Saturday, August 30, 2014

What Happened in Ferguson

Foreword: I am so busy with the events in the Ukraine that I barely had the time to follow the events in Ferguson so I will readily admit that I have no opinion about it.  I do have quite a few opinions about race-relations in the USA, including some rather politically incorrect ones (I don't consider US Blacks either as either Africans or Americans, for example).  While I lived in Washington DC (from 1986-1991) at the time of Marion Barry and I often found myself on the receiving end of Black racism and yet I consider Malcolm X the greatest "American" (in quotation because he never considered himself "American" and neither do I) in the history of the USA and one of my personal heroes.  I now  live in the South (though one could argue that Florida is culturally north of the Carolinas) where I have African and local Black friends tell me very interesting stories about how it feels to be Black and have your car pulled over by a cop.  I find the issue of race relations in the USA absolutely fascinating if tragic, but right now is not the time for me to deal with this issue.  But one day, if somebody is interested, I might.  Right now, the Russian Team has requested articles about the events in Ferguson and one of the best ones was written up by Nora.  Now, full disclosure and warning: I consider Nora as a personal friend and a wise and kind lady, don't you even think of posting something ugly if you disagree with her.  You are more than welcome to criticize and disagree, but make darn sure it is substantive and respectful towards Nora. Second, while race is most definitely an issue in the USA, any racist post will immediately go to the trash.  Criticize Blacks or Whites as a social group if you want, or White or Black organizations, but do not use any argument which implies that a member of race X has his/her free will restricted by his ethnicity or which lumps all the individual people into one. Deal?

The Saker

What Happened in Ferguson

Setting The Stage

To set the stage for what happened in Ferguson, it would probably be helpful to understand a bit about how the deck has been stacked against people of color in the United States.  Although slavery officially ended in 1863, it was ultimately replaced in the South by not only the state-sponsored terrorism of Jim Crow but unofficial re-enslavement via both the sharecropping system and arrest on trumped-up charges leading to unpaid labor on prison chain gangs. The Civil Rights Era brought an end to the worst of this but the War on Drugs ensured that African Americans continue to be arrested and imprisoned at more than twice the rate of whites for similar offenses even though drug usage is about the same for both groups.  And outrageously underpaid prison labor in for-profit private prisons is now replacing what little remains of American manufacturing.

Richard Nixon augmented white resentment in the way he "resolved" the implementation of Brown vs. The Board, the landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision on school desegregation, because he shrewdly realized that working-class white Democrats, North and South, would happily become Republicans if the Republican Party "took their side" on the issue.  The end result of that was that re-segregation occurred and black schools are now once again under-funded, with poorer facilities, out-of-date and sometimes even *no* books (!), and generally much worse teachers.  I.e., not much has really changed at all in terms of education either.

Worse yet, although blacks once lived in all areas of this country, beginning in the third quarter of the 19th century, they were herded into the cities and literally forbidden to be in many towns after dark.  And the parts of the cities they live in generally have far worse services -- less frequent garbage pick-up or snow-removal, streets and street lights not well-maintained -- but still very high rents, especially considering the quality of the housing.  Ostensibly these problems were to have ended with the passage of various Civil Rights laws but again, not really.  Redlining is an ongoing process by which blacks are prevented from buying homes in certain areas by making it far more difficult to obtain mortgages and setting higher interest rates for them than whites with similar qualifications.  Given that home ownership is generally the primary source of wealth for most American families, this arena too has been closed off to most African Americans.  And finally, jobs: given two candidates equally qualified for a position, the African American is significantly less likely to be hired.

White attitudes meanwhile have not shown much improvement either.  This is in part due to Nixon's Southern Strategy for re-empowering the Republican Party, and in part due to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush's deliberate race-baiting (and vote-getting) strategies, including deliberately trumping up white fears of black violence and lying about the extent of welfare fraud by blacks.  But the Democrats, frightened at their loss of white voters, weren't much better:  Bill Clinton's Welfare Reform hurt a lot of innocent people, white and black, because he too wanted to look tough on black crime -- which had actually been declining -- while ignoring the serious and far more expensive crimes of wealthy whites.  Another factor here is due to the relative isolation of whites from blacks:  it's far easier to remain afraid of people you never get to know, especially if the media commentators you trust keep filling you with stereotypes instead of telling the truth.  And make no mistake about it:  the most prejudiced whites are also the most frightened whites.  Sadly, it is not only to the benefit of the Republican Party to keep them that way but, because few blacks vote Republican, the Democratic Party really doesn't have to work very hard to get the black vote  -- so they don't much bother either.  So it's a truly lose-lose situation there too. 

