I can’t stop thinking about the events in Ferguson, Missouri, and flashing back to similar iconic events in the 1960s. How far have we really come since the days of the Civil Rights Movement? Clearly, racism is alive and well in 2014, particularly in police departments around the country–and not just in the South. Will the disease of racism ever be wiped out in this country, or can we only hope to control it through great effort–with laws, education, organizing, and public demonstrations?
Ferguson citizens were forced to live through another night of chaos last night, and I’m convinced at this point that deliberate police actions are making things much worse. The man in charge, Captain Ron Johnson of the Missouri State Police is clearly being used as a pawn. He was set up to fail, and at this point he is simply putting a friendly face on an ugly show of force intended to intimidate protesters and media alike. And he’s lying to make excuses for what has basically become a nightly police riot. I’ve been watching the live feed from Ferguson night after night, and I have yet to see any evidence of protesters throwing Molotov cocktails or attacking police (UPDATE: Dakinikat says there is one in the NYT video at this link.
Perhaps we’d know more about what is happening on the ground if new helicopters could fly over Ferguson, but police have ordered them not to, saying that only police helicopter can do so. Reporters and news photographers have been arrested and threatened with being maced or shot. Yesterday, as everyone here knows, police in St. Louis arrested 90-year-old Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein. From The Independent UK:
Hedy Epstein, a 90-year-old survivor of the Holocaust, was reportedly among those arrested during protests in downtown St Louis as tensions flared over the death of black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson.
Eight protesters were arrested for “failure to disperse” on Monday after marching from the Kiener Plaza to the Wainwright building where Governor Jay Nixon has an office, St Louis police confirmed on Twitter.
Ms Epstein was pictured being led away in handcuffs during demonstrations against the National Guard’s presence on the streets where clashes between protesters and authorities have been the most severe.
Ms Epstein, a resident of St Louis, is a political activist and speaker widely known for her vocal support of the Free Gaza Movement.
“I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was ninety,” Ms Epstein told The Nation as she was led away by police. “We need to stand up today so that people won’t have to do this when they’re 90.”
Yes, the protests have spread to St. Louis proper now, and people are gathering in many other cities to show solidarity with Ferguson. Also arrested yesterday was Getty Images photojournalist Scott Olson, who is responsible for many of the most dramatic photos from Ferguson since the protests began.
But I want to return to the subject of racism and dishonesty in the Ferguson Police Department. I think most people who have been paying attention to this story will agree that the Ferguson cops cannot be trusted at this point. Some history, from Michael Daly at The Daily Beast: Missouri Cops’ License to Kill.
The death of 18-year-old Michael Brown is not the first time an officer supervised by Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson has killed an unarmed man….
Back in 2000, two unarmed young men were shot and killed in a Jack in the Box parking lot in the suburban town of Berkeley adjacent to Ferguson by a pair of officers assigned to a county-wide drug task force where Jackson was deputy commander.
Early reports suggested that a vehicle occupied by Earl Murray and Ronald Beasley moved toward Officers Robert Piekutowski and Keith Kierzkowski, causing them to fear being pinned against another car.
Jackson, then a lieutenant with the St. Louis County Police, told reporters, “I am convinced that the officers were in fear of their lives, that they were in immediate danger.” ….
Subsequently, investigators decided that the car occupied by the two men had not in fact begun to move in their direction when the fatal shots were fired. The officers insisted they were in fear for their lives nonetheless, essentially arguing that the car was itself a deadly weapon pointed their way. That was enough for the shooting to be ruled justified under Missouri state law. The cops were not indicted.
Read more about it at the link. It’s high time Jackson was removed as Ferguson Police Chief.
And then there was the “other Michael Brown.” From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
Michael Brown, 23, of Troy, Mo., who was shot and killed along with a friend in October 2005.
Authorities said that Lincoln County sheriff’s Deputy Nic Forler fired through the back window of a pickup, killing Brown and the driver, Tyler Teasley, 22. No one in the truck was armed.
Police said Forler tried to stop Teasley’s truck for speeding but was led on a short chase. When the truck finally stopped, Forler pulled behind it, got out of his patrol car and stood between the vehicles.
Witnesses said Teasley was “freaking out” because he had been drinking, there was alcohol in the car and several passengers were under 21. In his panic, they said, Teasley left the truck in neutral. As the truck rolled backward, Forler fired the fatal shots that struck both victims in the head.
