A Grand Jury decision is imminent in the Michael Brown shooting case in Ferguson, Missouri. For the past couple of weeks the media has been full of reports of how police departments in the St. Louis area are preparing for what they predict will be violent protests.
The general assumption is that Ferguson police officer, who killed Brown at about noon on August 9, will not be charged. The simple truth is that white police officer who kill black people are rarely charged and almost never convicted. Furthermore, the LA Times reports that law enforcement officers who kill citizens in Missouri are given “wide latitude.”
Missouri law provides wide latitude for police to use deadly force, particularly if the officer believes it’s necessary to protect his or her safety or the safety of others.
But that law might not shield Wilson. “If Michael Brown was trying to surrender at the time, that makes this defense not applicable,” Washington University law professor Peter Joy said. “So the question is: Was Michael Brown clearly trying to surrender at the time that the fatal gunshots were fired?”
Several witnesses who saw the shooting reported that Brown’s hands were in the air when Darren Wilson shot and killed him, but, as far as I can tell, most media sources recently have changed the narrative to the police version–not based on direct observation–in which Wilson supposedly feared for his life because the unarmed Brown “charged” at him after being hit with at least two bullets.
There is another investigation by the Justice Department into whether Darren Wilson violated Michael Brown’s civil rights, but
Joy said a federal indictment seemed unlikely, at least according to the publicly reported accounts of the shooting thus far.
“That would require that Officer Wilson intentionally planned or intentionally meant to violate the civil rights — that is, take the life of — Michael Brown because of his race,” Joy said.
The media narrative has gradually been revised since August, when we saw what were essentially police riots in which Ferguson and St. Louis police used military surplus equipment to control peaceful protesters and reporters and photographers who were covering events on the ground. Now we’re repeatedly being told that Brown was the aggressor, with the unwritten implication that he deserved to die. Back in August, some law enforcement officers threatened to kill protesters and even arrested numerous members of the media who were simply doing their jobs. But that’s all forgotten now. Now the corporate media appears to be fully behind the Ferguson and St. Louis police; and both the police and the media are preparing for what they expect–and apparently hope–will be violent and dangerous riots.
Since the Grand Jury decision may come very soon, I thought I’d gather the latest updates on this important story for today’s post. I’ll admit up front that I’m not an nonpartisan observer in this case.
First, the LA Times article I linked to above has a good summary of the two sides to the story of the shooting, Back Story: What happened in Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Mo.?
Also from the LA Times, a report of Missouri Governor Jay Nixon’s recent announcement about government preparations for what he apparently assumes will be riots, National Guard on call if Ferguson grand jury decision triggers violence.
The National Guard will be ready to assist law enforcement in Missouri if unrest erupts after a grand jury announces whether to indict a white police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black man in Ferguson, Gov. Jay Nixon announced Tuesday.
“Violence will not be tolerated,” Nixon said at a news conference with officials from the Missouri State Highway Patrol, St. Louis County police and St. Louis Metropolitan police. The governor said the agencies would form a unified command to deal with protests. “Residents and businesses of this region will be protected,” Nixon said….
Nixon said that the rights of peaceful protesters would be respected but that officials would have no tolerance for violent agitation. “Our dual pillars here are safety and speech,” Nixon said in the televised news conference from St. Louis. The National Guard, he said, would be available “when we determine it is necessary to support local law enforcement.”
Nixon added: “The world is watching.”
Nixon did not say whether there have been any efforts to diffuse anger on the part of local police officers or prevent more police overreactions to peaceful protests.
The story also quoted St. Louis police chief Jon Belmar.
“The community is on edge. … There is a large sense of anxiety out there. This is a little unprecedented,” St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar told reporters in a televised news conference. Belmar added: “If you talk to chiefs around the country [as I have], they’re concerned and prepared for this to perhaps lap into their communities also.”
Gee, I wonder why? Could it be because police shootings of unarmed black men are so common in this country? Belmar also defended the use of military equipment to control protests.
Belmar defended the agency’s response by saying that such gear was necessary for his officers’ protection and pointed out that no protesters lost their lives during August’s demonstrations, which were occasionally marred by looting and gunshots. “My goodness, could we be that fortunate moving forward?” Belmar said of the absence of fatalities.
The St. Louis County Police Department has spent about $120,000 to replenish equipment such as shields, batons, tear gas and flex handcuffs after weeks of unrest in the aftermath of the shooting depleted supplies and damaged equipment.