Now for the police.  Racial profiling and police brutality have always been a fact of life for people of color in this country.  This stems in part from the fact that traditionally the people recruited to be policemen have been quite likely to view blacks as inherently inferior, dangerous and more likely to be criminal.  Gun use is deeply ingrained in American culture, and those who hold such racist views are particularly likely to see their guns as essential for personal safety and the only real way to maintain public order.  It should also be noted that fears of a black insurrection as well as the desire to conserve one's human property led quite early to the formation of armed paramilitary slave patrols throughout the South, a primary reason for both the inclusion and peculiar wording of the Second Amendment. The growth of the American gun lobby over the past 25 years has both fed upon and reinforced these views but in point of fact, parents in the black community have traditionally had to sit their pre-teen children down for the rite of passage known as "The Talk", in which they're given very specific instructions on how to behave with sufficient meekness and submission to, hopefully, remain alive.  

However, the over-militarization of local police -- up to and including official instructions to consider and respond to non-violent protesters as terrorists -- is a disturbing new trend. The Department of Homeland Security has been a huge profit-making venture for the Military Industrial Complex, both in terms of providing taxpayer-funded grants to local police and fire departments ostensibly to protect us from terror attacks but in fact to ensure that items no longer needed for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq could be sold somewhere.  So now the tiniest rural fire departments have armoured vehicles they can hardly afford to fuel, and local police have the latest in military equipment and Mossad training inculcating in them a genuine terror of the population -- i.e., us -- they are paid with our tax dollars to protect.

A commenter on the English version of this blog who lives in a Washington DC suburb recently called her local police department about a possible fraud case which ordinarily would have required simple fact-finding by a single detective.  Instead, a fully-armed five-man SWAT team arrived at the wrong address, ready to fire.  These events are increasingly common across the board, with innocent people of every age and color and sometimes even their pets being brutalized and/or murdered at traffic stops, in clearly non-violent situations in their own homes when simple medical or other assistance had been requested or again the police burst into the wrong home, and/or the simply because the policeman did not feel his (often quite arbitrary and illegal) orders were being sufficiently obeyed. There is also considerable  evidence to suggest poor screening for excess violence or poor behavioral controls, previous job infractions of this sort and/or drug and alcohol abuse among applicants for police work.

Add in a "normal" quantity of southern racism (also quite present in the North, of course, reinvigorated by Sarah Palin and deliberately amplified by various rightwing media in efforts to get Republicans out to vote), a large group of African Americans recently moved from the inner city to one of the few areas they were begrudgingly allowed to enter, and a town whose second-largest source of operating revenues comes from the fines and fees paid by African Americans disproportionately targeted for traffic stops and other low level offenses  and yes, Ferguson was a recipe for disaster.  The event itself though, while hardly atypical, is in some ways less interesting than its aftermath, which provides almost a Rohrschach test for America's people, media and governance at this point in time.

The Event

The evidence on which all parties agree is that Michael Brown was an unarmed 18-year-old highly regarded by his teachers who wanted to start his own business and had no criminal record.  He was shot and killed by Ferguson, MO police officer Darren Wilson while walking with a friend to visit his grandmother at approximately noon on Sunday, August 9, 2014, just two days before he was due to start college.  There is no police video of the shooting although an audiotape of several shots appears legitimate and many eyewitness tweets and a later video of Brown's body are also on record; nevertheless, many details of the incident remain unclear. What can be stated without dispute is that Wilson stopped the two teens and ordered them with rather questionable legality to get off the street and onto the sidewalk; accounts differ as to how hostile this confrontation was or whether Brown remained on the street, was pulled by Wilson towards or into the car or was at some point actually in the car assaulting Wilson as later claimed by the police. It is fairly well established, however, that Wilson was seated in his car when he first shot at Brown and his friend through the open car window but missed as they fled.  He then got out of his car, fired again at Brown and continued to shoot multiple rounds after the teen turned around with his hands up, ultimately killing him with a shot in the head as he fell. What happened next is like plate tectonics or watching a Greek tragedy unfold.

