Tag Archive: Ferguson

Aug 11 2015

Ferguson: One Year Later Nothing Changed

It is one year since a young black man was gunned down by a white police officer on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri for jay walking. Michael Brown’s death and the subsequent cover up of his murder by the police and prosecutor’s office sparked months of demonstrations that were marked by more police brutality and violation of the constitutional rights of the protestors and the press.

Seven months later, the Justice Department cleared the white police officer, Darren Wilson, of civil rights charges. However, in a scathing report the police and the courts routinely demonstrated racial bias and violated the constitutional rights of the black citizens of Ferguson with illegal traffic stops, arrests without reasonable suspicion and excessive fines for minor infractions. Then Attorney General Eric Holder misguidedly thought that this report would effect change. The still mostly white Ferguson city council rejected the report and its reforms. And, as seen by this week’s violence, arrests of reporters and use of excessive police tactics during the demonstrations on the anniversary of Michael Brown’s death, nothing has changed and once again there is a state of emergency in Ferguson and St. Louis County.

The state of emergency was precipitated by the shooting and critical wounding of an 18 year old black man by undercover police who claim that the young man was firing at them. The officers were not wearing body cameras and unmarked vehicle they were in was not equipped with a dash camera. So there is only their word.

In the original New York Times article, this quote, cited by Esquire‘s Charles Pierce, from State Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal, whose district includes Ferguson, was removed:

“After a year of protest and conversation around police accountability, having plainclothes officers without body cameras and proper identification in the protest setting leaves us with only the officer’s account of the incident, which is clearly problematic,” Kayla Reed, a field organizer with the Organization for Black Struggle, said in a statement. State Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal, whose district includes Ferguson, said on Monday that she was seeking information about the shooting. “I’m just trying to figure out the timeline of events and ensure that police officers are following protocol,” said Ms. Chappelle-Nadal, who has been active in protests here. The shooting, which came toward the end of an otherwise peaceful day, was another vexing turn for activists and the authorities alike. It was the second consecutive night of gunfire on West Florissant Avenue.

There is also the issue of arresting reporters on bogus charges supressing freedom of the press:

Huffington Post, Washington Post Reporters Charged For Doing Journalism In Ferguson (UPDATE)

by Michael Calderone, Huffington Post

“You’d have thought law enforcement authorities would have come to their senses about this incident.”

Reporters from The Huffington Post and Washington Post have been charged with trespassing and interfering with a police officer’s performance, a chilling setback for press freedom coming nearly a year after their arrests in Ferguson, Missouri.

The Huffington Post’s Ryan J. Reilly and Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery were arrested while working out of a McDonald’s on Aug. 13, 2014, just four days after white police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed unarmed black teenager Michael Brown.

Police claimed the journalists, who were covering the unrest that followed the police killing, didn’t leave the restaurant fast enough.  Reilly described a police officer shoving his head against glass during his arrest, while Lowery said an officer pushed him into a soda machine. Both Lowery and Reilly were quickly released and not charged with any crime at the time.

The decision to charge Reilly and Lowery now is especially surprising, given that St. Louis County settled just last week with two other journalists arrested while reporting in Ferguson.

Until recently, Reilly and Lowery believed their incidents with police were long over with. The Huffington Post reported last month that the St. Louis County Police Department filed incident reports in late April describing the two reporters as trespassing in the McDonald’s. Police referred their cases to the St. Louis County counselor’s office, which, given a one-year statute of limitations, had until Thursday to bring charges.

Peaceful, unarmed protesters and reporters doing their jobs are harassed and arrested. Now, the vigilantes have arrived:

Heavily-armed members of a controversial right-wing “patriot” group added an extra dose of unease to protests in Ferguson, Missouri, early Tuesday.

The Oath Keepers organization says its members – all former military, police and first responders – pledge to “defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

However, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar described their presence as “both unnecessary and inflammatory.”

Protesters and police confirmed that a handful of Oath Keepers with what appeared to be assault rifles, bulletproof vest and camouflage gear were seen early Tuesday on the streets of Ferguson, which was under a state of emergency following demonstrations pegged to the anniversary of Michael Brown’s death.

