Thursday Reads: Ferguson, Missouri is a War Zone

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Good Morning!!

I spent most of the day and night yesterday following the shocking events in Ferguson, Missouri. As I read articles and tweets and studied violent images of police dressed as soldiers and riding in military vehicles, I had repeated flashbacks to the Civil Rights era. Except in those days, police weren’t outfitted with surplus military equipment provided by the Federal government. Back then, the cops had to resort to fire hoses to force people off the streets; but in Ferguson, St. Louis police are equipped with MRAPs (mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles) and LRADs (long-range acoustic devices).

Ferguson isn’t a large city, and reporters on the ground estimated the size of the “crowd” at somewhere between 150 and 250 people, who were largely protesting peacefully by holding their hands in the air and chanting “Hands up. Don’t shoot.” It’s long past time for Missouri Governor Jay Nixon (a Democrat) to step in and tell the cops to calm down and put away their military toys. If he won’t take action, then President Obama should instruct Attorney General Holder to do it.

The protests follow the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a still-unnamed Ferguson policeman last Saturday afternoon. Brown “had no criminal background,” according to KDSK.com. Police claim that Brown struggled with the officer and tried to grab his gun. But that makes no sense. Why did the officer choose to stop Brown as he peacefully walked down the street with a friend? That friend, Dorian Johnson tells a different version of events.

From USA Today: Witness to Michael Brown shooting comes forward.

Dorian Johnson said he was standing inches from Brown when the shooting occurred around 1:40 p.m. Saturday. He gave his account of the shooting to KSDK-TV.

“The officer is approaching us and as he pulled up on the side of us, he didn’t say freeze, halt or anything like we were committing a crime. He said, ‘Get the F on the sidewalk.’

After Johnson said the officer thrust open the door of his patrol car, hitting the pair, Johnson said the officer grabbed Brown around the neck and tried to pull him through the window. He said Brown never tried to reach for the officer’s weapon.

“The second time he says, ‘I’ll shoot,’ a second later the gun went off and he let go,” Johnson said. “That’s how we were able to run at the same time. The first car I see, I ducked behind for because I fear for my life. I’m scared. I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t understand why this officer is shooting his weapon at us.”

According to Johnson, the officer pursued Brown and fired another shot. which struck Brown in the back. He said Brown turned and faced the officer with his hands raised.

“My friend started to tell the officer that he was unarmed and that he could stop shooting (him),” Johnson said. “Before he could get his second sentence out, the officer fired several more shots into his head and chest area. He fell dramatically into the fatal position. I did not hear once he yell freeze, stop or halt. it was just horrible to watch.”

Unfortunately for the officer who killed Brown, two more witnesses have now come forward. From CNN:

While Michael Brown appeared to tussle with an officer before he was shot dead, he didn’t enter the police cruiser as authorities claim he did, two witnesses told CNN.

The women’s accounts corroborate that of a previous witness, all three of whom said the officer fatally shot the unarmed teen.

Police have said the black 18-year-old died in a dangerous struggle after trying to grab the officer’s weapon. Not so, say the witnesses.

“It looked as if Michael was pushing off and the cop was trying to pull him in,” Tiffany Mitchell told CNN on Wednesday night.

Mitchell had driven to Ferguson to pick up another woman Piaget Crenshaw. The two women witnessed the shooting from two different angles–Mitchell from her car and Crenshaw from a building nearby.

Neither woman, who gave their statements to St. Louis County police, say they saw Brown enter the vehicle.

Instead, a shot went off, then the teen broke free, and the officer got out of the vehicle in pursuit, the women said.

“I saw the police chase him … down the street and shoot him down,” Crenshaw said. Brown ran about 20 feet.

“Michael jerks his body, as if he’s been hit,” Mitchell said.

Then he faced the officer and put his hands in the air, but the officer kept firing, both women said. He sank to the pavement.

The protests in Ferguson, a town in which the population is 2/3 black but the political leadership and police force are overwhelmingly white, are largely driven by the fact that police will not name the shooter or released the results of Brown’s autopsy, despite Missouri’s sunshine law.