The Aftermath

Not trusting the hostile and overwhelmingly white power structure in Ferguson, Brown's family requested a private autopsy by a former NYC forensic pathologist; his results showed nine gunshot wounds (four on the right arm, three on the head and two on the chest) suggesting he had been shot at least six times though not from very close range since there was no gunshot residue on the body.   However, the full findings from the official autopsy by the St. Louis County medical examiner's office have not been made public, so the presence of any residue on Brown's clothing or in Wilson's car remains uncertain. The Justice Department was also asked to conduct an autopsy, though it is highly doubtful that additional information can be obtained. 

Michael Brown's body lay in the street for four hours afterwards at police insistence, Wilson's name was not revealed for another week and although the Ferguson Police Department filed an incident report on 8/15 alleging that Brown and his friend had committed a robbery just before he was killed, it took the department another full week to file even a highly-abbreviated report of his murder. It was acknowledged, however, that Wilson had no knowledge of the robbery at the time he ordered Brown off the street.  

Meanwhile, when the police finally allowed people to access the site of his death, Brown's family and other residents placed flowers and candles over the bloodstains on the street.  At that point, in gestures of contempt quite familiar to people who had lived through Jim Crow, one policeman let his dog urinate on the memorial and others re-blocked the street from cars and then deliberately drove their cars over the candles and flowers, scattering the petals, ruining the memorial and deeply horrifying the already shocked, grieving people.

Over the next few nights the unarmed mourners and protesters grew increasingly restless and perhaps a dozen of them began looting and vandalizing and set one business on fire. Accustomed to enforced deference but at this point genuinely afraid they might have a riot on their hands, the police refused to acknowledge any culpability, attempted with questionable veracity to place the entire blame on Brown, and responded to the protesters according to the Mossad training provided their chief.  This included riot gear, SWAT team tactics and helicopters the first night, followed by tear gas, wooden pellets, rubber bullets, smoke bombs, and flash grenades. The results were about as predicted, the governor intervened, steps were taken to calm things down, more people protested, the situation gained national attention, the media took their accustomed positions along predetermined political fault lines, the police over-reacted again, the intensity ebbed and flowed, the National Guard were called in, many people were roughed up, threatened and arrested, including several journalists, and statements by the Obama administration appeared more interested in the violence perpetrated by the protesters than against Michael Brown.  Things finally began to calm down after his funeral.  

The Fault Lines

Every single part of this tragedy, up to and including the poor training, judgment and violent behavior by some of the police, was utterly predictable; so too was the sensationalized and highly-slanted media coverage, the location, content and intensity of the public outcry on both sides of the Left-Right political divide with the typical uncaring indifference in the middle, and the far greater amount of money collected on behalf of Darren Wilson than Michael Brown.  The intensity of the protesters' response is likewise hardly surprising given the destruction of a simple memorial to a murdered teenager whose body was not yet cold, performed deliberately by members of the same organization as the man who had killed him under highly questionable circumstances.

It is equally important to recognize that what happened in Ferguson was hardly an anomaly:  not a single thing happened there that hasn't happened in many places in this country many times before.  In fact, taking a longer view, the biggest question is why the media chose to give it so much coverage.  And the answer to that most likely has more to do with their own increasingly precarious finances and the current state of our foreign rather than domestic affairs and their resulting assessment once again that the public really needs a strong diversion and the inculcation of yet more fear. 

Nevertheless, just as people all over the world are becoming increasingly aware of the Anglo-Zionist Empire's true role in taking over and/or destroying so many other countries, the ugly difference between myth and reality in American life -- essentially unchanged since our very beginning -- has been revealed for everyone to see.  The sad truth, however, is that the vast majority of Americans remain locked in to their own propaganda-induced preconceptions, and while efforts continue to be made to address the underlying issues of police militarization, brutality and unequal treatment before the law, the likelihood of genuine improvement in any of these areas is extremely low.

A Word About Sources

Please feel free to ask if you have any questions.  For more information on any of this, I will be happy to provide all sorts of URLS but for a deep and nuanced view of the African American experience I cannot more highly recommend a writer and blogger named Ta-Nehisi Coates.  He sees things clearly, thinks things through exquisitely well, and is a genuinely superb writer.  Another good resource on this issue and others affecting African Americans is Professor Gerald Horne, interviewed here in a six-part series with transcripts:   Alexander Reid Ross also provides an interesting and informative view of other developments in Ferguson that have an impact on this case,  And finally, The Color Of Change, and Black Is Back Coalition are both good resources for anyone interested in the determinedly measured response by the African American community and its supporters to resolving these issues.