August 16, 2014
I don’t really know what is currently happening in Ferguson, Missouri, although it is only about 200 miles from where I live. News accounts vary, but here is what I think I know.
After days of protests over the shooting of an unarmed black eighteen-year-old, Michael Brown, by an unnamed police officer who had stopped him for walking in the street instead of on the sidewalk, met with several nights of militarized police response – including teargas and wooden bullets – calm had finally been restored by Governor Nixon finally appointing the Captain of the State Troopers for that region to handle the protests and taking away responsibility from the St. Louis County police.
Ferguson is predominantly black (two thirds of its 22,000 residents) while the police department is predominantly white (55 of the 58?) including the police chief. The captain of the State Troopers is black and grew up in Ferguson. How much that has to do with the shooting and the change in tenor of those protests, I don’t know.
Thursday’s protests were apparently peaceful, following the appointment of the Captain, who initiated damage control which included sending the County police and their military equipment away, talking to and listening to protesters and even walking with them during at least part of the marches. That was where things appeared to stand when I went to bed, Thursday night.
Sometime yesterday, (Friday) the Ferguson Police Chief held a news conference to announce the name of the police officer who had shot Michael Brown. In doing so, he praised the officer as a “gentleman” and a kind, gentle person with no complaints on his record. Then, he presented a police report of a convenience store “strong arm” robbery, occurring about ten minutes before and three blocks away from where Michael Brown had been shot, and convenience store video that showed a large, black man grabbing the cigars and shoving the convenience store employee who tried to stop him as he went out the door. The man was identified as Michael Brown, in the police report and the Police Chief said he was the suspect in the robbery.
In response to reporters’ question, he also said that the officer who shot Michael Brown did not know this at the time; he had stopped him and his friend only because they were walking in the street and “blocking traffic” and that the shooting was not related to the robbery.
When asked why he released the police report and video at the same time he released the officer’s name – even though the report and video were taken the day of the robbery and Michael Brown’s death almost a week before – he said he’d had so many FOIA request’s and reporters wanted the information.
The family of Michael Brown and the protesters were understandably angry, feeling that, although the robbery case had nothing to do with the shooting death of Michael Brown, he was deliberately being smeared as a robbery suspect while the officer who shot and killed him had been portrayed as the epitome of “Officer Friendly”. In spite of that anger, the protests throughout the day were peaceful though “boisterous”. And that’s where things stood when I went to bed last night.
By this morning, when I went online, the news reports and blogs were all over the place. Depending on whose version I read, the angry but peaceful protesters had all turned into violent looters and rioters while the State Troopers sent packing the SLC police who had turned out, in full riot gear, to contain them and allowed the looters full rein. Or, the protests continued, largely peaceful though some looting did occur and when the SLC were sent away, protesters blockaded the stores – standing with their hands raised in the “don’t shoot” pose – to block looters from getting into the stores.
I don’t know what the truth is. In videos and picture I saw both.What I do sense, as I write this, is a shift from important questions we were beginning to ask and discuss about the increasing number of shooting, beating, tazing deaths by police of unarmed citizens – especially minorities, the homeless, the poor and the mentally ill; whether this increase was an inevitable outcome of increasing militarization of police forces across the country by the Justice department, the DOD and the DHS; other important questions about how and why it happened and what we and our legislators could do to stop it. As I read, the question seemed to have changed to whether Michael Brown was just another black thug who deserved to die even though he wasn’t shot while committing a crime and was never arrested, tried or convicted for the robbery of which he was suspected.
In other words, we and our reasonable questions had suddenly been successfully redirected and the deep discomfort we felt over what happened had been pacified once again for too many Americans by what had been presented at that press conference.
As have our concerns about what’s going on abroad between Israel and Gaza, in Syria and Iraq, between the US, EU, Ukraine and Russia and a dozen other areas where we have sown chaos abroad recently – either directly or by proxy.
We live in a declining Empire who’s political and military elite are widely aware of the threats that declining oil, economic instability and climate change represent to its hegemony. They have been increasingly militarizing our police forces since the seventies – since the peaking of our own conventional oil supply – and sowing chaos around the world by proxy or direct military intervention. After all, a declining empire must maintain disorder abroad and control at home at all cost. And it must at all cost control and redirect the questions those behaviors raise.
I know it’s all very confusing and I’m really not sure that asking the questions will change the Empire’s increasingly militant control, except temporarily. The Empire is dying; the Empire will do what it must – here and abroad- to survive and maintain that hegemony as long as possible. What asking those questions and understanding the answers might do, is keep us from tearing each other apart and help bring us together to salvage from that confusion and chaos what we can of the nation buried beneath the Empire as it continues its self-destructive decline. That’s why maintaining that confusion is so important to them and why it’s so important for us to ask those uncomfortable questions as we fight our way through it.