August 13, 2014: A device deployed by police goes off in the street as police and protesters clash in Ferguson, Mo. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

August 13, 2014: A device deployed by police goes off in the street as police and protesters clash in Ferguson, Mo. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

From The New York Times: Anonymity in Missouri Police Shooting Fuels Frustration.

FERGUSON, Mo. — In the five days since an unarmed young black man was fatally shot by a police officer here, the selective release of information about the shooting, and especially the anonymity granted to the officer, has stoked frustrations in this largely African-American community north of St. Louis, where residents describe increasingly tense relations with the police.

The police chief, Thomas Jackson, has repeatedly declined to identify the officer, who has been put on administrative leave. But on Wednesday, the chief did offer a new detail about the shooting, which has kindled nights of racial unrest and an unyielding police response with tear gas, rubber bullets and arrests.

Jackson claims there have been threats against the police officer and he needs protection. So why not simply arrest him for murder and send his family to a safer location? Instead, Wilson called in law enforcement support from St. Louis and enabled an incredible overreaction to largely peaceful protests. From the Times article:

On Wednesday night, scores of police officers in riot gear and in armored trucks showed up to disperse protesters who had gathered on the streets near the scene of the shooting. Some officers perched atop the vehicles with their guns trained on the crowds while protesters chanted, “Hands up, don’t shoot.” A police spokesman said that some demonstrators had thrown Molotov cocktails at officers and that some had tried to set fires. The police used tear gas on demonstrators, and some protesters said rubber bullets had been fired at them. Police said one officer appeared to have suffered a broken ankle after being hit by a brick.

The police made more than 10 arrests. Among those arrested was Antonio French, a St. Louis alderman, who had been documenting the protests on social media, his wife said on Twitter.

Two reporters covering the protests also said they had been arrested inside a McDonald’s for trespassing and later released without charges or an explanation. The reporters, Wesley Lowery of The Washington Post and Ryan J. Reilly of The Huffington Post, both said they had been handled roughly by the police.

If you don’t read anything else on the events in Ferguson, read this article and look at the photos.

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More recommended stories:

Mashable: Ferguson or Iraq? Photos Unmask the Militarization of America’s Police.

As America scaled back its presence in Afghanistan and Iraq in 2012, military gear — amphibious tanks, weapons, uniforms and drones — spilled into local police arsenals. In June, an ACLU report warned of the “excessive militarization” of local law enforcement. “This has the effect of terrifying people, destroying communities and actually undermining public safety,” Kara Dansky, ACLU senior counsel, told Mashable in June.

The photos below show the heavily armed Ferguson police officers, dressed in camouflaged uniforms. They are set side-by-side with images of U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

One of the photo comparisons below. Which was taken in Ferguson and which in Iraq?

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NBC News: Michael Brown Killing: Missouri Governor to Visit as Unrest Grows in Ferguson.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said he would visit the St. Louis suburbs Thursday after police fired tear gas to break up crowds in a fourth night of civil unrest over the police killing of an unarmed black teenager.

Sixteen people were arrested, including two reporters, on Wednesday night in the suburb of Ferguson, and police said that two officers were injured, one hit by a brick, NBC affiliate KSDK reported….

Nixon said in a statement that the worsening situation in Ferguson was “deeply troubling.” He canceled a planned visit to the state fair. “While we all respect the solemn responsibility of our law enforcement officers to protect the public, we must also safeguard the rights of Missourians to peaceably assemble and the rights of the press to report on matters of public concern,” he said.

Too little, too late, IMHO.

The Baltimore Sun: Riots in Ferguson and what they mean, by Leonard Pitts.

To believe that this carnage — the windows smashed, the buildings torched, the tear gas wafting — is all about the killing of Michael Brown is to miss the point….

