Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Upshot of Ferguson

Ed Crawford, Ferguson Icon
The situation in Ferguson has apparently calmed sufficiently for the authorities to reduce their obvious presence to practically nothing. Yesterday, for example, protesters shut down one section of Interstate 270 which passes through Ferguson between West Florissant Ave and New Halls Ferry Road for a few minutes (as shown in the video below) and there was only limited police response. Instead of beating, teargassing and arresting, the police essentially protected the protesters and once the demonstration was completed, they went on their way.

We saw scenes of stark terror previously, as gas and smoke grenades were lobbed at protesters and residents almost at random, violent police charges took place to snatch and grab people at random from the crowds, neighborhoods were assaulted with armored vehicles and tear gas, and many people were shot and wounded by rubber bullets. The comparison between Ferguson and Gaza or the West Bank was often made. People resisting occupation were brutalized and terrorized by police. It was a goon show.

The display of force in Ferguson shocked a good part of the nation, but many observers actually applauded the authorities, not only for their over-the-top reaction to the protests but for Darren Wilson's shooting and killing Michael Brown in the first place. Many have said it was a "good shoot." How they come to that conclusion, and what the upshot of Ferguson will be is worth considering.

One thing that puzzled me was the amount of coverage #Ferguson got compared to other comparable killings by police over the summer. There were quite a few incidents after all, and enough of them were questionable that it's surprising they didn't raise more ire than they did. The death of Eric Garner in New York caused a great deal of anguish and protest, but it didn't inspire revolt. Nor did the death of Ezell Ford in Los Angeles. Both were unarmed and both were arguably murdered by police, but there was no revolt in New York or Los Angeles because of these killings by police. And neither received the kind of wall to wall media coverage that the killing of Michael Brown in the little 'burb of Ferguson did.

We may ask why. ("Oh, don't ask why..." I love the Nina Simone version...)

For one thing, there was a revolt in Ferguson, and it was essentially spontaneous due to the murder itself and the bewildering level of nonchalance and contempt shown by the local authorities toward the -- largely black -- community. The authorities in Ferguson apparently believed they owed the community nothing but the back of their hand, and they responded to the growing outcry as if they were old-time crackers putting down a slave rebellion. Oh, that's what it looked like from my distance, that's what it felt like, and having once lived and worked in suburban St. Louis, I was quite aware of the contempt a lot of the white folks there have for the nigras. Oh my yes. It's deep-rooted and virulent. There's little or nothing to justify it but deleterious habit, old animosities and unspoken fears. Missouri was a slave state, and St. Louis was a center of the slave trade. The consequences still linger. (I've seen much the same, perhaps worse, in Maryland.)

The community had had enough and they revolted. The revolt was spontaneous and remarkably nonviolent. Few indeed set out to hurt anyone or cause damage, though there was damage and some were hurt. This led to the wide-spread belief that there was rioting by Ferguson residents, but so far as I could tell, there was not, not at any time. There was abundant rioting by police, however, and there were incidents of looting and destruction that the rioting police seemed to enable or at the very least to allow.

Though many people were injured by teargas, grenades, and rubber bullets (how many is unknown, and the authorities have bizarrely insisted "no one" at all was injured) only one man in Ferguson was shot by police after the killing of Michael Brown, and apparently he had nothing to do with the protests.

Given the constant propaganda about the violence and rioting by Ferguson residents, it's something of a wonder that more of them weren't shot to death by the massed armored authorities during the disturbances. In fact, they held fire far more than they shot their weapons, and the weapons they did use were (mostly) "less lethal." This despite the fact that they claimed, apparently falsely, that they were under constant "gunfire" by shadowy figures shooting from the darkness. They also claimed, falsely, that they were under attack by "Molotov cocktails," and that they'd been pelted with "bottles of urine." So far, there has been no evidence at all of gunfire aimed at the police, of Molotov cocktails thrown at police, nor of any pelting by bottles of urine. There have also been claims that officers were injured by bricks thrown at them by members of the crowd, and there's been no evidence of that, either. No one was arrested for any of these purported assaults despite the fact that police conducted numerous snatch and grab operations during the demonstrations. In other words, it's very likely that the police in Ferguson were not assaulted by the crowd, at least not in the manner described by the police.

In the picture at the head of this post, for example, that is not a Molotov cocktail in Ed Crawford's hand, it's a grenade that was fired at the crowd which he is throwing back at police. Many of the grenades police fired at the crowds were thrown back, and that is probably what gave rise to false claims by police of being attacked with Molotov cocktails.

An upshot of Ferguson, however, is bound to be continual propaganda and lies regarding the behavior of crowds of rebels in the face of police riots. Those riots themselves are bound to be another upshot of Ferguson.

Snatch and grab actions by police, which have been utilized extensively during National Special Security Events and were used during Occupy, particularly in New York, are likely to become routine responses to civil unrest.

Random attacks on neighborhoods bordering areas of active protest are liable to become routine as well.

Media representatives and politicians were arrested with some frequency in Ferguson, and the upshot of it is that the authorities now know -- if they didn't before -- that they can get away with it. We'll no doubt see more of it.

The police overreacted, but the upshot of that overreaction in Ferguson was the involvement of clergy and politicians in suppressing the revolt. How much of that was due to coercion may never be known, but the clergy were the ones managing the crowds after some of the worst excesses of the police state. We're liable to see more of that in the future, as "stakeholders" and community leaders are recruited to tamp down civil disobedience that arises from any cause. We're liable to see the rise of official vigilantes as well.

The case of Officer GoFuckYourself is one of the more remarkable developments from Ferguson that bears watching closely. Lt Ray Albers of the St. Ann police department (an adjacent community to Ferguson) became enraged and pointed his assault weapon at many in the crowd, threatening to kill them if they didn't "get back," though exactly where they were supposed to get back to (Africa?) wasn't entirely clear. He was forced to resign after his escapade was documented by numerous media on scene, but there were many reports of other officers behaving in essentially the same way, some of it documented on video, but none of them were disciplined, let alone fired, for their efforts -- at least none that we know of.

Albers was therefore a scapegoat at worst; he may have been a deliberate provocateur, however, and his "forced" retirement was pre-planned. We don't know.

At any rate, there are bound to be more incidents of officers seeking out opportunities to threaten civil disobeyers with immediate death.

The upshot of Ferguson by and large is the discovery by officials of what they can get away with. They are learning quickly, learning well. The crowds? Hard to say. But there will be more revolts in the future, and those revolts will be put down with calibrated levels of force, levels calibrated based on lessons learned from Ferguson and other examples of civil disobedience dating from the Battle of Seattle to the present.

And of Mike Brown? What of him and justice for him?

The likelihood is that the process will be slow-walked even more than it has been. There will probably not be an indictment of Officer Darren Wilson, and the Justice Department will probably not release a report on civil rights violations in Ferguson for years to come -- if ever. The issue will be allowed to fade into the mists of time.

Another uprising will occur somewhere else, media will focus their attention there for a time, and the cycle will repeat.

Meanwhile, the killing will go on and on and on and on. More than 100 killed by police in August alone, and the numbers of dead just keep rising.


  1. Oh, i love the Nina Simone video, "Moon Over Alabama." Thanks for posting that!

  2. Yer welcome. She was one of a kind...