Several protesters confronted members of the group, asking why they were allowed to openly carry weapons.

“I’m happy that we’re able to defend ourselves,” one Oath Keeper replied in footage from NBC station KSDK. “It’s been our right for a long time.”

The St. Louis County Police Department said it would consult with the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorneys Office about the legalities of the issue.

Missouri allows individuals with concealed weapons permits to openly display firearms, unless it is done in an “angry or threatening manner.”

Shawn McGuire, a spokesman for St. Louis County Police, said he did not believe officers had confronted the Oath Keepers or told to leave.

Holy crap on a pogo stick, protesters are arrested for lawful assembly, two reporters are being railroaded, black men are still being indiscriminately shot by white cops, yet, civilian white men, armed to the teeth are allowed to roam free on the streets of Ferguson, unchallenged by the police or courts. Seriously, nothing has been learned from last year. Not one damned thing.

Dec 29 2014

The NYPD Gets on My Last Nerve

First let me say this: Supporting the police while calling for reform and justice are not mutually exclusive. Lives matter, all of them. This is not a zero sum game. That said, some of the members of the NYC Police Department and the bigots that support the institutionalized racism of the agency have gotten on my last nerve.

The vast majority of police officers are good people, just as the vast majority of people who are protesting in the streets across this country are good people. But some of the leadership, politicians and talking heads in the mainstream media need to shut up and listen. The people of this country deserve to be heard. The heads of the police unions in NYC seem to have forgotten that they are the employees of the people of NYC. Mayor Bill de Blasio, who was elected by 74% of those who voted in November, is their boss. He was elected to reform an increasing out of control and militarized police department. He’s doing a good job. You can tell by the squealing of the racists who can’t see beyond their own hatred of people who just want to live in peace, make a decent living and raise their children in a safe city. People should not have to fear the police.

For the last 20 years under two Republican corporate administrations, the NYPD was expanded and given unprecedented powers. The commissioners that were appointed by Mayors Rudolph Guiliani and Michael Bloomberg, that includes the current commissioner William Bratton, ran the department like it was an army and felt that they were not accountable to its citizens. The policies of “Broken Glass” and its offshoot “Stop and Frisk” were inherently racist and have led to the feeling of distrust in the minority communities of the city. It has led to the abuse and deaths of mostly young men of color and, now, two good men, NYC police officers, have been assassinated by a deranged man seeking vengeance. The union heads, especially NYC Police Benevolence Association President Patrick Lynch, decided to make the death of Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Lui a political football for their hurt feelings.

What is Lynch so fired up about? He is vilifying Mayor De Blasio because the mayor, as the parent of mixed race children, spoke the truth about what every parent of a child of color must tell them about the police:

“This is profoundly personal to me,” de Blasio said. “I was at the White House the other day, and the president of the United States turned to me, and he met Dante a few months ago, and he said that Dante reminded him of what he looked like as a teenager. And he said, ‘I know you see this crisis through a very personal lens.’ And I said to him, I did.”

De Blasio went on to note that he and his wife, Chirlane McCray, who is black, “have had to talk to Dante for years about the dangers that he may face.”

The mayor described his son as “a good young man, [a] law-abiding young man who would never think to do anything wrong” — but he noted that “because of a history that still hangs over us, the dangers he may face, we’ve had to literally train him, as families have all over this city for decades, in how to take special care in any encounter he has with the police officers who are there to protect him.” [..]

he mayor described “that painful sense of contradiction that our young people see first, that our police are here to protect us, and we honor that, and at the same time, there’s a history we have to overcome.”

“For so many of our young people, there’s a fear,” de Blasio said. “And for so many of our families, there’s a fear.”

It has been bad enough that since the mayor made that statement that Mr. Lynch went tirade in an attempt to make the police the victims and not the innocent people they have abused and killed. He and other members of the NYPD have only exposed their racism.

Besides the incredibly insulting act of turning their backs on Mayor de Blasio as he was leaving Woodhull Hospital after the deaths of the two officers, what got me really angry with these bigots were two incidents that showed just how completely ignorant some of the police really are. The first was this stupid and, very likely expensive stunt by an anonymous “group of current and retired NYC Police Officers, Detectives, and Supervisors”

Friday morning, a small plane flew over New York City with a banner attached that read: “De Blasio, Our Backs Have Turned to You.” The sign, a reference to some NYPD officers protesting against Mayor de Blasio following the shooting deaths of Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos last weekend, was the work of a “large and unified group of current and retired NYC Police Officers, Detectives, & Supervisors,” according to blogger and former cop John Cardillo. [..]

