Thursday, August 14, 2014

Time Travel in Ferguson, Missouri

It appears time travel has become a reality in Ferguson, Missouri. Given what has happened there lately it is almost as if a terrible tornado has whipped that burg, not up to Oz, but straight back to America in the 1960s.

What else is one to make of the happenings going on there since Saturday. It is at best an evil flashback and at worst the most recent culmination of what we know is a resurgence of virulent racism.

Here is what went down. On the evening of August 9th, two black kids were strolling down a street. As far as any person knew then, or knows now, including the cop who confronted them, they didn't have any gang affiliation, outstanding warrants, or criminal records. One of them, Michael Brown, was a recent high school graduate. On Monday, the 11th he was scheduled to begin classes at one of the many campuses of the for profit, Vatterott College.

Ferguson's population is well over 60% African American, but the police force of 53 officers and detectives has only three black members. The cop who pulled over next to Brown and Johnson has yet to be identified by city officials, but given the numbers, the odds he is a white guy are overwhelming. The officer ordered both young men to get out of the street and immediately things began to go terribly wrong.

Even at this late date there are only two things everyone is sure of, or at least can agree on. First, both Michael Brown and his pal, Dorian Johnson were unarmed. Second, Michael Brown was shot multiple times by what is almost assuredly a white cop.  Allegedly, one of those rounds got him in the back and most certainly the rest of them slammed into him anywhere from 20 to 35 feet away from the patrol car. He was declared dead shortly thereafter.

The police version goes this way. The unnamed officer pulled up next to Brown and Johnson and was assaulted while in his car, apparently by Brown. During a struggle for his weapon a shot was discharged from inside the vehicle. The fight spilled out onto the street where Brown was shot and killed. According to the Ferguson PD Chief, Thomas Jackson, the officer involved suffered a number of blows to the face which caused significant swelling.

Dorian Johnson says he and Brown were ordered out of the street by the patrolman. When they didn't immediately comply he pushed his car door open, "aggressively." However it was so close to one of them it, "ricocheted" shut, enraging the officer who then reached outside the open window and grabbed Michael Brown by the throat. Brown fought to get away as the cop fired his weapon the first time. Brown escaped and began to run down the street as the officer exited his vehicle and began shooting at him, hitting him at least once in the back. Young Mr. Brown then stopped, turned toward the policeman, and raised his hands to show him he was unarmed and wanted to surrender. Despite this the officer continued to shoot and Brown fell dead in the street.

According to CNN two other witnesses who saw the tragedy pretty much confirmed Johnson's retelling of the events.

Since then the shit has hit the fan in Ferguson, a suburb situated at the north end of St. Louis. Demonstrations were scheduled and took place. At times the protests turned violent and during the early ones there were reports of arson and looting. The local authorities called in the St. Louis County Police and asked for aid from other departments. The help arrived with all the subtlety of Russian troops cracking down on an anti Putin parade in Sevastopol.

Automatic weapons atop armored vehicles were deployed when marchers moved through the streets. Snarling dogs, tear gas, and smoke bombs have been used to clear out demonstrators. In some of the videos available you see phalanxes of police firing tear gas toward crowds who are already in full retreat from them. Last night two reporters, one from The Washington Post, another from The Huffington Post were confronted at a local McDonald's by police who refused to give their names, or badge numbers.The cops ordered the journalists to stop filming their arrests via their cell phones, then for good measure, roughed them up, before hauling them away for no reason. Both were released today. No charges were filed and no explanation was given for their detention.

In another video, a TV camera crew's position was gassed, then police moved in and turned their lights toward the ground and pushed their camera lens downward so there wouldn't be a record of what happened next.

Yes, when the cops start arresting journalists and shutting down TV film crews, those of us who are a certain age and political disposition know exactly what it means. The brutes are caught up in a fascist blood lust and have a hard on to break heads. None of what happens next will be either pretty, or legal and they don't want any witnesses.

Today Barack Obama admonished both those demonstrators who had committed violence and the police as he called for cooler heads to prevail on all sides. Al Sharpton addressed a crowd and called for a federal investigation of the entire horrible affair. The point he made was valid. No one in the African American community of Ferguson, Missouri will ever trust a local investigation into what happened, or believe the results they arrive at.

When it comes to the violence, he told the locals this, "I know you are outraged, but you're not outraged more than Michael Brown's parents." Indeed, the Reverend's message was don't do anything Brown's parents wouldn't--and--don't warp the image of Michael Brown by committing criminal acts.

In the end senseless felonies lessen not only him, but all of us and, worse, it gives every racist and rotten cop out there just another excuse.


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