Cultural Racism and Ferguson

An Ugly Truth Surfaces in Ferguson

Ferg-5It was a long hot summer for the black youth of St. Louis this year.  After 18 year old Michael Brown was killed by a white Police Officer in a St Louis Suburb, the people in the neighborhood stood up and said a resounding ‘NO’ to racists violence perpetrated by a largely white police force against black youth in their neighborhoods.  Even so,  two more unarmed black youths have been killed by white policemen in the St. Louis area since then.   But the killing of Michael Brown brought the issue to the nation, and there has been a big reaction, but it’s a mixed bag.

After a period of resistance, the local courts have set a Grand Jury to decide whether Darren Wilson,  the cop who killed Michael, should be indicted for Murder.  Also, Attorney General Eric Holder went to Ferguson, spoke to the police and the family and initiated a federal investigation as to whether Civil Rights charges could be brought in this case.   Michael Brown was unarmed when he was shot 8 or 9 times at close range by Wilson.

Conflicting Stories – how could it be otherwise with so  much at stake

Ferg-sniperThree young people were killed in cold blood last summer, and protesters have, for several months been facing a highly militarized police force dressed in riot gear,backed by armored vehicles and snipers, liberally ussing tear gas, water cannons and flash bang/percussion bombs on peaceful protesters. The police in Ferguson are under a great deal of pressure and public scrutiny.  Their lack of empathy for and committment to the community has been laid bare before a national audience. They tried to say  it isn’t true.   They want us to understand it’s necessary, for their security and ours.  It’s bullshit – and it’s too late.  The community has demanded support and the feds are on the ropes. They can either continue with business as usual or face a very messy, very public confrontation with the current state of civil rights for people of color in this country. It’s about time, but they aren’t going to wade into this mess willingly.

Related Post: Ferguson’s Youth Revolt:

The first witness, a young man who was with Michael when the incident occurred said that Wilson was harassing them.  He called Michael over to the car, grabbed the front of his shirt and pulled him throughout the window.   Wilson’s gun went off, Brown pulled free of the car, and then the two boys ran.   The friend hid, but as Wilson gained on Brown, who had already been shot in the hand, Brown turned and put his hands up in a gesture of submission.   Wilson then pumped several shots into him as he fell to the ground.  Though not everyone could remember whether he had his hands up, other witnesses also said that it was clear that Brown turned to give up.

Wilson’s story was that when he asked Brown and his friend to get out of the road, Brown came over and attacked him in his car.   He says that  Brown attempted to grab his gun, but it went off during th struggle and hit brown’s hand.  Brown then released him and ran down the street.  He says Brown turned and lunged at him so he had no choice but to fire on him.

And there is the statement the police chief made a day or two after the shooting, when he realized that people weren’t going to be happy until Darren Wilson was indicted for murder.  He said that Michael Brown had shoplifed some cigars in local convenience store earlier in the morning.  He called it a ‘strongarm robbery’, which means the thief wasn’t armed, pretty inflamatory language for a neighborhood incident of shoplifing.    But, this is not legally relevant as Wilson didn’t know about the robbery, and though the Chief brought it up in a very public way,   Brown was never indicted for it.   They had identified him on the security video after the fact.

Then comes the autopsy.  It really adds nothing ot the descriptions above.    Both Brown and Wilson apparently had abrasions on their faces, but Wilson’s abrasions are hearsay, while Brown’s were noted in the autopsy.   The shot that went through Brown;s hand between the thumb and forefinger demonstrates that he wasn’t holding the gun when it was fired.   Someone opened the holster and removed the safety latch. Who could have done that, and why?

Most of the deadly shots fired into Michael Brown’s chest and head had a downward  trajectory through his body.   One witness said that as he arrived on the scene, Brown was falling forward.  He said that Brown brought his hands down under his belly as he stumbled forward and collapsed to the street.   Indeed his hands were under his body as he lay face down in the street.   So it remains to be decided which story is true, the one where Brown turned and rushed a man with a gun who had already shot him, or whether he turned in a gesture of submission to the law, and was shot repeatedly as he fell forward to the ground.

One incidental piece of evidence in the autopsy struck me as almost laughable.    There were cannabinoids in his body.  So, he had smoked pot, maybe the same day or the day before.  “Reefer Madness” flashed through my mind.    ‘Reefer Madness’ is a propaganda film made in 1936 that showed young people going wild after smoking marijuana. When I was a teenager in the 60s it was a classic.   So, here we have it.  Pot.  Did it turn Michael Brown into a madman who would attack a policeman in his car, try to grab his gun and shoot him, then turn to assault a man who was firing on him at close range?   Nobody who has ever smoked marijuana, recently legalized in Colorado, would believe that.