Because, again, this is not just about Brown. It’s about Eric Garner, choked to death in a confrontation with New York City Police. It’s about Jordan Davis, shot to death in Jacksonville, Florida, because he played his music too loud. It’s about Trayvon Martin, shot to death in Sanford, Florida, because a self-appointed neighborhood guardian judged him a thug. It’s about Oscar Grant, shot by a police officer in an Oakland, California, subway station as cellphone cameras watched. It’s about Amadou Diallo, executed in that vestibule and Abner Louima, sodomized with that broomstick. It’s about Rodney King.

And it is about the bitter sense of siege that lives in African-American men, a sense that it is perpetually open season on us.

And that too few people outside of African America really notice, much less care. People who look like you are every day deprived of health, wealth, freedom, opportunity, education, the benefit of the doubt, the presumption of innocence, life itself — and when you try to say this, even when you document it with academic studies and buttress it with witness testimony, people don’t want to hear it, people dismiss you, deny you, lecture you about white victimhood, chastise you for playing a so-called “race card.”

They choke off avenues of protest, prizing silence over justice, mistaking silence for peace. And never mind that sometimes, silence simmers like water in a closed pot on a high flame….the anger we see in Ferguson did not spring from nowhere, nor arrive, fully-formed, when Michael Brown was shot. It is the anger of people who are, as Fannie Lou Hamer famously said, sick and tired of being sick and tired.

Silence imposed on pain cannot indefinitely endure. People who are hurting will always, eventually, make themselves heard.

The only problem with Pitts’ column is that there haven’t been any actual “riots” in Ferguson yet–unless you count what the police are doing as rioting.

Riverfront Times: Watch Police in Ferguson Arrest, Tear Gas Journalists [VIDEO]

Police actions against press seem to be part of the reason Governor Jay Nixon finally decided to cut his Missouri State Fair trip short. The governor says he’ll arrive in St. Louis County Thursday morning to manage what’s increasingly becoming a volatile, violent and devastating time in St. Louis history.

SWAT officers arrested Wesley Lowery, a political reporter at TheWashington Post, and Ryan Reilly, a Huffington Post justice reporter, shortly before 7 p.m. while clearing out a McDonalds near the protests where they were working. The reporters say police asked for their identification and eventually arrested them when they weren’t leaving quickly enough.

The journalists say they were arrested without being read their Miranda writes and eventually released with nothing — no charges, no police report, no names of arresting officers. The Los Angeles Times says police only released them after their reporter alerted the chief of Ferguson Police (His response: “Oh, god,”), who then called St. Louis County Police.

Late last night, police in Ferguson also tried to order the media to shut off their cameras, and they attacked journalists from Al Jazeera and confiscated their equipment. 

Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill decided last night that it was time for her to take some action, since Governor Nixon wasn’t doing it. She will meet with Eric Holder today to discuss the Ferguson situation.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) says she has a phone call planned with Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday to discuss the situation in Ferguson, Mo., where an apparently unarmed black teenager was fatally shot by a police officer last weekend.

Amid clashes in the St. Louis suburb Wednesday night, the senator tweeted that she’s been working the phones to try to deescalate the “tense and unacceptable situation.” ….

Holder and White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett briefed President Obama Wednesday and the president will receive another briefing Thursday.

I’ll have to end there, because this post is getting way too long. I’ll post more important links in the comments. I’ll leave it to you Sky Dancers to update me on the rest of the news. I’ve been too focuses on Ferguson to pay attention to anything else. See you in the comment thread.


Thursday Reads: What Really Happened to Ibragim Todashev?

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Good Morning!!

We’re heading into a heat wave here in the Boston area. It’s supposed to be hot and humid for the next few days with temps in the high 80s or low 90s. It will be a shock to my system, since it has been rather chilly here recently.

I’m going to focus on the ongoing Boston bombing story again, but you can treat this as a regular morning reads post/open thread. Don’t feel you have to comment on this topic. I haven’t paid much attention to other news for a few days, so I hope you’ll update me on the latest news in the comment thread!

