When a St Louis County grand jury, after its three-month farcical “investigation”, announced on November 24 its foregone conclusion not to indict white police officer Darren Wilson for the murder of unarmed Black teenager Michael Brown, the town of Ferguson, Missouri erupted.
For the next three days, protests continued in Ferguson and nearby St Louis. They spread to more than 170 cities across the US.
In Oakland, California, near where I live, protesters blocked major highways in mass civil disobedience. More than 100 people have been arrested in Los Angeles.
In New York, thousands blocked major highways, tunnels and bridges. A protester threw fake blood on Police Commissioner William Bratton.
At least 1000 marched in the nation’s capital, Washington, DC.
The fourth day after the announcement was November 26, Thanksgiving Day, and things were generally quiet. There was a protest at the traditional parade in New York organized by a major store, Macy’s.
Some media showed a photo of the Brown family holding Thanksgiving dinner with an empty chair.
The day after Thanksgiving is a hyped-up shopping day, known as Black Friday. This year, there were more protests across the country against “business as usual” and to raise the economic aspect of the oppression of Blacks.
These were dubbed “Brown Friday” in Michael’s honor. One such protest was in St Louis, where civil disobedience action shut down a major shopping mall. In Oakland, protests shut down the commuter trains going to and from San Francisco.
These protests coincided with Black Friday protests at Walmart stores. These were long–planned to support the fight of Walmart workers for a living wage and better working conditions.
The NAACP has also announced a seven-day march from the St Louis–Ferguson area to the mansion of Missouri Governor Jay Nixon.
The announcement by county prosecutor Robert McCulloch exonerating Wilson fanned the flames of anger across the country. McCulloch presented not only a defence of Wilson, but an indictment of Brown, his victim.
As Reverend Al Sharpton told a press conference in Ferguson on November 25: “I have never seen a prosecutor hold a press conference to discredit the victim. Where he went out of his way to go point by point in discrediting Brown, who cannot defend himself …
“Have you ever heard of a prosecutor … explain to the press why the one that did the killing is not going to trial, but the victim is guilty?”
Even the staid corporate New York Times editorialised: “Mr. McCulloch’s announcement sounded more like a defense of Officer Wilson than a neutral summary of the facts …
“For the Black community of Ferguson, the killing of Michael Brown was the last straw in a long train of abuses they have suffered daily at the hands of the local police …
“The police are justifiably seen as an alien, occupying force that is synonymous with state-sponsored abuse.
The case resonates across the country in New York City, Chicago and Oakland because the killing of young Black men by police is a common feature of African American life and a source of dread for Black parents from coast to coast.
Indeed, a few days before the announcement, a cop lurking in a darkened stairway in a public housing project in New York shot dead an unarmed young Black man who was coming down the stairs with his girlfriend, just to go out.
The day of McCulloch’s whitewash of Wilson, police in Cleveland shot and killed a 12-year-old Black kid for “brandishing” a toy gun.
The NYT editorial said: “This point was underscored last month in a grim report showing that young Black males in recent years were at a far greater risk — 21 times greater — of being shot dead by police than young white men.
“These statistics reflect the fact that many police officers see Black men as expendable figures on the urban landscape, not quite human beings.
“We get a flavor of this in Officer Wilson’s grand jury testimony, when he describes Michael Brown, as he was being shot, as a soulless behemoth who was ‘almost bulking up to run through the shots, like it was making him mad that I’m shooting at him.’”
No wonder that Brown’s mother described Wilson’s testimony as “unbelievable”.
It defies common sense to believe that unarmed Brown, who was some distance away from Wilson, turned to run at a cop firing a hail of bullets at him. The fact that much of the media has given Wilson national TV time to spout this nonsense is nauseating.
It was an illustration of African American revolutionary Malcolm X's warning about the media in the most violent of all the “advanced” capitalist countries: “If you're not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”
No wonder the youth of Ferguson rioted in the face of McCulloch’s bid to the criminal into a victim and vice-versa.
A few weeks before the famous advocate of non-violence Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968, he said of the riots taking place in Black communities: “It is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots.
“It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society.
“These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel they have no alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention.
“And I must say that riot is the language of the unheard.”
At a demonstration the next day in front of the courthouse where McCulloch had delivered his racist speech, Reverend Osagyefo Sekou was interviewed by Democracy Now!
Sekou, who is African American, grew up in St Louis and has relatives in Ferguson. He was sent to Ferguson by the Quaker-backed Fellowship of Reconciliation right after Michael Brown was killed.
Referring to the courthouse, named the Justice Center, Sekou said: “The name of the center seems inappropriate …
“As West Florissant [the main street in Ferguson] burned last night, democracy was on fire last night. The Constitution shredded …
“The rage we have seen today, and last night, is a reflection of the kind of alienation and the few options that young people feel they have to express their democratic rights at this moment …
“We hear for the 100 days [since the shooting], young people saying that ‘I’m ready to die because I don’t have anything to live for.’
“School systems have betrayed them. The President has betrayed them. [US Attorney-General] Eric Holder has betrayed them. Governor Nixon has betrayed them.
“[Police] Chief Jackson has betrayed them. The electoral system has betrayed them …
“While the President calls for calm, he has not dispatched enough resources to hold Darren Wilson and a draconian police force accountable.
“It is a shame that the nation has engaged in such behaviour among the most vulnerable young people.”
Also inflaming people was the decision by Nixon to send in the National Guard. Nixon, a Democrat, made news decades ago for his opposition to school desegregation.
On the day after the second night of protests, Democracy Now! interviewed one of the young organisers in Ferguson, Tory Russell. He was one of the founders of “Hands Up United” and is a member of the St Louis-based Organization for Black Struggle.
“What we saw was grieving, hurt people,” he said. “I think the people are more politicised in these last 100 days, with opportunities to do political education …
“We just [went] out in the streets chanting in front of the police. They sent in more national guards.
“I’ve seen people snatched up, we call it. The police are grabbing people. When on the sidewalk, they push us back into the parking lot.
“People want to walk down the street, they just pick someone. They are not breaking the law. I think that is what is keeping this going.
“People are hurting, and then people are being abused every day. We are not even being allowed to peacefully assemble or protest…
“We don’t get to vote for what we want. So poor people go in the street and we vote with our feet. We are tired of it. You see it across the country. I’m getting calls from people I have never talked to.
“You must hear us, President Obama, you must hear us. We’re outside. Please have some sympathy for us. Please, care about the people who voted for you and got you in.”
So far, nothing meaningful has come from the White House about bringing justice to Ferguson and all the other cities facing similar police killings.
It is clear the protests are unlikely to quickly die down and the anger has the potential to spark a mass struggle against the racist violence that marks capitalist America.