Here are some recent examples of white policemen shooting unarmed black men:
The New Republic, A Dash Cam Didn’t Stop This White Officer From Shooting an Unarmed Black Man (fortunately, this officer was arrested and charged. Whether he’ll be convicted or not, we don’t know yet)
Mother Jones, August 13, 2014, 4 Unarmed Black Men Have Been Killed By Police in the Last Month.
Here’s piece on this subject by Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart, The terrifying police shootings of unarmed black men.
One of the burdens of being a black male is carrying the heavy weight of other people’s suspicions. One minute you’re going about your life, the next you could be pleading for it, if you’re lucky. That’s what happened to Trayvon Martin in February 2012 and Michael Brown last month. And two other recent shootings add further proof that no standard of conduct, it seems, is too good or too mundane to protect a black man’s life particularly from a police officer’s bullet.
John Crawford III was talking on his cell phone in the Beavercreek, Ohio, Wal-Mart and carrying an unloaded BB air rifle he picked up in the superstore on Aug. 5. “There is a gentleman walking around with a gun in the store,” Ronald Ritchie told the 911 operator. “Yeah, he’s, like, pointing at people….He’s looking around, waving it, waving it back and forth….He looked like he was trying to load it. I don’t know.” Fair warning: As the graphic video shows, Crawford was shot and killed by police. Ritchie has since changed his account of what happened.
You can watch the video at the link. Capehart also discusses the Brown case and the case in South Carolina (story linked above).
Levar Jones was pulled over for a seat-belt violation by now-former South Carolina state trooper Sean Groubert on Sept. 4. Thanks to the startling and graphic dashcam video we get to see every African American’s worst nightmare unfold in seconds….
Groubert asks Jones, “Can I see your license, please?” Jones, who was standing outside his car at the gas station convenience store, turned and reached inside to retrieve it. “Get out of the car! Get out of the car!” Groubert shouts before opening fire on Jones at point-blank range. After being hit in the hip, Jones can be seen moving backwards away from his car with his hands in the air as two more shots ring out.
Instead of using these recent cases to highlight and deal with the problem of police shootings of unarmed people, it seems that local and state governments like those in Missouri are simply doubling down on the people who protest them. I’m really concerned that all the talk of “riots” being inevitable in Ferguson is going to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Caitlin Dickson of The Daily Beast reports that at least one expert agrees with me: Riot Prep Could Fuel Ferguson Violence.
Despite a concerted police effort to quell demonstrations, protesters have carried on consistently and, for the most part, calmly since Brown’s death at the hands of police officer Darren Wilson this past August. But the impending grand jury decision on whether Wilson will be indicted in Brown’s death—and leaks of evidence suggesting he won’t—has law enforcement, residents, and business owners preparing for violence on the streets.
In addition to Missouri Governor Jay Nixon’s announcement on Tuesday that the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the St. Louis Metropolitan police, and the St. Louis County police will join forces (with the National Guard on standby) in handling demonstrations following the grand jury decision, almost every national news organization—from CNN to The New York Times, the Associated Press and Reuters—has reported that Ferguson residents and business owners have been taking matters into their own hands. Gun sales are up, local gun-shop owners told reporters. People like Dan McMullen, whose insurance agency is located near a spot where the few instances of vandalism and looting took place following Brown’s death, was quoted by both the New York Times and CNN as saying he’s stocking up on guns in case of a riot….
Despite Governor Nixon’s declarations that “violence will not be tolerated” and “residents and businesses of this region will be protected,” some experts wonder whether all the emphasis on preparedness—from the $120,000 spent by the St. Louis County Police on riot gear to the sudden demand for guns—may do more harm than good.
“I don’t think this is the way we should be thinking about what might happen,” American University professor Cathy Schneider told The Daily Beast. Instead, Schneider, who is an expert on social movements and racial tensions, argues that what we should be thinking about is, ‘how do we convince a community that the police will act to serve them, that the justice system will defend their interests, and that the verdict will be just?” [….]
“If one side is buying guns and preparing, what do you think the other people are doing, who think those guns are going to be used against them?” Schneider asked. Instead of acknowledging that Ferguson’s black community “is in pain and wondering whether justice will be done,” Schneider said, such intense preparation sends the message that “we think your community is dangerous and we’re armed and prepared to kill you.”
It also doesn’t help that Ferguson police chief Tom Jackson–who should have been fired by now–has announced that Darren Wilson, the man who killed Michael Brown, will be welcomed back to the local force if he isn’t indicted by the Grand Jury.
Here’s an excellent op-ed by Mary Sanchez of the Kansas City Star: The fire next time … may engulf Ferguson, Mo.
