Rage erupts in Ferguson, across US
Police used smoke and tear gas to enforce a curfew on protesters early on the morning of August 17 in Ferguson, Missouri, where an unarmed black teenager was killed by police on August 9, Morning Star Online said the next day.
Seven people were arrested during the night. Campaign group More claimed that all seven were arrested after being “dragged out of cars, some parked in their own driveways”.
Police swarmed the mainly black area in armoured vehicles shortly after the curfew started, claiming they were responding to reports of a break-in rather than seeking to enforce the dispersal order. Hundreds of protesters left peacefully before the curfew took effect but many refused, chanting: “No justice! No curfew!”
The crowd bellowed: “We have the right to assemble peacefully” as officers began putting on gas masks.
A man was shot and critically injured during the night and a police car came under fire.
Police had appeared to back down from the combative approach they took immediately after the shooting that led to running battles between riot police and protesters.
But tensions flared again on the night of August 15 after police revealed that the officer who shot 18-year-old Michael Brown was Darren Wilson, a white officer, and Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency in Ferguson on August 16.
They also released subsequently disputed CCTV footage alleging that Mr Brown had robbed a corner shop shortly before he was shot — although Wilson did not know that at the time.
Below, Nicole Colson provides an overview of the killing and why it has set off such a tidal wage of anger. It is abridged from Socialist Worker.
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“Ferguson Just Executed My Unarmed Son!!!”
That was the heartbreaking message Louis Head wrote on a piece of cardboard and held up for the community to see after his stepson, Michael Brown, was shot down by a cop in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9.
The death of the 18-year-old ignited the bitter outrage of a community that says police brutality directed at Black men is all too common in this majority-African American suburb outside St Louis. But by August 14, angry protests had broken out four nights in a row.
Mainstream media outlets focused on the damage to property during the demonstrations. But for millions of people around the country, horror at the police execution of another unarmed Black youth — and the sense that it's time something is done about police violence — was dominant.
Police claim a shop owner reported that someone allegedly matching Brown's description shoplifted from their store.
Later, cops say an officer stopped Brown and a friend as they walked down a street and Brown tried to grab the officer's gun.
Police say one shot was fired from the officer's gun during the struggle. Then, after the unarmed Brown fled, the cop fired several shots at Brown, fatally wounding the teen.
Witnesses, however, tell a completely different story.
Piaget Crenshaw, a bystander who witnessed the shooting, told Fox 2 News that after confronting Brown and his companion, Dorian Johnson, for walking on the street, the officer began assaulting Brown by choking him, and trying to pull Brown into his squad car.
His weapon fired at least once at this point. When both teens ran, the officer then fired a second shot. Johnson told reporters at the scene: “[The officer] shot again and once my friend felt that shot, he turned around and put his hands in the air and started to get down, and the officer still approached with his weapon drawn and fired several more shots.”
“We weren't causing no harm to nobody,” Johnson said. “We had no weapons on us at all.”
Brown's family and friends learned of his death because his lifeless body laid in the street for about four hours while police “investigated” — or tried to get their stories straight about a case of cold-blooded murder, to judge from the eyewitnesses.
Outrage boils over
The killing of yet another young Black man at the hands of police caused community outrage to boil over in the days following the killing — though this happened only after what many call a deliberate police provocation.
Black residents who gathered for a vigil on the evening of Brown's death in front of the police station were met by riot police, many holding shotguns.
The crowd chanted “The people, united, will never be defeated,” and some residents held up their hands to show police that they were unarmed, shouting, “Don't shoot me” at the cops.
Anger in the community built, not only in response to the police, but to the media portrayals of Brown — who was to begin his first day of college in two days’ time.
Many media outlets chose to use a picture of an unsmiling Brown flashing a peace sign, which some labelled a “gang sign”.
As Yesha Callahan put it at TheRoot.com: “You'd be hard-pressed to find mainstream media showing Brown at his high school graduation or with members of his family ...
“Unfortunately, because of Ferguson police, we'll never be able to see a photo of Brown attending his first day of college today.”
The next night, August 10, hundreds of protesters who gathered for another candlelight vigil were confronted by hundreds of police in riot gear, armed with attack dogs.
