Demonstrators gather along West Florissant Avenue on Friday to protest the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer on Aug. 9. Friday’s demonstration ended with protesters clashing with police followed by more looting. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
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.
Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson announces the name of Officer Darren Wilson as the man who shot and killed Michael Brown, 18, last Saturday.
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.”
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.
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.
“There are pockets of our society that are not just broken, but are frankly sick.
“It is a complete lack of responsibility in parts of our society, people allowed to feel the world owes them something, that their rights outweigh their responsibilities and their actions do not have consequences. Well, they do have consequences.”
You’re darn right! The global elites have gone too far! The banksters have stolen trillions from ordinary taxpayers, and then demanded and received massive government bailouts. Politicians have lost any sense of responsibility toward their constituents, only listening to their corporate masters and their lobbyists. Yes there are consequences and these wealthy elites will discover there are consequences for their corrupt and immoral actions.
The U.S. Federal Reserve gave out $16.1 trillion in emergency loans to U.S. and foreign financial institutions between Dec. 1, 2007 and July 21, 2010, according to figures produced by the government’s first-ever audit of the central bank.
Last year, the gross domestic product of the entire U.S. economy was $14.5 trillion.
Of the $16.1 trillion loaned out, $3.08 trillion went to financial institutions in the U.K., Germany, Switzerland, France and Belgium, the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) analysis shows.
Additionally, asset swap arrangements were opened with banks in the U.K., Canada, Brazil, Japan, South Korea, Norway, Mexico, Singapore and Switzerland. Twelve of those arrangements are still ongoing, having been extended through August 2012.
Out of all borrowers, Citigroup received the most financial assistance from the Fed, at $2.5 trillion. Morgan Stanley came in second with $2.04 trillion, followed by Merill Lynch at $1.9 trillion and Bank of America at $1.3 trillion.
This scepticism toward the potency of democratic politicians – and therefore democratic politics itself – is oddly echoed by the looters themselves. Certainly no one outside the Iranian state media is calling them “protesters”, but even “rioters” seems the wrong word, carrying with it a hint of political purpose. For some, especially at the start in Tottenham, there was clearly a political dimension – with the police the prime focus of their anger. But many of the copycat actions across London and elsewhere have no apparent drive beyond the opportunistic desire to steal and get away with it. It’s striking that the targets have not been town halls or, say, Tory HQ – stormed by students last November – but branches of Dixons, Boots and Carphone Warehouse. If they are making a political statement, it is that politics does not matter.
Lambert notes that at least these looters didn’t steal $16 trillion from the U.S. Treasury.
And while the revulsion at the looting has been widespread and bipartisan – with plenty of liberals admitting to “coming over all Daily Mail” at the ugliness of the vandalism – that sense of the impotence of politics is widespread, too. One aspect of the phone-hacking scandal that went deep was its revelation that those we might think exert authority – police and politicians – were in fact supine before an unelected media corporation. The sheer power of News Corp contrasted with the craven behaviour of those we elect or entrust to look out for us.
But elected officials are supposed to protect all citizens–even the poor, the unemployed, and the elderly–aren’t they? Yet in the U.S. and Europe, the burden of the economic crisis is falling on those with the least ability to pay, while the wealthy continue to receive their government handouts. When people are pushed to the point that they feel they have nothing to lose, this is what happens. Why it is coming as such a surprise to the comfortable elites is the real mystery.
Let’s take a look at what some of the rioters themselves have said about the meaning of their actions. From Yahoo News:
The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government, making deep cuts to public services to tackle a record budget deficit, has been quick to deny that the unrest was linked to austerity measures, calling the disorder “pure criminality.” [….]
Public anger over the widespread looting of shops appears to have strengthened the government’s argument, with stolen goods ranging from the expensive — televisions and jewelry — to the absurd — sweets and bottles of alcohol.
However, community leaders and rioters themselves said the violence was an expression of the frustration felt by the poorest inhabitants of a country that ranks among the most unequal in the developed world.
“They’ve raised rates, cut child benefit. Everyone just used it as a chance to vent,” one man who took part in unrest in the east London district of Hackney told Reuters.
Surprise, surprise. Cutting social services to pay for the bankers’ failures has real life consequences. Austerity measures create more unemployment, and people who don’t have jobs get hungry and scared. When you take everything from people who can least afford it, they get angry. What on earth do these people expect? What planet are they living on anyway? And no, I’m not condoning violence. I’m just saying that it’s going to happen when you push people too far.
Here are some quotes from two young women who participated in the British riots:
Two girls who took part in Monday night’s riots in Croydon have boasted that they were showing police and “the rich” that “we can do what we want”.
“I came here to get my penny’s worth,” said a man who gave his name as Louis James, 19, a slightly built participant in the widening riots that have shaken London to its core. With a touch of guilt on Tuesday, Mr. James showed off what he described as a $195 designer sweater that he said he took during looting in Camden Town, a gentrified area of north London.
