I wasn't able to stay with the story of the announcement of the Non-Indictment of Brave Officer Wilson all day yesterday, but I did check in at night and saw some of McCulloch's droning presentation of the Non-Indictment to the assembled media -- of course Wilson wasn't indicted, he got married, how could they indict the man, good heavens -- and watched quite a bit of Bassem Masri's downright superb live video from Ferguson, mostly at the police station or very nearby.
What I saw was disappointing but not unexpected. In fact, I don't think anybody who's followed the story expected there to be an indictment of a police officer for killing some Negro in Missouri. It was never likely. I thought it was interesting that McCulloch's summary of the GJ findings tracked so closely, sometimes word for word, with things that had been in the media almost from the day Mike Brown was killed, things that could be considered exculpatory for the Brave Officer Wilson, whereas practically everything that could be considered indication of a crime by the Brave Officer was impugned in just the way it had been by various "experts" on the teevee. In other words, the failure to indict, the "no true bill" result of the GJ process could have been written by the FOX News crew -- or CNN for that matter -- to exonerate the Brave Officer, who just got married, so he couldn't be indicted anyway.
Oh, and don't forget all the celebrity news readers who already had private audience with the Brave Officer. I'll have to leave that to the side for the time being since I haven't been able to process it fully in the midst of everything else. Just remember that numerous celebrity news readers -- including Anderson ("Anderson!") Cooper -- have had private interviews with Darren Wilson well before the Grand Announcement yesterday. Almost as if they were in cahoots... Or something else has been going on...
When word reached the street outside the Ferguson PD, Bassem Masri's camera was on Leslie McSpadden, Mike Brown's mother, but my sound was down, so I did not hear what she said, but I saw her break down in heaving sobs after she said a few words to the crowd, and it was an incredibly moving moment. Her heart was broken the day her son was killed almost before her very eyes, and her sobs last night were the sobs of a mother wronged. She was devastated, and the sight of her tears was a powerful image I don't think I will soon forget.
Not that she or anyone in the crowd, let alone the police, expected an indictment. Of course they didn't. Police are so rarely held to trial for anything -- except sexual peccadilloes -- in this country that an indictment of Brave Officer Wilson would have signaled something profound, almost a sea-change in the way Americans of the darker and poorer persuasion are policed. The Powers That Be are clearly not ready for that.
Bassem continued to record and move among the crowd. From indications, he is really well-regarded by those who know him and know his work documenting the turmoil in Ferguson. He also seemed to be very concerned with the people of Ferguson. His interactions with those he was among -- whether he knew them or not -- were remarkable for their openness, kindness, consideration, and what appeared to be a deep love for their humanity. This is not the way he has been characterized by the mainstream media and the radical reactionaries who have cast him in the role of Demon. He is after all very outspoken, unafraid, and profane. He uses street language, and his whole persona is that of a gangsta or gangsta affiliate. But what he's tried to show, I think pretty effectively, is that the persona which is so strongly demonized by Authority in this country, is in fact representative a wide variety of people, most of whom are no different in essence than you or me.
This was the insight that happened to so many in Albuquerque when they came together to protest the constant police killings. As Dinah Vargas put it, the media demonized every one of the dead in a kind of ritual of victim blaming, and she went along with it -- until she got to know some of the survivors and heard the stories of those who had been killed. She found out that they were "just people." They weren't demons at all, and in many -- too many -- cases, they'd done nothing wrong or they'd done nothing to warrant a sentence of Death in the Streets. The media depiction and ritual demonizing of victims of police violence was simply wrong. It was in fact outrageous.
Bassem has been showing that those who are protesting police violence in Ferguson are "folks" and he's one of them. They're not demons, Mike Brown wasn't a demon, and the script that demonizes them is wrong.
As he traveled through the crowds, greeting and encouraging and sharing grief with them, he came upon the scene of a police car being vandalized. I still didn't have the sound on, so I didn't hear what he said about it, but what I could tell from what I saw was that a large-ish crowd had gathered around this police car which had been parked in the street and a few -- let's call them "hot heads" -- throwing bricks at it and kicking it while the crowd maintained a distance from the action and watched, some yelling, some silent. In other words, the vandalism was being done by no more than five or six people who were distinct from the crowd.
In the background, a formation of militarized police led by MRAPs could be seen advancing on the crowd, and many started to leave. Bassem stayed for a bit, then he, too left the scene. Soon clouds of teargas could be seen rising from the vicinity of the police car. Most people in crowd dispersed from that location and moved toward the police station a few blocks away.
Bassem was covering the tear gas barrage, and he and numerous others were caught in it. He was coughing and wretching along with everyone else, and when I turned the sound up, I heard him condemning the police for gassing people this way. People tried to get away from the tear gas but were trapped. Another formation of militarized police were coming down the opposite end of the street. Those who could get away somehow got away, but most seemed to stay put, and eventually the tear gas cleared. The formations of police paused.
Teargas was being shot into the residential areas beside the street on which the protests were taking place. Bassem was shocked. How could they do this? WHY? Barrage after barrage of teargas grenades were shot into residential areas for reasons no one could fathom. It made no sense at all. "No one is there!" Well, protesters weren't there, though maybe residents were.
