Wednesday, November 26, 2014

I Saw The News Today, Oh Boy

Well, yesterday. I haven't looked at the news today, so I'm not at all caught up with overnight events, but what I saw yesterday helped illuminate just how far from reality much of our news media typically is.

I was, for example, watching the CBS Evening News and the NewsHour, that PBS stalwart, and CBS and Gwen and Company were quite taken up with events in Ferguson and elsewhere as well they should be, but a good deal of the "news" was wrong, false, lies, and what have you. That's a problem. That has been a problem for many a long year, but came into stark focus during the reports of "rioting" in Ferguson in response to the Grand Jury failure to indict the Warrior Sheepdog and Demon Destroyer Darren Wilson.

First of all, the "rioting" was a construct of Authority and the media working in concert, as my ground-eye  view via Bassem Masri's and Rebelutionary_Z's livestreams amply demonstrated. There was no rioting, not by the demonstrators. And the police, typically, were lying about what was going on.

I also watched Amy Goodman's report from the ground in Ferguson, and she basically confirmed with her own eyes what I was seeing on the livestreams and twitter pictures. There were no police and no National Guard on the streets of Ferguson beyond the police headquarters area on South Florissant which is basically in the White Area of Florissant. The 20-some-odd businesses that burned were on West Florissant, in the Negro District. All of the police (and apparently later, the National Guard, though that's not certain) in Ferguson were deployed to protect "The Fort" as I call it; none were assigned to guard or protect businesses along West Florissant. So businesses burned, and it's sad.

The crowd of protesters was assembled at "The Fort" and they were gassed  and largely driven away by a pincer-action of heavily armed and militarized police. Two police cars were burned. How that happened is still a mystery, but both cars were behind police lines when they caught fire. Those were, so far as I could tell, the only incidents of "violence" in that area of Ferguson, apart, of course, from the extensive use of teargas and flash-bangs by the police.

The crowd initially was several thousand strong protesting in front of "The Fort," but it dwindled to a few hundred, perhaps only a few dozen, after repeated the application of teargas.  The crowd was not violent, they were not rioting. A few individuals were vandalizing one of the police cars, a car someone said was left in the street for just that purpose. Could be. But others pointed out that the vandals were unknown, and at least some were white.

By the time Bassem's phone was stolen -- he said by a "police agitator" -- the crowd was small and relatively dispersed in the area of "The Fort." There were very few people on the streets elsewhere in Ferguson. I saw a few pictures taken at the memorial to Mike Brown on Canfield Drive, for example, and it looked very quiet. Amy Goodman stopped by there too, and there was no sign of riot or crowds.

The fires on West Florissant need to be investigated and explained. I'm sure there is some security camera and other video that would show how they started and who was responsible. It's really quite amazing that so much police presence could be deployed to suppress nonviolent protest at the police station but none at all was available to protect people and property along West Florissant, where vandalism and arson had occurred in August.

That was one thing. According to the narrative pushed by Authority and the media, however, rampaging rioters were battling with police all over. And it simply wasn't true. Police were attacking nonviolent protesters at the police headquarters in Ferguson and they were letting businesses be looted and burned along West Florissant without any police or the fire department. When this fact was noted, it was "copsplained" by saying "it wasn't safe" for police or fire responders to go to West Florissant. Rampaging Negroes and all... Bullshit bullshit bullshit.

Meanwhile, a huge contingent of police, I discovered through Rebelutionary_Z's archived videos from the previous night, had been deployed at the intersection of Grand and Shaw Arsenal in the South County. They fired teargas at the relatively small crowd that gathered there, and apparently they twice fired teargas at the MoKabe coffee house, a designated "Safe Space" Police were out in force in this area of Shaw/Tower Grove, unlike the case along West Florissant in Ferguson,  and were issuing contradictory and absurd commands, arresting people pretty much at random, and having a fine old time with their crowd suppression toys.

Rebelutionary_Z had traveled to this area from the safe house where he'd rested after the freeway shut down. Reports were coming in that that safe house (a church) had been raided by police and tear gas had been used. In the area of MoKabe's, along Grand Avenue, Z documented several broken windows and one pawn shop merchant clearing the broken glass from his place was pissed. He confronted Z for "profiting off his pain" -- I thought that was odd, because it's hard to say that Z is "profiting," but Z did not respond. And he didn't mention the incident again.

Meanwhile, the police were behaving in an arbitrary manner, sometimes appearing in force and riot gear to confront the chanting crowd, other times withdrawing, only to return, firing flash-bangs and tear gas and ordering dispersal -- which for some was not possible because they were trapped.

"Negotiations" were conducted to allow people to leave MoKabe's, but the "negotiations" seemed odd, forced, and largely false. People were told they could leave -- with their hands up -- and head toward the church that had been raided and gassed. That didn't seem like much of a resolution to the dilemma of how to disperse when they were not allowed to, and by this point, few people had any trust in the word of the police, word which had already been repeatedly broken.

Nevertheless, people did leave with their hands up and headed toward the other safe place -- that wasn't safe at all.

There was a "clergy" woman (I don't know who she was, I'd never seen her before) mediating between the crowd and police and she often stood and walked between them, almost always with her hands up as a kind of sacrificial lamb, and I'm convinced that her presence defused some of the potential for police violence.  But she couldn't do anything but shrug about the arbitrary nature of police commands. It's their culture, you know?

I spent all morning yesterday watching that and other archived videos of the previous night's events, and I was quite moved by the dedication and determination of the protesters and their almost completely non-violent militance.

It's clear that these demonstrations, which have now spread all over the country and seem to be focusing actions on shutting down freeways (a time honored way to discommode the apathetic and comfortable), are well-coordinated and planned as opposed to some of the Occupy actions which they sometimes resemble.

The issues being raised in these actions -- police abuse and killing with complete impunity -- are much closer to the reality the victims face in this country than the somewhat abstract though no less destructive issues Occupy grappled and grapples with. The chord that has been touched in so many places with regard to police abuse and murder is one that can't be untouched, as practically everywhere, and every day, people -- often children or completely innocent people -- are being shot down by police, many of whom are terrified of their own shadows.

This has got to stop. The only way for people without power to force this or any other issue is to discommode those with power, and make their voices heard, whatever it takes. That means persistent protest (the Mike Brown protests have been going on daily for three months, after all) and creative discommoding. Shutting down bridges and freeways is a good tactic, but causing financial pain to those in power can be even better.

It's a long haul process. Occupy burrowed in to communities and is now a leading volunteer service outlet in communities all over the country. It's as radical as ever, but not so much a public spectacle. Participants do good works and help enable oppressed communities to take control of their own fate.

In the case of these police accountability demonstrations, it's more difficult to achieve objectives because the police don't work for the people, and there is often no easy way for the people to force change on the institution -- or to withdraw from interaction with it.

The police serve their masters, and that means they behave like an army of occupation because that's what their masters want. The occupation can be lifted, but only when their masters say so. Sometimes the occupation can be subverted or crippled, but that's a long-haul and highly risky endeavor. The actions taking place have a cumulative effect, especially the ongoing national demonstrations, but the result may not be quite what anybody hopes for.

Nevertheless, Onward! and Solidarity!

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