Family and friends demonstrated regularly outside the sheriff’s office. Forler was dismissed from the force and charged with involuntary manslaughter.
In a trial in 2007, moved to Boone County because of the controversy caused in Lincoln County, Forler testified that he believed Teasley was trying to run him over, and he feared for his life. The jury took only three hours to find Forler not guilty.
Read the Post-Dispatch article to learn about two more such incidents in Missouri.
Now let’s take a look at the case that Ferguson Chief Jackson has been building in order to blame Michael Brown for his own death. According to Jackson, Brown committed a “strong-arm robbery” at a gas station convenience store shortly before he was accosted by Officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed the unarmed teenager. But did that really happen? I don’t think so.
A couple of days ago people from Ferguson began posting on Twitter that the owners of the store denied reporting any robbery. Then KSDK learned from the owners’ attorney that they never reported any robbery involving Michael Brown and that perhaps a customer had called 911. But did that even happen?
I can’t prove it, but I think what may have happened is that police took surveillance videos from a number of locations and just happened to find the video of Brown in buying cigars. A Ferguson resident on Twitter told me yesterday that the store owners are saying the Ferguson police didn’t pick up the store video until last Friday, not too long before Jackson gave his press conference. And the St. Louis News confirms the tweeter was right.
The owner[s] of the store dispute the claim that they or an employee called 911, saying a customer inside the store made the call. They also say St. Louis County issues the warrants for the hard drive of surveillance video Friday.
When asked how Ferguson police ended up with the video that the Ferguson police chief issued Friday morning. The attorney said during the course of Ferguson’s investigation they came to the store and asked to review the tape. But it wasn’t until Friday that St. Louis County investigators issued a warrant for the video many of you have already seen.
Therefore, there is no way that Darren Wilson could have known anything about the “robbery” or that Michael Brown was a suspect.
A couple of days ago, Joy Reid of The Grio and MSNBC posted on Twitter that the store video appeared to show that Brown had actually paid for the cigars he took from the store.
Then last night Crooks and Liars put up a detailed post about it, Ferguson Cops Busted? New Video Seems To Show Brown Paying For Cigarillos (Video), by John Prager. Crooks and Liars doesn’t allow copy and paste anymore, so you’ll need to go to the link to read the article, but Prager it looks like Brown buys some cigarillos, then tries to by more, but doesn’t have enough money and so replaces them. Brown did reach across the counter, and that may be why the clerk tried to confront him.
Here’s the video.
Will the Ferguson police get away with murder once again? I think it’s likely unless the DOJ finds that the shooting of Michael Brown is a Civil Rights case. U.S. News today posted an article quoting attorneys who have defended police shooters, Police Attorneys: Brown Head Wounds Not Fatal to Officer’s Defense.
Pathologists said they found a bullet wound at the apex of the 6-foot-4 Brown’s head and what appeared to be a bullet entry above his right eye that continued downward into his jaw and then shoulder. The wounds appear to show Brown was not standing upright at the time he was shot.
“Just because he was shot somewhere near the top of his head, I don’t think that’s indicative of anything at this point,” says New Orleans attorney Eric Hessler, who defended officers involved in the 2005 post-Hurricane Katrina shooting deaths of two people on the Danziger Bridge and another person outside a convention center.
“There are scenarios that I can envision where a police officer would be justified in using deadly force in that situation,” Hessler says of the Brown case. “It depends on what the individual was doing while he was shot.”
Several officers were convicted of crimes in the post-Katrina cases, but the bridge shooting verdicts were vacated and the case is not resolved.
Attorney James Culleton, who defended New York City police officers who shot and killed unarmed black men Amadou Diallo in 1999 and Sean Bell in 2006, agrees with Hessler that the bullet trajectory isn’t necessarily game-changing.
“If the person is facing you, he’s charging at you, he could have put down his head,” Culleton says. “His head could have just slumped like he was falling forward. It doesn’t mean it’s devastating [evidence].”
We’ll have to wait and see. For now, it’s high time for Chief Jackson to be fired and for Darren Wilson to be arrested. This murderer is still receiving his salary!
I’ll end with some recent headlines about Ferguson.
Business Insider Australia: Police Captain Blames ‘A Lot’ Of The Press For ‘Glamorizing’ Ferguson Protests.