Ashley Chalmers, the owner of the plane, told the New York Daily News that the people who rented it “wish to remain anonymous,” though Cardillo said he was contacted by the NYPD group on Friday and asked to release a statement.

Stay classy, guys, exposing, not only your bigotry, but the need to learn to write a sentence.

Then while attending the funeral of Police Officer Rafael Ramos, some of the police officers decided it was the place to throw a temper tantrum insulting the memory of a fallen officer and his grieving family:

Thousands of police officers from across the nation packed a church and spilled onto streets Saturday to honor Officer Rafael Ramos as a devoted family man, aspiring chaplain and hero, though an air of unrest surrounding his ambush shooting was not completely pushed aside.

While mourners inside the church applauded politely as Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke, hundreds of officers outside turned their backs on him to protest what they see as his support for demonstrators angry over killings by police.

The rush of officers far and wide to New York for Ramos’ funeral reminded some of the bond after the Sept. 11 attacks and Superstorm Sandy. Vice President Joe Biden promised that the “incredibly diverse city can and will show the nation how to bridge any divide.”

Still, tensions were evident when officers turned away from giant screens showing de Blasio, who has been harshly criticized by New York Police Department union officials as a contributor to a climate of mistrust that preceded the killings of Ramos and his partner, Wenjian Liu.

All this poutrage by Mr. Lynch, former Mayor Guiliani and company directed at Mayor de Blasio is because he spoke to the terrible fact that police departments throughout this country treat people of color differently and minority children, especially the boys, must be given “the talk.

“If you are stopped by a cop, do what he says, even if he’s harassing you, even if you didn’t do anything wrong. Let him arrest you, memorize his badge number, and call me as soon as you get to the precinct. Keep your hands where he can see them. Do not reach for your wallet. Do not grab your phone. Do not raise your voice. Do not talk back. Do you understand me?”

The mayor gave the talk to his biracial teenage son so this wouldn’t happen to him.

And as John Cole at Balloon Juice noted

And let’s remember what is so particularly ugly about this- this is motivated as much by the desire to not reform and to maintain the current institutional racism as it is the current contract talks and union elections. Fuck Patrick Lynch and his goons.

If some members of the NYPD don’t like the reforms that Mayor de Blasio was elected to enact, they can go find other jobs. There are plenty of qualified people, who are working two and three underpaying jobs,  to replace them. Either that or learn to listen.

Dec 22 2014

TBC: Morning Musing 12.22.14

So, I have 2 articles for you this morning and then a quiz my sister and I put together last night!

First, a sliver of hope for justice:

A Startling Admission By The Ferguson Prosecutor Could Restart The Case Against Darren Wilson

In intentionally presenting false testimony to the grand jury, McCulloch may have committed a serious ethical breach. Under the Missouri Rules of Professional Conduct, lawyers are prohibited from offering “evidence that the lawyer knows to be false.”

McCulloch justified his actions by asserting that the grand jury gave no credence at all to McElroy’s testimony. But this is speculation. Under Missouri law, the grand jury deliberations are secret and McCulloch is not allowed to be present.

A Missouri lawmaker, Karla May, called Friday for a legislative investigation of McCulloch’s conduct. May said that there is evidence to suggest that McCulloch “manipulated the grand jury process from the beginning to ensure that Officer Wilson would not be indicted.”

Even before Friday’s interview, many legal experts were highly critical McCulloch’s use of the grand jury. Marjorie Cohn, a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, said she believed McCulloch “did not want an indictment” of Darren Wilson and turned the grand jury process on its head, acting as an advocate for the defense.

Jump!