A week ago, I wrote a post about the death of Ibragim Todashev, who was shot and killed in an apartment in Orlando, FL by an FBI agent from Boston in the early hours of Wednesday May 22. Todashev was being questioned by representatives of the FBI, the Massachusetts State Police, and “other law enforcement personnel” about his relationship with deceased Boston bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev and possible connections to an unsolved 2011 triple murder in Waltham, Massachusetts. Todashev had reportedly been questioned for hours on Tuesday and was shot shortly after midnight. The FBI had been following him for about a month, calling him daily and questioning him on several different occasions.

At the time I wrote that post, there was a great deal of confusion about the circumstances of the shooting and that confusion has only increased during the past week. At first, anonymous law enforcement sources claimed Todashev had been killed after he attacked the agent with a knife. By he next day sources were walking back that claim, some saying Todashev had something in his hand but it wasn’t a knife, others suggesting it was a pipe or something similar.

I’ve been following this story closely, and I’ve never seen anything like it. Presumably, the events in question were fairly straightforward. A man was shot dead with at least four–perhaps more–law enforcement officers present. How hard would it be to figure out if the dead man had a knife in his hand or not? Something was obviously not right.

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During the past week, the reported details of the Todashev shooting have continued to change. On May 25, the Boston Globe offered a new version of events, again based on anonymous sources.

An FBI agent from the bureau’s Boston office fired the shot, or shots, that killed a friend of Boston ­Marathon bombing suspect ­Tamerlan Tsarnaev early Wednesday morning during an interview about an unsolved Waltham homicide, say officials briefed on the investigation.

Ibragim Todashev, a 27-year-old mixed martial arts fighter formerly from Allston and Cambridge, was shot in the kitchen of his apartment after overturning a table and attacking the agent with a blade, the officials said. The Globe has ­reported that the shooting came after Todashev had implicated himself in a grisly 2011 triple homicide in Waltham. ­Tamerlan Tsarnaev was friendly with one of the Waltham victims, and authorities suspect he may also have taken part in the slayings.

Two law enforcement officials said that the Boston FBI agent felt he was in grave danger when Todashev attacked him and that he fired in self-defense.

“This was a tough guy; he was a dangerous individual,” one law enforcement official said, speaking of Todashev. The official asked not to be named because the official was not ­authorized to discuss the case.

Okay, but with at least four trained law enforcement officers present, why was it necessary to kill a potentially valuable witness? Is it really credible that they couldn’t control one not very large (about 5’8″) man?

Yesterday morning there was another version. In this one, first reported by Fox Boston, Todashev not only knocked over a table, but also slammed the FBI agent’s head into a wall and attacked him with a sword. Yes, a sword. As in previous stories, the claim was that Todashev had been about to sign a confession about his involvement in the Waltham murders when things got out of control.

During the interview, investigators took notes and everything appeared to be going well. Eventually, Todashev was asked to write down, in his own handwriting and in his own words, what he had been telling authorities about his role in the murders when in the words of one source – all hell broke loose.

Todashev allegedly began writing, but then flipped a table over, knocking the Boston FBI agent into the wall hitting his head.

FOX 25’s Bob Ward was told the agent looked up to see Todashev waving in his direction what was described as a Banzai ceremonial sword.

Fearing for his life, the FBI agent drew his weapon and fatally shot Todashev. The entire incident taking only seconds.

During the course of the day, the story continued to change as more anonymous “sources” weighed in. WESH Orlando’s “sources” told a slight different tale than Fox Boston’s.

Sources said Todashev might have been lunging toward a sword, but he was not in possession of it.

Law enforcement officials said Todashev was in the process of confessing to a 2011 triple murder in Waltham, Mass., and was working on writing out the details of the crime when he snapped and turned violent.

Officials said Todashev pushed a table and possibly threw a chair.

Sources said a sword was inside the apartment, but the weapon was moved to the corner of the room before questioning began. Law enforcement said when Todashev lunged, the FBI agent believed he could have possibly been going for his gun or the sword in the room, and that’s when the agent opened fire.

Because of course the best law enforcement technique is to move any sharp objects to the corner of the room before questioning a suspect? WTF?!

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Finally, last night several news outlets–among them The Washington Post–reported that Todashev had been unarmed when he was shot.