The indictment was promised to come down in October.   A large public demonstration was arranged, with well known speakers and people, mostly young people, coming into St Louis from all over the country to face it.   The locals had been protesting every night for two months facing a militarized police force with teargas and clubs, flash bangs and water cannons, rigin gin armored vehicles.  Most had been repeatedly assaulted and arrested.   But it wasn’t them who planned the event, it was local ministers and community leaders, trying to find a peaceful way to confront the system and get some relief for the community.  And after the crowds left, the locals continued to come out on streets night after night.

Managing the Court of Public Opinion

In September the Washington Post ran an article by Dana Milbank criticizing the way the St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCullough handed the case to the Grand Jury without any instructions.   As Milbank says, “A grand jury is less likely to deliver an indictment — even a much deserved one — if a prosecutor doesn’t ask for it. ”

Since then, the tone at WaPo has changed.  Yesterday they ran a dismissive and patronizing article in the Public Security Section that begins “Justice Department investigators have all but concluded they do not have a strong enough case to bring civil rights charges against Darren Wilson. . . ”  The quotes are mine by they conclude the sentence “law enforcement officials said.”  (my quotes again).  But I guess this is how you frame a leak.    You quote someone without the critical marks that identify a real quote.

The article goes through a string of individuals saying that the case hasn’t enough merit to pursue, interspersed with official denials that this is the case.   They say that the case might be comparable to one ongoing in Albequerqe where the entire police department is going to have to “overhaul its use of force“.  But then they quote Holder as saying “It’s pretty clear that the need for wholesale change in that department is appropriate.”   Well that sounds pretty firm to me.  They go on to say that “Brown’s supporters are already convinced there will be no state-level indictment of the officer.”   Well if even his friends understand the case is lost. . . .  you know it’s really done.

They quote an ex-cop who once shot and killed a suspect.  He thinks that it would be hard to bring the case because contradictory stories would make it pretty easy to establish a reasonable doubt.  He says “The autopsy report is devastating because it raises doubts about him standing still with his hands in the air in surrender“.  Of course, he was a big kid, and heavy.  Witnesses saw him fall forward. Events didn’t occur in stop action.  But here’s an armchair theorist with a clear bias passing judgement.   Yes, its possible the cop sawy him falling towards himself and paniced.  Maybe he was a complete maniacal nut job.   But that’s why we have courts

This is for the courts to decide.   The indictment is a first step because if the case were always clear cut before it went to court, you wouldn’t need a grand jury, or even a court.  But it isn’t and surely this case has enough evidence that a white man with a gun used it recklessly costing a young man his life.  And, there is also some pretty good evidence that this person with the gun started a conflict he couldn’t handle, and then ended it with his gun either in fear or in rage.  We are being asked to set this aside without asking him to  take responsibility for his actions and for their consequences.  A promising young life was extinguished.   A son, a grandson, a friend a community member died by his hand.

The article, however,  quotes a former justice department ADA as saying the case is ‘typical’ as are the frustrations of the people involved – oh yes, the victims.   This is a calloused dismissal of a young life that was taken by a man with a gun who was supposed to represent the interests of the community.    If this is typical, then right there we have a reason to stop and follow up on it.

In any case, none of this is news.  It’s all speculation and one wonders why the Post needs to talk about it at all if they don’t have anythig to say.   And I’m not the only one who thinks that.   They actually quote Justice Department spokesperson Brian Fallon as saying “This is an irresponsible report by The Washington Post that is based on idle speculation”.   Yes, and it’s arrogant, hurtful and  inflammatory speculation.

The last Recourse

Ferg-2What’s a mother to do when her son’s death becomes a political hot potato, and the officials seem to be doing everything in their power to bury it.   Who can she turn to when the national press patronizingly dismisses her son’l life and her community’s suffering as unworthy of even the judgement of a legal court proceeding and talk about the decision making procedures as nothing more than a formality to appease?

According to Vice News, Michael Brown’s Mother, with the support of her lawyer and human rights advocates is taking his case to the United Nations next month.   They have framed it as not just a civil rights case, but a human rights case.  And they are correct in doing so.  The right to life and liberty is written into the US Constitution.   The right to life is framed in International Human Rights Law.    “Shoot first and ask questions later” is an antiquated law.   In todays world, no one will openly espouse that kind of thinking.  Well, no one that is, but the United States Government which has been actively dealing with foreign adversaries in that mode, as well as with African Americans, Native Americans and other people of color, since its inception.

It is time that victims from the United States go to the United Nations with their complaints just like the people of other countries do.    It is important that the United States take responsibility before the International Community.   The people of the City of Detroit have gone to the United Nations with their water problems.   Since corporations are just big important people in this country, human rights have sunk to a very low status.   I have to say that I wish her more luck than the Palestinians and the Syrians, the people of Iraq and Libya have had in that forum of late.   For the sake of all people, the United States must be held responsible for its actions and the real vaues they represent as opposed to the values continually asserted in American propaganda.

** All photos from the St. Louis American, Ferguson Protests – Week 1

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