Jonathan Capehart: Probe into Michael Brown shooting goes to pot.
What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread, and have a terrific Tuesday.
I’ve been following the events in Ferguson, Missouri for a week now. Last Saturday, 18-year-old Ferguson citizen Michael Brown was gunned down by a Ferguson police officer in broad daylight. That officer, who was finally named yesterday, is Darren Wilson. So far the media has not even been able to come up with a photo of Wilson, who had nearly a week to wipe out his media presence. He’s a complete mystery man.
After Wilson shot Brown multiple times, he stood over the body and called for assistance without informing dispatch that he had just shot someone. According to witnesses, Wilson did not check Brown for vital signs. Brown’s body lay in the street for an extended period–it’s not clear how long. No medical personnel were called to determine whether he needed assistance or to take his body to a hospital. Eventually police loaded the body into a police vehicle and took it away.
When family and others in the community protested, Ferguson police chief Thomas Jackson asked St. Louis County police to provide “security.” As we all know, there was an intense police crackdown on peaceful protesters, and journalists were harassed and even arrested as were several community leaders.
On Thursday, Governor Jay Nixon ordered Ferguson and St. Louis County police to withdraw their military equipment from the streets of the small suburb and had handed over control of security to Captain Ronald S. Johnson of the Missouri State Police. Johnson is a lifelong Ferguson resident and is African American.
On Thursday night protesters were left alone to protest peacefully, and police were dressed in normal uniforms. Johnson walked among the protesters and patiently answered their questions. Apparently Chief Jackson and his men were unhappy with the peace and harmony, so they found a way to sow discord once again.
Around noon yesterday, without informing Captain Johnson of what he planned to do, Jackson released an 18 page media handout complete with still images from surveillance video, in which he accused dead teenager Michael Brown of stealing a box of cigars from a gas station convenience store in what he termed “a strong-arm robbery.” The stolen property was valued at $48.00. Jackson released this information immediately after revealing that mystery officer Darren Wilson had shot and killed Brown.
The implication was obvious. Brown deserved to die because he had shoplifted some cigars. The pictures of the young man police claimed was Brown were splashed all over the media and internet–but nary a photo of Wilson appeared.
Hours later, around 4PM, Chief Jackson held another press conference in which he admitted that killer cop Darren Wilson had no knowledge of the shoplifting incident that Brown had allegedly been involved in. He supposedly stopped Brown and his friend because they were walking in the street “blocking traffic.” So why was the 18-page handout released, reporters asked? Because reporters had requested it, said Jackson. But that wasn’t true either.
According to “MSNBC contributor” Goldie Taylor, who spent last night trying to find any reporter who had requested information on the convenience store robbery, no one requested it–in fact no one in the media knew about the incident until Jackson revealed it.
Reporters had specifically requested the officer’s report on the shooting and Brown’s autopsy report, but those were not released. Reporters have repeatedly asked Jackson how many times Brown was shot and the locations of the bullets, but he has refused to answer those questions.
Naturally Brown’s family and other Ferguson residents were outraged by Jackson’s behavior. He had poisoned the atmosphere in town once again.
Last night began as Thursday night had, with peaceful demonstrations and normal police presence. But early this morning, outsiders showed up and for a short time looted Ferguson businesses, including the store that Michael Brown had been accused of stealing from. From what I’ve been able to learn on Twitter from people who were there, protesters tried to stop the looters and helped to clean up damage to businesses; and there are reports of that in the mainstream media.
I thought I’d just write my own summary of events to begin with, since this situation is so complex. The racism that has been on display has been just stunning. It’s as if we’ve all been transported back to a much earlier era. But unfortunately the racism is real. You can see it on display in the behavior of law enforcement members in Ferguson and St. Louis, and in the people on Twitter and media comment sections cheering on the hatred against and even the murder of African Americans.
Some representative articles to read about recent events in Ferguson.
Armored vehicles rolled back onto the streets of Ferguson early Saturday, as riot police faced off with looters in the Missouri town gripped by protests since the fatal police shooting of an unarmed black teen.