Dec 07 2014

Anti-Capitalist Meetup: Notes From An Ally On The Front Lines In Boston by UnaSpenser

Reposted from Wednesday. The night before Thanksgiving is not the best time to post. ;-

After marching for about 4 hours and being on the front line when the police confronted the protesters and having only 6 hours of sleep, I’m exhausted. Still, I have all these random thoughts going through my head this morning as I process both what I directly experienced last night and the social commentary I’ve read since then. This may ramble or be disjointed. It may also be raw, unclear or not fully thought out. I’m seeing it as a snapshot into a frame of mind and body after a highly charged event. Nuggets to, perhaps, spark dialogue or lead to further exploration. I want to see what comes out in hopes of not losing any particularly valuable nuggets. So, here goes….

Dec 03 2014

Abusive Cop Co-Chairs Obama’s Reform Commission

By appointing a police chief with a history of overseeing an abusive police force, President Barack Obama has crested another farce of a commission much like his Cat Food Commission that was chaired by a corporate shill and a right wing curmudgeon.

Philadelphia Police Chief Charles Ramsey, one of two co-chairs apppointed by President Obama to head a commission on ways to demilitarize local police, is known for leading repeated bloody and abusive crackdowns on protesters when he was Washington, D.C.’s chief a decade ago, according to a civil rights attorney who won millions in damages for 100s of citizens attacked by D.C. police.  

“If the president’s idea of reforming policing practices includes mass false arrests, brutality, and the eviscerating of civil rights, then Ramsey’s his man. That’s Charles Ramsey’s legacy in D.C.,” said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, Executive Director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF), speaking of the ex-D.C. chief and current Philadelphia Police Commissioner. “Obama should immediately rescind his appointment of Commissioner Ramsey, who is a mass violator of civil rights and civil liberties.”  [..]

More than a decade ago, when Ramsey was the D.C. police chief, he lead numerous crackdowns and mass arrests of protesters-starting in 2000. His most high-profile assault was in September 2002 at Pershing Park, where demonstrators protested World Bank and International Monetary Fund meetings. The police locked down the park and arrested everyone there-400 people-including journalists, legal observers and bystanders.

The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund sued and won millions for protesters. The April 2000 protest settlements totalled $13.7 million and Pershing Park/2002 settlement was $8.25 million. Verheyden-Hilliard said the settlements highlight a larger and especially bloody pattern of police crackdowns on protesters ordered by Ramsey. She listed the following six events in an e-mail that “are demonstrative of his leadership and the force under his command.” The first example is an earlier three-day World Bank/IMF protest from spring 2000 in downtown Washington.

If this is Obama’s idea finding credible and transparent solutions to the militarization of civilian police forces, his thinking is warped, sick joke and a slap in the face to the Americans who expect the police to serve and protect not violate their civil rights.

Dec 03 2014

TBC: Morning Musing 12.3.2014

I have 3 articles for you loosely related to Ferguson via racism, protest, and police murders.

The first is a law I think all states should have, in addition to police having to wear cameras that are on when they are on duty.

What I Did After Police Killed My Son

It took six years to get our wrongful death lawsuit settled, and my family received $1.75 million. But I wasn’t satisfied by a long shot. I used my entire portion of that money and much more of my own to continue a campaign for more police accountability. I wanted to change things for everyone else, so no one else would ever have to go through what I did. We did our research: In 129 years since police and fire commissions were created in the state of Wisconsin, we could not find a single ruling by a police department, an inquest or a police commission that a shooting was unjustified. There was one shooting we found, in 2005,  that was ruled justified by the department and an inquest, but additional evidence provided by citizens caused the DA to charge the officer. The city of Milwaukee settled with a confidentiality agreement and the facts of that sealed. The officer involved committed suicide.

Jump!

Dec 01 2014

From the First Shot, the Fix Was In

We don’t know who set fire to the buildings in Ferguson, Missouri last week but we do know who fired the first shot, one of several that killed an unarmed African American teenager, Michael Brown, on a hot August day. We also know that a grand jury that was impaneled to determine if the white police officer, Darren Wilson, 28, should be charged, was misled by the prosecutors in the case. At the very start that were handed to laws that applied to the case. One of those laws, a 1979 Missouri statute, was found to be unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court in 1985.

MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell blasted St. Louis County assistant district attorney Kathy Alizadeh on Wednesday for taking weeks to tell the grand jury in the Darren Wilson case she made a major mistake regarding police officers’ right to use legal force.

