feelings of being worn down and dehumanized by ongoing police violence on communities of color hung over the hundreds of people who came out to demonstrate in Los Angeles.
The August 17 protest outside Los Angeles Police Department headquarters downtown was both in solidarity with Ferguson and to demand accountability for the deaths of 25-year-old Ezell Ford and 37-year-old Omar Abrego — an unarmed black man and unarmed Latino — at the hands of LAPD officers within the span of a week.
Their deaths happened to coincide with mass protests and heavily militarized police suppression in Ferguson after Officer Darren Wilson shot unarmed teen Michael Brown six times on August 9, killing him. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has called a state of emergency after continuous protests, public anger and unrest, and has called in the National Guard. […]
In recent days, Ford and Brown joined the long and chilling list of unarmed men of color killed during encounters with law enforcement officers.
On July 17, a New York police officer put 43-year-old Eric Garner in a choke hold and pinned him to the ground, asphyxiating and killing him.
On August 5, police shot and killed 22-year-old John Crawford in an Ohio Walmart. Crawford was carrying a BB gun he had picked up off a store shelf.
On August 14, family members were making arrangements for 36-year-old Dante Parker’s funeral on what would have been his birthday. Parker was riding his bicycle in Fontana when San Bernardino County Sheriff’s deputies stopped him. His wife told the Daily Press, Dante’s employer, that police said he was disoriented, but they had used a stun gun on him at least five times. He also had an extremely high fever of 106 degrees.
Omar Abrego, 37, was stopped by LAPD officers near his home in South Central. A witness told local news station KTLA that the officers beat Abrego for 10 minutes. A grainy video shows him being held face down by officers over what appears to be a pool of blood. Abrego died 12 hours later.
Ezell Ford was out walking on the evening of August 11 when two LAPD officers stopped him. While police say Ford, who was mentally ill, tackled one officer and tried to get his gun, witnesses contend Ford was on his stomach and complying when he was shot in the back. The LAPD has delayed the release of the autopsy report. […]
But it is not just killing that brought people to the streets on August 17. Many shared stories of chronic racial profiling and harassment that take tolls on lives and emotional health. Being pulled over, made to get out of the car, being stopped as pedestrians, handcuffed and searched, are regular occurrences for working people with families trying to go about daily existence, protestors said.
Many of those in attendance in Los Angeles were parents with small children who feared their own little ones would one day grow up to face the same kind of fear, harassment and lethal force meted out to Ford, Abrego, Brown and the people of Ferguson. They want change before that happens.
Tyrone Ervin, 33, came all the way to Los Angeles from Redlands. He had never been to a protest before. “I have two sons, and I don’t want them to go through some of the same stuff that I’ve gone through,” Ervin said, speaking of his children aged 2 and 3. “It all starts with harassment, with the profiling. I’ve been pulled over probably 60 times, but I’ve only gotten four tickets in my life.”
“[I’m] always getting pulled out of the car, always questioned,” he said. “I’m just tired of it. I think the majority of people are tired of it.” […]
Alex Sagastume, a 40-year-old Latino from Monterey Park, a Los Angeles suburb, said he is afraid of police because of violent episodes in the past. “I don’t want to be afraid no more. I want to walk the streets in peace.”
Sagastume said when he was 13 years old, a Vernon police officer beat him with a baton, punched and kicked him and jumped on top of him, then took him into custody. […]
Four years ago, Sagastume said, he was at a New Year’s party when police showed up. He took off and went into his house. They followed him, kicking in his front door and the door to his bedroom. He said they handcuffed him on his bed and tasered him while he was face down. Now he feels that “at any moment interacting with the police anything could happen. I could be shot.”
He added, “I just want justice. It’s too much. This has affected me. I’m 40 years old. Since I was 13, it has affected me in my mind to this day. I don’t feel equal; I feel like I should be afraid; I feel like I should just stay home and not deal with the police. I just want to just end this all. Equality for everybody.” […]
The recent police shootings have galvanized people to take action. Another protest is scheduled for August 21 at 3 pm in front of Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s office, demanding prosecutors file charges against the officers involved in Ford’s and Abrego’s deaths. Activists are coordinating a “Black Lives Matter Ride,” which will mirror the Freedom Rides during the civil rights era, over the Labor Day weekend from various locations to Ferguson. […]