The violence broke the brief period of calm that had settled over Ferguson, Missouri, after outrage over the shooting of Michael Brown spilled over.Protests had started off peacefully in Ferguson on Friday night. Rev. Jesse Jackson linked arms with protesters, leading them in prayer and urging them to “turn pain into power” while fighting back non-violently, NBC Affiliate KSDK reported. Shortly after midnight, crowds got rowdier and looting began to break out, according to KSDK….Tear gas was deployed and riot police moved in, with some locals forming lines to protect local businesses from looters.
A handful of owners stood guard this morning at their businesses, doing their best to discourage any more looting or violence.
Rain fell on the scene of broken out windows and ransacked store shelves at businesses like Ferguson Market and Liquor.
The streets of Ferguson mostly were void of protesters by 6 a.m. as dawn broke and the rain continued after the violent night.
After some of the protesters blocked the entrances to businesses and civic leaders, including St. Louis Alderman Antonio French, arrived early Saturday, the scene calmed and the brief outbreak of looting ended.
The police line was still in place near West Florissant and Ferguson avenues but had not advanced to the site of the protest line as of 2:30. Officers also did not move in during the looting.
It’s amazing how quickly a few assholes can ruin things for people who have worked so hard to bring peace and justice after the death of an unarmed young man. Chief Jackson must be very happy with his handiwork this morning.
Several hundred people congregated on a busy Ferguson street Friday night as protests continued nearly a week after 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer. It was peaceful until about midnight, when a large crowd broke into the convenience mart that Brown allegedly robbed the day he was killed. The looting continued there for several hours, with looters entering and exiting freely with as many items as they could carry, including the store cash register.
The looting took place despite the best efforts of some who said they were among the peaceful protesters who marched early in the evening.
Michael Davis was among those who were peacefully protesting when things turned violent. “It was positive. Everything was going fairly well with everyone out here during the day. But as it turned night, it got hectic and things got out of hand in front of the Ferguson Market and Liquor store.”
According to Davis, they were having some success in calming things down until police showed up and teargassed the crowd. At that point looters “broke through his protective line and into the store.”
New York Times: Emotions Flare in Missouri Amid Police Statements.
One day after roiling tensions over the police shooting of a black teenager here began to subside, emotions flared anew on Friday as the police identified the officer involved but also released evidence that the victim was a suspect in a convenience store robbery moments before being shot.
The manner in which the police here released the information, which included a 19-page police report on the robbery but no new details about the shooting, led to the spectacle of dueling police news conferences, one led by a white officer who seemed ill at ease and defensive, and the other dominated by a charismatic black officer who expressed solidarity with the crowd even as he pleaded for peace.
The white officer, Thomas Jackson, the police chief in Ferguson, gave a series of incomplete accounts that sowed confusion about whether the officer who shot the teenager knew he was a suspect in the robbery. The black officer, Capt. Ronald S. Johnson of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, expressed his displeasure with how the information had been released.
“I would have liked to have been consulted,” he said pointedly about the pairing of the shooter’s identity with the robbery accusation.
Washington Post: Protests and looting return to Ferguson overnight, but most want peace [a collection of tweets from journalists covering Ferguson last night]
Reporters on the ground in Ferguson, most of whom have been there for nearly the entire week, painted on Twitter a dramatic and sometimes frightening scene as the unrest mounted. Emotions were heightened Friday after Darren Wilson was named as the officer who shot Brown and the Ferguson police released video surveillance of Brown allegedly stealing cigars from a convenience store.
The clashes throughout the night seem to have divided the protesters, pitting some who were assembling peacefully against others who were looting businesses in the St. Louis suburb.
As of early Saturday morning, some protesters were helping store owners clean their destroyed shops and many were eager to draw a clear distinction between the angry rioters and the other protesters.
Head over to that link to read a Twitter timeline.
More relevant links.
The Washington Post, Seven in 10 black Americans say the criminal justice system treats them unfairly.
Mother Jones, Exactly How Often Do Police Shoot Unarmed Black Men?
Washington Post, Required reading on race, Michael Brown and Ferguson, Mo.
Spocko at Hullabaloo, What’s the Media Strategy of #Ferguson Protesters? The Police Have One.
The Atlantic, The Roots of Violence in Ferguson Run Deep.
Jonathan Chait, Joe Scarborough, Mike Allen Form Journalistic Axis of Evil.
I know there’s plenty of other news; I’ve just been focused on this story. Please feel free to discuss and recommend links on any topic in the comment thread.