“With prosecutors like this, Darren Wilson never really needed a defense lawyer,” he said.

O’Donnell said that early on in the jurors’ deliberations, Alizadeh handed them a copy of a 1979 Missouri statute saying police were “justified in the use of such physical force as he or she reasonably believes is immediately necessary to effect the arrest or prevent the escape from custody.” However, he explained, the Supreme Court found those kinds of statutes to be unconstitutional six years later. [..]

The worst part of Alizdeh’s actions, O’Donnell said, was that she did not explain how the Supreme Court decision struck the state statute down after letting jurors carry it with them for weeks.

“You will not find another legal proceeding in which jurors and grand jurors are simply handed a law, and then weeks later, handed a correction to that law,” he said. “Then the grand jurors are simply left to figure out the difference in the laws by themselves. That is, actually, something you would do in a law class.”

O’Donnell said that early on in the jurors’ deliberations, [Assistant D.A. Kathy] Alizadeh handed them a copy of a 1979 Missouri statute saying police were “justified in the use of such physical force as he or she reasonably believes is immediately necessary to effect the arrest or prevent the escape from custody.” However, he explained, the Supreme Court found those kinds of statutes to be unconstitutional six years later….

“She was taking the hurdle that Darren Wilson had to get over in his testimony, and flattening it,” O’Donnell argued. “She was making it impossible for Darren Wilson to fail in front of this grand jury.”

This was just one of many stunning events, called “errors” and “failures” by the mainstream media, but smack of a conspiracy to protect a white police officer from prosecution.

1. Wilson washed away blood evidence.

In an interview with police investigators, Wilson admitted that after the shooting he returned to police headquarters and washed blood off his body — physical evidence that could have helped to prove or disprove a critical piece of Wilson’s testimony regarding his struggle with Brown inside the police car. He told his interrogator that he had blood on both of his hands. “I think it was his blood,” Wilson said referring to Brown. He added that he was not cut anywhere. [..]

2. The first officer to interview Wilson failed to take any notes.

The first supervising officer to the scene, who was also the first person to interview Wilson about the incident, didn’t take any notes about their conversation. In testimony more than a month after the incident, the officer offered his account from memory. He explained that he hadn’t been equipped with a recorder and hadn’t tried to take any written notes due to the chaotic nature of the situation. He also didn’t write up any notes soon after the fact. [..]

3. Investigators failed to measure the likely distance between Brown and Wilson.

An unnamed medical legal examiner who responded to the shooting testified before the grand jury that he or she had not taken any distance measurements at the scene, because they appeared “self-explanatory.”

“Somebody shot somebody. There was no question as to any distances or anything of that nature at the time I was there,” the examiner told the jury. [..]

4. Investigators did not test Wilson’s gun for fingerprints.

Talking with police investigators and before the grand jury, Wilson claimed that Brown had grabbed at Wilson’s gun during the initial incident in the police car and that Brown’s hand was on the firearm when it misfired at least once. [..]

5. Wilson did not immediately turn his weapon over to investigators after killing Brown.

A detective with the St. Louis County Police Department, who conducted the first official interview of Wilson, testified to the grand jury that Wilson had packaged his own service weapon into an evidence envelope following his arrival at the police station in the wake of the shooting. [..]

6. An initial interview with investigators was delayed while Wilson traveled to the hospital with his superiors.

The same St. Louis County Police Department detective also testified that while he had intended to conduct his initial interview with Wilson at the Ferguson police station, a lieutenant colonel with the Ferguson Police Department decided that Wilson first needed to go to the hospital for medical treatment. [..]

7. Wilson’s initial interview with the detective conflicts with information given in later testimony.

In his first interview with the detective, just hours after Brown’s death, Wilson didn’t claim to have any knowledge that Brown was suspected of stealing cigarillos from a nearby convenience store. The only mention of cigarillos he made to the detective was a recollection of the call about the theft that had come across his radio and that provided a description of the suspect.

Law professors and legal the manner in which St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch conducted this grand jury, questioning the unusual press conference presentation of the non-indictment and legal procedures were followed appropriately, adequately or fairly.