One law enforcement official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation, said Wednesday that Todashev lunged at the agent and overturned a table. But the official said Todashev did not have a gun or a knife. A second official also said Todashev was unarmed.

An official said that according to one account of the shooting, the other law enforcement officials had just stepped out of the room, leaving the FBI agent alone with Todashev, when the confrontation occurred.

The shooting followed hours of questioning by the law enforcement officials that had begun the night before.

And exactly why did the other officers “step out of the room?” The source doesn’t say.

This story is becoming just plain ridiculous, and as Emptywheel wrote yesterday, it makes the FBI look just plain stupid. Last night on twitter, someone compared it to the old “Get Smart” recurring bit, “Would you believe…”

But as ridiculous as this story seems, we need to understand that something like this could happen to any one of us. A man was killed in an apartment with multiple law enforcement officers present, and after more than a week, we still don’t know for sure what happened.

At 7PM yesterday, the Florida chapter of the Council on Islamic-American Relations (CAIR) held a press conference with Todashev’s wife, her mother, and a close friend of Todashev’s in attendance and called for the Department of Justice to initiate a civil rights investigation of the shooting.

[T]he Tampa director of that group said not only was 27-year-old Ibragim Todashev unarmed when he was shot by the agent May 22, he was hit seven times, including once in the head….the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Florida chapter on Wednesday cited unnamed sources within the FBI as saying Todashev was not armed at the time of the shooting.

“We did confirm today with sources within the FBI that he was unarmed,” CAIR-Tampa Executive Director Hassan Shibly told the Orlando Sentinel on Wednesday afternoon. Later, Shibly told reporters that CAIR has an “intermediary” who said the FBI told him Todashev was unarmed. Shibly did not identify the intermediary.

At a news conference Wednesday evening, Shibly showed what he said were photos of Todashev’s body after the shooting. The photos were taken at an Orlando funeral home after the Orange-Osceola County Medical Examiner’s office released the body to Todashev’s next of kin, he said.

The photographer was Khusen Taramov — a friend of Todashev’s who lives in Kissimmee — and photos show at least a dozen wounds, although some may have been exit wounds, Shibly said.

In addition, Todashev’s widow Reniya Manukyan claimed that she has evidence to show that her husband could not have committed the murders in Waltham in September 2011.

Todashev’s widow said Wednesday that she has records proving her husband was with her in Atlanta on Sept. 11, 2011, so he could not have been in Massachusetts on the day of the triple killing. Manukyan was married to Todashev for about three years, she said.

In another interaction on Twitter last night Boston Globe reporter Wesley Lowery told me he wasn’t ready to accept the latest version of events until he can independently confirm it from official sources. His reporting on the Boston bombing generally and the Todashev story specifically has been very good, and I’ll be watching to see what he finds out.

Once again, I’ve used up most of my space on a Boston bombing story, but I still have room for a few more quick links, with an emphasis on law enforcement and civil liberties.

Cory Doctorow: Kafka, meet Orwell: peek behind the scenes of the modern surveillance state. At the link you can watch a short, powerful documentary about public surveillance in the UK.

Rob Fischer at The New Yorker: Watching the Detectives–a piece about “Floyd v. Floyd v. City of New York, a landmark challenge to the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policies.”

NYT: Former Bush Official Said to Be Obama Pick to Lead F.B.I. Obama is about to nominate James Comey as FBI Director–a man who was in the Bush DOJ during the torture deliberations.

Emptywheel: When NYT Accused Jim Comey of Approving Torture

Holder Faces New Round of Criticism After Leak Inquiries

HuffPo: Eric Holder To Meet With Washington Bureau Chiefs Amid Leak Investigation Criticism (UPDATE)

Politico: N.Y. Times will not attend DOJ session, citing opposition to off-the-record provision

Buzzfeed: ACLU Defends News Organizations For Rejecting Off-The-Record Meeting With Attorney General

And another Boston link: Dirty Old Boston Facebook page shows the city as it really was

Now it’s your turn. What are you reading and blogging about today?