Then a column of smoke could be seen rising behind the police lines, and people started back toward the police and the smoke to see what was burning. It was the police car that had been vandalized earlier. How it got on fire is a mystery because no one had used incendiaries in the vandalizing, and the car was inside the police perimeter when it caught on fire. My immediate thought was that the police set it on fire, either deliberately or accidentally when they fired tear gas at the people around the car.
At any rate, while the car burned there were numerous sounds like gunfire, often rapid-fire, and I thought that perhaps the police were firing at the crowd. There were reports of rubber bullets being fired. Bassem said that no, the apparent gunshots were ammunition going off inside the car from the heat of the fire, and he encouraged people to get away.
The police formations moved together, and as they did, more teargas was fired. Another police car, again behind the police lines, was on fire, so there were now two burning police cars, both of which contained ammunition which was exploding from the heat.
The militarized police formations assembled in front of what I call their "fort" -- the PD headquarters and the fire department. There was no sign whatsoever of any attempt to put out the fires burning just down the street.
No, instead, the militarized police formed a cordon around the police and fire department buildings -- their "fort" -- and gave hard and threatening looks at the crowd (a crowd that was still loud but quite small and completely non-violent, unless you consider trash-talk to be violence) and they displayed their armaments in threatening fashion. Network media did standup after standup in the midst of all this, which clued me that it was all a display staged for the media. The police did nothing except look threatening and protect their fort while the police cars burned, ammunition exploded and reports of other fires were coming in.
For some reason, Anderson ("Anderson!") Cooper was not there doing a standup, he was relatively far away in an undisclosed location doing a standup, no one else, certainly no police, in view.
Bassem started to call bullshit -- because the police were doing nothing about the fires. The fire department was right there, after all, and there wasn't a single fireman on scene, no fire trucks, nothing, and the police in their gear and MRAPs were doing nothing but threatening the crowd, a crowd that relatively small, had just been teargassed, and which was not threatening them. It was absurd. Given all the media celebrities doing standups in the vicinity, the absurdity was quite touching. Aww.
Bassem continued to cover this more and more surreal and absurd situation in front of the police department when suddenly it seemed he started running. This was startling to say the least, and it wasn't at all clear what was happening or why. The title of the UStream page Bassem used changed from his name to "I.I.OK." Very strange. He ran and ran and ran, and I heard someone say, "Are you OK," and the only part of the response I heard was "Some nigger..." and it didn't sound like Bassem. I thought maybe it was because he'd been running. After a few moments, it looked like he fell down and the livestream went down.
I was very concerned. What happened? I reported what I'd witnessed on a thread at FDL, and soon came word that Bassem was on Twitter now; his iPhone had been swiped out of his hand by someone he thought was a "police agitator" and he couldn't livestream any more. He would live Tweet from his backup phone, but that was all he could do. He was OK. He wasn't harmed and he wasn't arrested.
I shifted over to Rebelutionary_Z's livestream which was coming from the freeway in Shaw, a freeway which had been shut down in both directions by a large crowd. The police were ordering dispersal, and as I watched, they did disperse, more or less, and the freeway re-opened. Z said that it had been shut down successfully for between a half hour and an hour, and he was pretty jazzed by it. He went with the crowd to a safe house in a church and had something to drink before he went back outside and sat for a bit resting and catching his viewers up with what had been happening. Apparently he'd been asked to livestream something from Shaw but wasn't told what and was not supposed to tell where he was going exactly.
He was asked to livestream the freeway shutdown -- which he did. He said he was going to stay in Shaw to cover any other action there.
Meanwhile Bassem was tweeting pictures from W. Florissant Ave. in Ferguson where fires were burning. One after another, the chain and corporate merchants were being torched as Bassem watched, but it was not at all clear who was doing the torching. There appeared to be no one on the streets, not protesters and certainly not police -- they were all guarding their fort. All the blather from the governor about "protecting property" was bullshit. There was no one there. No one was protecting property in Ferguson, and there was no one on the streets, either, as one after another Ferguson's chain businesses went up in flames.
At this point, I decided that things were following a script, and I'd seen enough of this play.
I don't know how much of the vandalism and arson I saw was due to provocateurs, but Bassem is convinced that a "police agitator" stole his iPhone so he could not continue to livestream whatever was going on. I tend to agree. I suspect the police set the two police cars on fire themselves, whether deliberately or accidentally when they were firing teargas. They did nothing at all to put the fires out. Bassem reported that he thought he saw other fires near where teargas had been fired into the neighborhood, but he couldn't get to those places.
The pictures on his Twitter show businesses burning, but no crowds of protesters or any police or fire department personnel attempting to manage the situation, and Bassem's commentary excoriates the police and government for causing all of this. His fury is palpable.
I couldn't sleep, so I started this post about 3:30 this morning. It's now about 5:15. I haven't looked at "news" so I don't know how what happened is being reported by the Big Media. I'm sure it's filled with lies, however. I don't know whether there was a response to the arson and vandalism, or whether there was looting and "riot," but what I saw indicated that the crowds of protesters were not engaged in arson, vandalism or looting. They had another objective altogether which they stuck with through it all.
Now to check the "news." Pfft.