Ben Trachtenberg, an associate professor of law at the University of Missouri School of Law, said the entire announcement “read like a closing argument for the defense,” while Susan McGraugh, an associate professor at the Saint Louis University School of Law, said she was “furious” when she watched it.

“Bob McCulloch took a very defensive posture,” McGraugh said. “It was a poor choice to be so confrontational in presenting a grand jury verdict that he had to know would upset a large number of people. He should have left out the editorializing.” [..]

The astonishing rarity of a grand jury declining to indict a suspect has led many to believe that McCulloch did not make a sincere effort to prove probable cause.

“The prosecutor did not want an indictment, and he passed the buck to the grand jury to make that decision,” said Cohn, who is also a former president of the National Lawyers’ Guild. “It was clear the prosecutor was partisan in this case, and not partisan in the way prosecutors usually are, which is to get people indicted.” [..]

Even Supreme Court Antonin Scalia understands the purpose of the grand jury should not be a trial in secret.

Justice Antonin Scalia, in the 1992 Supreme Court case of United States v. Williams, explained what the role of a grand jury has been for hundreds of years.

   It is the grand jury’s function not ‘to enquire … upon what foundation [the charge may be] denied,’ or otherwise to try the suspect’s defenses, but only to examine ‘upon what foundation [the charge] is made’ by the prosecutor. Respublica v. Shaffer, 1 Dall. 236 (O. T. Phila. 1788); see also F. Wharton, Criminal Pleading and Practice ยง 360, pp. 248-249 (8th ed. 1880). As a consequence, neither in this country nor in England has the suspect under investigation by the grand jury ever been thought to have a right to testify or to have exculpatory evidence presented.

This passage was first highlighted by attorney Ian Samuel, a former clerk to Justice Scalia.

In contrast, McCulloch allowed Wilson to testify for hours before the grand jury and presented them with every scrap of exculpatory evidence available. In his press conference, McCulloch said that the grand jury did not indict because eyewitness testimony that established Wilson was acting in self-defense was contradicted by other exculpatory evidence. What McCulloch didn’t say is that he was under no obligation to present such evidence to the grand jury. The only reason one would present such evidence is to reduce the chances that the grand jury would indict Darren Wilson.

Political analyst and author, Earl Ofari Hutchinson suggested that President Barack Obama take cue from one of his predecessors Pres, George H. W. Bush and look no further than Rodney King:

In August 1992, nearly three months to the day after the four LAPD officers that beat black motorist Rodney King were acquitted on nearly all charges by a jury with no blacks on it, Lourdes G. Baird, the United States Attorney for California’s Central District, stepped before a battery of news cameras and reporters and announced that three of the officers would face federal charges. The charges were violating King’s Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable arrest and with depriving him of his 14th Amendment due-process rights during his March, 1991 arrest. The four would face up to 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines if convicted.

The Justice Department’s decision to prosecute rested squarely on two compelling legal and public interest points, neither of which significantly involved any need to proof racial animus. The legal charges were that the officers who beat King acted under the color of the law. This violated a near century old federal statute that makes it a crime to deprive any person of a Constitutional right under the color of law. The statute specifically targeted police officers and public officials who abuse their authority and violate public trust by physically victimizing citizens. [..]

Brown as was King was unarmed. Brown and King were not charged with a crime when detained. Brown as King received injuries after he ceased resisting. Brown as King was abused during an official stop. These, as they were with King, are compelling civil rights violations.

This is not about race, although I do believe it was a factor in this case based on Off. Wilson’s description of Mr. Brown own testimony. It is, however, about police excessive of force and law and for that there is a strong case against Off. Wilson. The Question is does Pres. Obama have the spine to give Michael Brown the justice he deserves.

Nov 30 2014

Anti-Capitalist Meetup: Ferguson: Do the Right Thing Redux

This has been a busy weekend — dividing time somewhat schizophrenically between participating in one or the other of the many actions sparked by the decision in Ferguson not to indict police officer Darren Wilson for the murder of Michael Brown — while at the same time planning an annual Thanksgiving meal.  Being a “conscious” political and multi-racial “family”, on past Thanksgivings we often commemorated the day by attending a local American Indian event.  As the years past, we reverted to a somewhat more traditional community potluck dinner with friends with turfu, organic dishes, etc. Still later, as biological families divided into nuclear subdivisions with children, somewhat smaller gatherings were held where we would prepare the traditional feast with a nod to  and solemn commemoration of the genocidal history behind the holiday and watch a socially conscious movie.