By every indication — from both the street and civic offices — Ferguson, Missouri is expected to blow.
The grand jury decision on whether a white police officer will be charged in the shooting death of an unarmed 18-year-old black man could come any day. Many are expecting no indictment of the officer, no criminal charges alleging that he went too far the day Michael Brown died.
If that’s the outcome, God help us all. Keeping the lid on the public reaction will be a gargantuan task.
Of course local leaders fed the outrage from the very beginning by trying to protect Darren Wilson and by leaving Michael Brown’s body lying exposed in the street for four hours.
Sanchez refers back to the riots in Los Angeles in 1965 as well as those in 1992 after the failure to indict police who beat Rodney King within an inch of his life. Why don’t government leaders deal with the root problems at work in these cases?
In Watts nearly 50 years ago the name was Marquette Frye, not Michael Brown. Frye, 21, was pulled over in a traffic stop, suspected of being drunk. When other family members arrived, a fight broke out with police. Word spread, alleging police had over-reacted.
For six days people rioted. There were 34 deaths, more than 1,000 people injured, $40 million in property damage and more than 1,000 buildings were destroyed.
In 1992, the person at the center was Rodney King. He’d led police on a high-speed car chase, fleeing after fearing that his probation would be revoked from a robbery conviction. When he finally was stopped, what happened next shocked the nation. The video of the officers assaulting King without mercy when they could have simply handcuffed him was played over and over on television.
When those officers weren’t indicted, the city erupted again. This time, 53 people died, more than 2,000 were injured, the property damage was pegged at $1 billion and another 1,000 buildings were destroyed.
In both cases, commissions were formed and good people went to work unraveling how one incident could ignite such violence. The underlying causes were found to be similar despite the nearly 30 years that had passed: the burdens of poor education, lack of jobs, poverty, racial tensions, and inferior housing and transportation.
Sanchez goes on to recommend changes that local and state governments will most likely either ignore or respond to with lip service.
We’ve seen over the past several years that virulent racism is alive and well in this country, and we simply are not dealing with it.
This nation was founded on the enslavement of black people, and despite the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, efforts to desegregate schools, and affirmative action, black people are still treated as second class citizens by many Americans. A number of states have even instituted voter ID laws that essentially act as poll taxes did in the Jim Crow era to keep black people from voting, and the Supreme Court has affirmed the right of states to do this.
We are now on the verge of another flashpoint in the history of race conflicts in our country–the possibility of violence following a failure to punish Darren Wilson for essentially ignoring the humanity of black teenager Michael Brown.
When will it end?
A few more reads to check out if you’re interested:
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Protesters prepare for the worst in Ferguson.
Fellowship of Reconciliation, Ferguson Under Indictment.
Juan Williams at Fox News, Are liberal news outlets begging for a race riot in Ferguson?
Michael Martinez at CNN, Ferguson case raises question: Where’s the data on officer-involved killings?
Christian Science Monitor, Ferguson verdict: Why St. Louis schools will know first.
AP via Boston Globe, Churches prepare for possible Ferguson unrest
What stories are you following today? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread, and have a great weekend.
President Obama is meeting with other NATO leaders in Newport, Wales today, and the focus of meetings will be Russia’s encroachment into Ukraine and how to deal with it. The Christian Science Monitor reports: NATO members gather in Wales with Russia at the top of the agenda.
Russia faced harsh criticism at the start of a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit in Wales today with the 28 member state alliance reevaluating its security role in Europe amid the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance continues to witness “Russian involvement in destabilizing the situation in eastern Ukraine” even after Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed a seven-point peace plan. Russia maintains it has not armed rebels in eastern Ukraine or contributed to the conflict there.
Early reports from the summit suggest NATO leaders are set to agree to create “rapid reaction” forces that could be deployed in less than two days to regional crisis spots. Countries close to Russia, especially Poland, have called for NATO to permanently station troops on their territory, but Reuters reports this is unlikely to happen because it would break a 1997 agreement the alliance made with Russia.
As the Monitor reported, the creation of rapid response forces wouldthrust the United States into the center of any future conflict.
Terrific. Supposedly, Russian president Vladimir Putin in proposing a cease-fire, but he’s offering few specifics. From The New York Times: Putin Lays Out Proposal to End Ukraine Conflict.
Mr. Putin’s peace plan, jotted out during a plane ride over Siberia, muddied the diplomatic waters, leaving the West an excuse for delaying punitive sanctions that would also hurt European economies on the verge of a new recession. And it was expected to have some appeal to war-weary Ukrainians.