It was widely reported that Black residents began chanting, “Kill the police!” before engaging in what the media generally termed a “riot”, including the looting of some local stores.
But many people who said they took part in the demonstration took to social media to insist that protesters were actually chanting “No justice, no peace!” Many also said that protesters were deliberately provoked by the heavy police presence.
At some point, some protesters reportedly began looting and spray-painting several stores. One convenience store was set on fire. Police eventually used tear gas to disperse the protesters.
This was an understandable explosion of anger at the rampant racism Black residents of Ferguson face every day, especially at the hands of police.
DeAndre Smith defiantly told Kim Bell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he had taken part in the protest the night before. “This is exactly what's supposed to happen when an injustice is happening in your community — when you have kids getting killed for nothing,” he said.
“You don't have to kill him. He didn't have a gun in his hands. Why'd you kill him?”
Smith said he was in the streets when the so-called rioting took place — and provided a window into the anger many were feeling. “I was out here standing side by side with the community,” he said. “I don't think it's over, honestly. I think we just got a taste of what fighting back means.”
Two young men who had been part of the crowds police stopped from joining protests expressed similar sentiments to KMBC reporter Brenda Washington.
One said: “I believe that they're too much worried about what's happening to their stores and commerce and everything — they're not worried about the murder. They're not worried about the senseless death.
“That's what I'm worried about.”
For African Americans, the stories of murders like the killing of Michael Brown are terrifyingly commonplace. A report by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement said it occurs once every 36 hours.
Days after Brown died, there was another horror story, this one from a suburb of Dayton, Ohio. John Crawford was shot and killed by police as he talked on the phone to his pregnant girlfriend from the aisles of a Walmart store.
He was carrying a toy gun, which alarmed two other shoppers.
The protests in Ferguson are an expression of deep frustration at years of institutional racism and police brutality that never seems to get any better — or any attention. In an editorial, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch cited statistics showing racial disparities have been getting worse in Missouri, almost every year.
The paper said: “Last year, for the 11th time in the 14 years that data has been collected, the disparity index that measures potential racial profiling by law enforcement in the state got worse.
“Black Missourians were 66 percent more likely in 2013 to be stopped by police, and Blacks and Hispanics were both more likely to be searched, even though the likelihood of finding contraband was higher among whites ...
“In Ferguson, the city where Michael died, the police in 2013 pulled over Blacks at a 37 percent higher rate than whites compared to their relative populations. Black drivers were twice as likely to be searched and twice as likely to be arrested compared to white drivers.”
In fact, back in November 2013, the Missouri chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People filed a federal civil rights complaint against the St. Louis County police, alleging racial profiling against Black citizens and racism in police hiring practices.
Meanwhile, a Twitter campaign using the hashtag #NMOS14 is leading to local gatherings around the country for a National Moment of Silence to honour Michael Brown.
No doubt there will be other protests as the struggle to win justice for Brown's family unfolds. There will also be more powerful social media campaigns like #IfTheyGunnedMeDown.
Using this hashtag, African American youth are posting two contrasting pictures to draw attention to the fact that the media have been using a picture of the college-student-to-be Michael Brown that makes him seem like a gang member.
This killing in a small Missouri town has reverberated across the country precisely because it is a crime so familiar to African Americans — from New York City, where Eric Garner was choked to death by police less than a month ago; to Sanford, Florida where Trayvon Martin was murdered by racist vigilante George Zimmerman in 2012; and so many other places in between.
As Socialist Worker's Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor said: “This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the first wave of urban rebellions that served notice on the US that the rights of citizenship without justice and equality was not real freedom.
“From Rochester to Harlem and Philadelphia, African Americans rebelled against racism, injustice and equality and exposed the fundamental lie that is ‘American democracy’ — an important exercise given that the US was carpet bombing Vietnam in the name of ‘democracy’.
“Today, 50 years later, the US government is bombing Iraq for freedom and funding Israel's massacre in Gaza in the name of freedom — while at home, the police are hunting and murdering Black men in the streets for the crime of being Black.
“Fifty years after Freedom Summer and after Jim Crow, the mass of Black Americans still are not free. Fifty years later, riots and rebellion remain the voice of the voiceless yearning and demanding to be heard.”