This year, someone suggested that we Watch Do the Right Thing. (In full disclosure, we did not end up watching Do the Right Thing because one young black guest who happens to be gay felt that he had been bullied by his peers in the neighborhood as he was growing up and it would be a painful reminder (he still lives in central Harlem about a block from the National Action Headquarters) and another young black woman felt that she needed a break from the intensity of the explosion of feelings and responses that the Ferguson decision brought on. Life is often more full of contradictions and ambiguities than our political struggle for justice would suggest.

Still, the reminder of the controversial movie, first released to great criticism as to whether it was promoting violence or showing how destroying property was better than killing human beings, reminds us how a cultural representation can help people understand the emotions behind our struggle in a way that facts and figures can’t.

First released in 1989, Do the Right Thing, one of Spike Lee’s earliest movies,  tells the story of the racial tensions in the black community in a Brooklyn neighborhood which culminates in tragedy when a young black man is killed by police. The young man’s death results in a night of rebellion in which the people in the community burn down local businesses including the local pizzeria.

The movie was released long after the racial tensions and the riots of the 1960s which it was meant to portray, and before the Rodney King beating in 1991 resulted in the rebellion in Los Angeles. Long before 41 bullets felled Amadu Diallo, the African immigrant shot at his front door by police in the Bronx, or the brutal torture of Abner Louima who was beaten and sodomized with a broomstick by police after he was arrested outside a Brooklyn nightclub. (Sidenote: Neither of these later incidents resulted in riots, but in organized nonviolent civil disobedience and, eventually in sort of very limited conviction of some of the perpetrators. It is interesting to note, however, the Louima case only came to light after a nurse reported the incident when he was brought to the hospital. She was the only one of 28 people who had witnessed parts of the incident the night he was arrested. The other 27 people threatened her for speaking out.)

In Do the Right Thing, Lee sets out the many cultural signifiers of the community’s racial tensions that lead to the violence of both police brutality and the violence of enraged communities of color — in other words, the  very American history of the culture of oppression in the black community:

Mookie, played by Spike Lee, is the young man who, as the pizza delivery man, is viewed by a frustrated Tina, his girlfriend and mother of his child, as unambitious and unable or unwilling to live up to the model of the father and family man that is portrayed on TV, reflecting the tensions between the sexes in a community held down by racism.

Sal, the pizzeria’s Italian American owner, has been in the neighborhood for 25 years. His older son is openly racist while his younger son is friendly with Mookie. Sal sees himself as part of the neighborhood, but when asked by Smiley, a mentally disturbed young man who is always carrying around pictures of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., and “Bugging Out” (described by his name)to put up pictures of Malcolm and Martin on his “Wall of Fame”, along with the Italian Americans such as Sinatra, he refuses because, as he says, he owns the restaurant.

There are many other signifiers — “Da Mayor,” an old alcoholic man who signifies street wisdom and compassion (but who is not respected by the younger generation in the neighborhood), the young men who hang on the corner, the Asian store owner who signifies new cultures moving into the neighborhood and the conflict that brings (but who can hold her own in a swearing match in a confrontation with her black American neighbors).

But most significant is Radio Raheem, a big young black man who supported Smiley and Buggin Out’s demand to post Malcolm and Martin’s pictures in the pizza parlor. Raheem is well  meaning, but is always getting into trouble for playing his radio too loud.

When Sal and Radio Raheem get into a fight over turning down the radio and Sal calls him a “nigger,” a fight breaks out that spills into the street and draws a crowd and Sal calls the police. When the police come, they arrest “Buggin Out” and put Raheem in a chokehold which kills him. Once the cops realize he is dead, they beat up “Buggin Out” and leave the scene, leaving Sal and his sons exposed to the crowd’s rath.  When the Mayor tries to calm the crowd down, the crowd turns on him. Mookie then picks up a trash can and throws it through the window of the pizzeria and a race riot begins. In the melee, the Mayor saves Sal and his sons.  