The ultimate effect, coming after Russian troops intervened in Ukraine last week to beat back a successful government offensive, may be to leave the country as a loose coalition that Moscow could still dominate, which critics of the Russian president say is his real aim.
It is being called a “seven-point plan,” but according to the Times,
Mr. Putin’s plan seemed to raise more questions than it answered. First, there was no mechanism for implementation. Second, just hours earlier, his own spokesman had repeated the Russian position, widely criticized as implausible, that Moscow could not negotiate a cease-fire because it was not a direct party to the conflict.
Analysts suggested that Mr. Putin’s strategy is to convince Kiev that it must negotiate, not fight, and to reinforce the idea that the overall outcome depended on Moscow.
“Russia wants to show that it is in command of what is happening,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of a prominent Russian foreign policy journal. “For Russia, it is important first to prevent the Ukrainians from thinking that they could win militarily, and to accept the separatist leaders as partners in negotiations.”
A few more headlines and opinions:
Al Jazeera: NATO summit to highlight unity against Russia.
Wall Street Journal: As Leaders Meet for NATO Summit, Alliance Says Russian Troops Still Active in Ukraine.
Foreign Policy: NATO’s Make or Break Moment (opinion).
Bloomberg: NATO Shifts Aim From Waterloo to East as Russia Menaces (opinion).
European Central Bank News
The European Central Bank’s Mario Draghi finally decided to try to do something about Europe’s horrible economic situation. From the NYT: European Central Bank to Start Asset Purchases After Further Rate Cut.
FRANKFURT — Bolstering a surprise interest rate cut on Thursday, the European Central Bank will soon begin buying packages of bank loans in an effort to stimulate lending in the faltering eurozone economy.
The move is unprecedented, but appears to fall short of the broad, large-scale asset purchases advocated by many economists to prevent stagnation in the eurozone.
The central bank said that in October it would begin buying asset-backed securities, bundles of loans issued by banks to businesses and households. The central bank will also buy covered bonds, Mario Draghi, the E.C.B. president said. Covered bonds are similar to asset-backed securities, in that they also are made up of bank loans.
Perhaps more significantly, Mr. Draghi said that the central bank’s governing council was ready to take further measures if needed — a clear reference to quantitative easing, or broad-based purchases of government bonds or other assets.
Mr. Draghi did not say how much the central bank would spend buying asset-backed securities and covered bonds, adding that there was not yet enough information on the size of the market. He said the central bank would buy existing and new assets including residential and corporate loans. He said the purchases would be “significant,” if still short of a level considered quantitative easing.
Marketwatch: U.S. stocks open up after ECB rate cut.
Ferguson Civil Rights Investigation
As we heard yesterday, the Justice Department will likely announce today that it is launching a civil rights investigation of the Ferguson, Missouri Police Department.
From The Washington Post: Justice Dept. to probe Ferguson police force.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. this week will launch a broad civil rights investigation into the Ferguson, Mo., Police Department, according to two federal law enforcement officials.
The investigation, which could be announced as early as Thursday afternoon, will be conducted by the Justice Department’s civil rights division and follow a process similar to that used to investigate complaints of profiling and the use of excessive force in other police departments across the country, the officials said.
The federal officials said the probe will look not only at Ferguson but also at other police departments in St. Louis County. Some, like Ferguson, are predominantly white departments serving majority-African-American communities, and at least one department invited the Justice Department to look at its practices. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the pending inquiry.
The investigation is in addition to a Justice Department probe into whether Officer Darren Wilson, who fired the fatal shots, violated Brown’s civil rights. The new probe will look more broadly at whether the department employed policies and practices that resulted in a pattern of civil rights violations.
The Washington Post reported Saturday that five current and one former member of the Ferguson police force face pending federal lawsuits claiming they used excessive force. The lawsuits, as well as more than a half-dozen internal investigations, include claims that individual officers separately hog-tied a 12-year-old boy who was checking his family mailbox, pistol-whipped children and used a stun gun on a mentally ill man who died as a result.
More from The New York Times: Justice Dept. Inquiry to Focus on Practices of Police in Ferguson.
Ferguson’s police chief, Thomas Jackson, said in an interview on Wednesday night that he would welcome the investigation.
“We’ve been doing everything we can to become a professional police department and a professional city,” he said. “We have no intentional policies or procedures which discriminated or violated civil rights. But if we have anything there which may unintentionally do that, we need to know about it.”
