Ferguson protesters demand 'systemic' change

November 25, 2014
Protesters in Ferguson on November 25.

Nationwide protests erupted for the second night in a row on November 25. Protest explodd afater a grand jury decision the day before to not indict Missouri police officer Darren Wilson for fatally shooting unaramed Black teenager Michael Brown in August.

In Ferguson, Missouri, more than 700 extra National Guard troops have been deployed to the streets. The reinforcements bring the total number of troops to about 2200, along with hundreds of police officers.

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon claimed the beef up was needed to prevent protests from turning violent.

“Lives and property must be protected. This community deserves to have peace,” he told a press conference earlier in the day.

Amid huge protests on the night of November 24, police clashed with demonstrators, using tear gas, smoke bombs and flash-bang grenades. At least 12 buildings were torched during the night, and more than 60 arrests were made – many for unlawful assembly.

Nixon blamed the unrest on “criminals intent on lawlessness”. However, a recent study found the presence of riot police can worsen violence at protests.

Kawana Lloyd from the community organising network PICO said police in Ferguson have a “shocking and shameful” history of handling protests since Wilson fatally shot Brown.

The shooting sparked months of protests in Ferguson, while the latest round of unrest began on November 24 after prosectors announced a grand jury had decided not to indict Wilson on criminal charges.

Lloyd said examples of police misconduct in Ferguson included: “Tear-gassing peaceful protesters, selective arrests, violations of the constitutional right to free speech and assembly, pointing military-grade weapons at unarmed young people, running police cars over Brown’s memorial, using dogs to intimidate community members, even urinating on the site of the shooting .”

Attorney-General Eric Holder said that despite the violence, he felt “very encouraged” by the ongoing peaceful protests. “It is clear that after the violence those who had legitimate voices, legitimate demonstrators were drowned out,” said Holder.

Holder also vowed to continue the Justice Department's separate investigation into Brown's death. “As I have said many times before and reiterated last night, the department's investigation will continue to be thorough, they will continue to be independent and they remain ongoing,” he said.

The attorney-general said the investigation will be completed in “a timely matter so we can move forward as expeditiously as we can to restore trust, to rebuild understanding and cooperation between law enforcement and community members”.

Meanwhile, dozens of protests are planned in almost every major city in the United States, across 37 states.

According to conflict and policing researcher Michael Shank, “The people's protest is just the beginning of a perpetual pushback against the increasing abuse of power.”

Shank said: “Ferguson is the deadly and combustible combination of state-sponsored violence and structural racism. We are witnessing similarly sinister developments in other cities, such as Detroit.

“Whether it's the weapon of economic oppression or heavily militarised suppression, the terrorising of marginalised America is igniting a revolution.”

In Atlanta, protesters blocked roads, while in Washington activists staged a die-in outside of a police station.

In New York City, thousands protested in Times Square. One New York protester, Brooklyn Birzin, told Reuters: “I have so many young male Black friends that could obviously can get shot at any moment.

“For walking in the wrong neighborhood and wearing a hoodie, being threatening or perceived as a threat. And that's frightening to me because these are my friends, these are people I care about, obviously not a menace at all.”

High school students at several public schools in Minneapolis held sit-ins. The state school board said in a statement the students will not be disciplined “as long as the protest remains peaceful”.

The board said: “We recognize that we don’t know all the facts. We intend to listen to our students and ask open-ended questions so we can better understand their perspectives.”

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has announced a week-long march from Ferguson to the Missouri Governor's mansion in Jefferson City, to begin on November 29.

“The purpose of the march is to call for new leadership of the Ferguson police department, beginning with the police chief, and for new reforms of police practice and culture in both Ferguson and across the country,” the NAACP said in a statement.

NAACP head Cornell William Brooks said: “The march is the first of many demonstrations to show both the country and the world that the NAACP and our allies will not stand down until systemic change, accountability and justice in cases of police misconduct are served for Michael Brown and the countless other men and women who lost their lives to such police misconduct.

“The death of Michael Brown and actions by the Ferguson Police Department is a distressing symptom of the untested and overaggressive policing culture that has become commonplace in communities of color all across the country.”

However, as a second night of protests was revving up, Wilson defended the shooting of Brown in an ABC interview, arguing he feared for his life when approached by the unarmed 18-year-old.

Wilson described the teenager as having “immense power”, and he personally felt “like a five-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan”.

The officer stated he felt sorry Brown died, but would do it all again if he had to.

“The reason I have a clean conscience is that I know I did my job right,” said Wilson.

However, Llyod described the grand jury decision not to prosecute Wilson for the shooting as “deeply disappointing”.

“It is another unconscionable blow to the St. Louis community and communities of color across America who have suffered through painful patterns of police abuses, discrimination and aggressive policing tactics at the expense of human life,” she said.

[Reprinted from TeleSUR English.]

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