While this is not a very good or complete synopsis of the movie, you get the picture Radio Raheem could be Michael Brown – or Earl Gardner, another “big” black man who was selling “loosies” on the street in Staten Island who was killed shortly after Michael Brown by NYPD officers in a chokehold, which was also witnesses by several citiznes (This raised new critiques about the appointment of William Bratton as the new New York City police chief since he has a known history of going after nonviolent offenders for small street “crimes” as well as a bad track record of chokehold deaths under his command)– or Anthony Baez (my neighbor in the Bronx) who was playing football with his nephew when the ball bounced and struck a police car and the policeman (who had already been moved from neighborhood to neighborhood to hide his history of excessive force) put 17 year old Baez into the chokehold and killed him — or 17 year old Jordan Davis who was killed in a gas station in Jacksonville, Florida for playing loud music because a 47 year old software engineer who was a known racist felt that Davis’ refusal to turn the music down “threatened” him and that he was  entitled to shoot Davis and would not be held accountable by the police or courts. He was in fact convicted of murder, but 17 year old Davis is still dead.

The fact is, we all have our own memories of the cases that most specifically affected us and there are many other cases across the country and across the years– far far too many to recount here and they seem to be increasing.  Which is why it is important to raise the question that Lee asks in Do the Right Thing.What must the black community do to finally overcome, once and for all, the virulent racism that is so endemic in the United.   (For an analysis of the importance of the movie and the Ferguson situation to questions of violence, issues of the “Rule of Law” or why it is important not to conflate race and class, read below the fold.)

Aug 25 2014

Ferguson and the media

Listening Post examines racial conflict and social divisions in the US and how those issues are reported.

Ferguson, Missouri – a dateline that rarely drops on the global news wire. But this week, small-town America was put under the international media spotlight after a black teenager, Michael Brown, was killed on August 9 by a white policeman.

When US journalists do hostile environment training, they usually have foreign conflicts at the back of their minds. This one was right on their doorstep. Because this week, the Midwest turned into a warzone – and the post-racial America story arc just took a turn for the worse.

Helping us to understand how the media reported Ferguson are: Mikki Kendall, a writer; Lizz Brown, a columnist for the St Louis American; Byron Tau, a reporter for Politico; Rashad Robinson, the executive director of Color of Change; and Ash-har Quraishi, a correspondent for Al Jazeera America.

Aug 22 2014

Ferguson’s War on Freedom of the Press

Reporting the events by the news media in Ferguson, MO has become very problematic with the police limiting not only the press access to the demonstrations on the ground but the Federal Aviation Administration has created an unprecedented “no fly zone” over the town. The excuse is “to provide a safe environment for law enforcement operations.” The same reasoning was given repeatedly by Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson who has also threatened and ordered arrests of reporters.

The situation was so bad last week that on August 14 the ACLU sued the town and county and won a court order from a judge telling police that they cannot bar journalists from reporting which was promptly ignored.

Why is this happening? Of course the police excuse is that they are “protecting” the reporters and have also made the unsubstantiated accusation that the press is interfering with police operations. The real reason is they don’t want a free press to record any brutality on the part of the police in containing the demonstrators, peaceful or otherwise. Nor do they want the entrapment tactics, like blocking egress at both ends of the streets refusing to allow protestors to exit, then arresting them when they try to pass through to go home.

The bogus press conference that Capt. Johnson held in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, displaying a Molotov cocktail and other items confiscated from alleged “agitators,” was contrived to justify the use of tear gas, smoke bombs, rubber bullets and other military type weapons. It was fairly obvious from a trained observer that the way the “evidence” was handled – no gloves – and displayed – not bagged and tagged – that these were just props in the side show. Yes, capt Johnson, I call you on your preprocessed bovine waste (thank you, John Oliver).

Published on Aug 21, 2014

With 11 journalists arrested thus far, Truthout.org investigative reporter Mike Ludwig describes how Ferguson police are using intimidation tactics against journalists.



Transcript can be read here

Restricting and harassing the free press is a cover up of police criminality of the first order and it is being aided and abetted by the state government of Missouri and Federal government.