Chief Jackson said he met with Justice Department officials on Wednesday afternoon and discussed the broader investigation. “Obviously, we have gaps. And any help we can get to help fill those gaps and to make ourselves stronger, we welcome,” he said.
What a crock of sh&t that is! I’ll just bet Jackson is thrilled about the Justice Department probe into his joke of a police force. Wouldn’t you love to hear what he’s saying privately?
In the Ferguson case, the Justice Department will conduct what it calls a “pattern or practice” investigation, with officials looking for evidence that the police have repeatedly violated residents’ civil rights. Such inquiries have been one of the Justice Department’s preferred tactics in addressing accusations of police misconduct.
Rabid Bobcat Attacks
Here’s a strange story I came across yesterday in The Boston Globe: Rabid Bobcat Spent Labor Day Weekend in Conn. Attacking People.
What’s worse than stumbling upon an angry bobcat on your nightly walk with your newborn daughter? Stumbling upon an angry, rabid bobcat on your nightly walk with your newborn daughter.
That’s what happened to Summer and Tom Berube last Sunday. The Lebanon, CT, couple were taking their evening walk with their infant daughter, Neeve, when a bobcat approached them.
According to NECN, the bobcat hissed and ran towards Tom, who was carrying his baby. Tom yanked a mailbox out of the ground and used it to defend his family, knocking the animal down when it leapt at him. Summer, meanwhile, said she “was just screaming at the top of my lungs for help.”
That help soon came from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, which had already been alerted to the presence of an aggressive bobcat in the area. On Saturday, a woman in the neighboring Connecticut town of Bozrah was attacked by a bobcat while feeding her chickens. She was scratched and bitten, but quickly taken to a local hospital for treatment. If caught early enough, a postexposure vaccination prevents the disease from spreading.
I had no idea there were bobcats running around in New England, but according The Hartford Courant, although sightings are rare, “Bobcats are common in Connecticut and are found in every town. They can weigh as much as 40 pounds, but rarely interact with people and rarely have rabies, DEEP said.”
They Shall Be Released
Maybe you’re wondering why I’ve illustrated this post with photos of Bob Dylan. In 1968, I bought a two-record album in a plain white cover that was being sold by a street hawker in Harvard Square. I learned this morning from Wikipedia that it was known as “The Great White Wonder,” but either I didn’t know that then or I’ve forgotten. The recording was a bootleg of Bob Dylan’s so-called “basement tapes,” recorded in Woodstock, NY, with backup from The Band. Later, in 1975, a selection of the songs they had recorded was released as a studio album.
Anyway, the basement tapes are back in the news, because they are all going to be released as a 6-CD set.
The Guardian reports: Bob Dylan to share full Basement Tapes.
Bob Dylan is sharing the rest of his Basement Tapes. Four decades after the singer released 24 songs under that title – cuts he recorded with the Band in upstate New York – his label have agreed to unveil 114 more tracks from the same 1967 sessions.
“Some of this stuff is mind-boggling,” Sid Griffin, author of the set’s liner notes,told Rolling Stone. Packaged under the title The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11, the six-CD set incorporates alternate versions of Blowin’ In The Wind and It Ain’t Me Babe, covers of tunes by Johnny Cash and Curtis Mayfield, and at least 30 tracks that Rolling Stone claims “even fanatical Dylan fans never knew existed”. A shorter, two-disc compilation, The Basement Tapes Raw, will present 12 of the unreleased tracks alongside the original LP.
Almost all of this material was harvested from reel-to-reel tape: 20 tapes in all, which the Band’s Garth Hudson kept stored in his Woodstock home. Jan Haust, a Toronto-based collector, acquired the archive about 10 years ago; he worked with Dylan’s reps to find a way to put them out. Although a few tapes were allegedly missing, and a handful of recordings “just [sounded] like a distortion”, everything else is making its way to the public. “We usually curate these packages more, but we knew the fans would be disappointed if we didn’t put out absolutely everything,” an unnamed Dylan source told Rolling Stone.
Fans of The Basement Tapes have always known that there was unreleased material. There have been several expanded, bootleg editions over the years, and musicians have even turned their attention to Dylan’s unreleased Basement Tapes-era lyrics. Earlier this year, T Bone Burnett collaborated with Marcus Mumford, Elvis Costello and others to record their own versions of his incomplete songs. “The stuff that people haven’t heard justifies, in every way, shape and form, all the hype, hubris and myth that surrounds these tapes,” Griffin promised.
USA Today has published a list of all the songs on the album to be released in November.
So . . . what else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread, and have a tremendous Thursday!