Politicians from both the right and the left, the police and most residents of the areas hit by violence nearly unanimously describe the most recent riots as criminal and anarchic, lacking even a hint of the anti-government, anti-austerity message that has driven many of the violent protests in other European countries.
But the riots also reflect the alienation and resentment of many young people in Britain, where one million people from the ages of 16 to 24 are officially unemployed, the most since the deep recession of the mid-1980s.
Don’t these politicians, police, and other observers understand that poverty and jobless *are* sociopolitical issues? Just because people are acting out of desperation or even opportunism doesn’t mean that their actions are not political. Just because someone is young and poor does not mean he or she isn’t aware that government and corporate corruption have caused much of their distress. Back to the NYT article:
In many ways, Mr. James’s circumstances are typical. He lives in a government-subsidized apartment in northern London and receives $125 in jobless benefits every two weeks, even though he says he has largely given up looking for work. He says he has never had a proper job and learned to read only three years ago. His mother can barely support herself and his stepbrothers and sisters. His father, who was a heroin addict, is dead.
He says he has been in and out of too many schools to count and left the educational system for good when he was 15.
“No one has ever given me a chance; I am just angry at how the whole system works,” Mr. James said. He would like to get a job at a retail store, but admits that he spends most days watching television and just trying to get by. “That is the way they want it,” he said, without specifying exactly who “they” were. “They give me just enough money so that I can eat and watch TV all day. I don’t even pay my bills anymore.”
Jonathan Portes, the director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research in London, says that Mr. James’s plight reflects a broader trend here. More challenging students, Mr. Portes says, have not been receiving the attention they should as teachers, under pressure to meet educational goals, focus on children from more stable homes and those with greater abilities and social skills. Disillusioned, those who cannot keep up just drop out.
The Tottenham riots that blindsided Britain were sparked by the fatal police shooting of Mark Duggan, a 29-year-old black man. Over the past few days, they’ve continued and spread, turning into what has largely become youths’ looting and destroying parts of London. But no one is exactly sure why they’re doing it. Prime Minister David Cameron called it “criminality, pure and simple.”
But why have the riots continued day after day?
The riots are neither politically or racially fueled, wrote Doug Sanders of the Globe and Mail. They’re the result of a “lost generation” of youth under 20 who have little to lose and a bleak future. Here’s an excerpt:
Whether the thousands of rioters actually did express disillusionment — some did say they were angry at police or the world, but many appeared gleeful or greedy — it is clear that most had nothing else to do with themselves, and no reason to fear or feel responsible for the consequences of their actions.
This is a chronic problem in Britain, which has a “lost generation” of young high school dropouts far larger than most other Western countries’.
It’s so simple-minded to expect that youthful rioters are going to calmly explain their behavior in a reasoned, intellectual manner or that they are not going to act euphoric once they let go of restraint and begin acting out as part of a mob. None of that means that the reasons for their behavior are not political.
It seems to me that masses of young people who have “little to lose and bleak future” is in fact a powerful political issue for any society. And when people are powerless, there are few ways for them express their anger. Violence is one way to get attention from the powerful.
Can it happen here? You bet it can. As long as the President and Congress continue enacting austerity measures and ignoring unemployment and general misery among ordinary Americans, it’s guaranteed the U.S. will see riots in the streets–as we have in the past. When it happens here, will our elites be as dumbfounded and out-of-touch with reality as those in Great Britain? Probably.
I posted this in a comment yesterday, but I’m going to put it up again here. It’s an interview of writer and broadcaster Darcus Howe by a clueless BBC “journalist.”
That’s my suggested reading for today. What do you recommend?
UPDATE: I found a piece in the Guardian that reflects my thinking.
It is essential for those in power in Britain that the riots now sweeping the country can have no cause beyond feral wickedness. This is nothing but “criminality, pure and simple”, David Cameron declared after cutting short his holiday in Tuscany. The London mayor and fellow former Bullingdon Club member Boris Johnson, heckled by hostile Londoners in Clapham Junction, warned that rioters must stop hearing “economic and sociological justifications” (though who was offering them he never explained) for what they were doing.
When his predecessor Ken Livingstone linked the riots to the impact of public spending cuts, it was almost as if he’d torched a building himself. The Daily Mail thundered that blaming cuts was “immoral and cynical”, echoed by a string of armchair riot control enthusiasts. There was nothing to explain, they’ve insisted, and the only response should be plastic bullets, water cannon and troops on the streets.
We’ll hear a lot more of that when parliament meets – and it’s not hard to see why. If these riots have no social or political causes, then clearly no one in authority can be held responsible….If this week’s eruption is an expression of pure criminality and has nothing to do with police harassment or youth unemployment or rampant inequality or deepening economic crisis, why is it happening now and not a decade ago? The criminal classes, as the Victorians branded those at the margins of society, are always with us, after all. And if it has no connection with Britain’s savage social divide and ghettoes of deprivation, why did it kick off in Haringey and not Henley?
…To refuse to recognise the causes of the unrest is to make it more likely to recur – and ministers themselves certainly won’t be making that mistake behind closed doors if they care about their own political futures.
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