Lessons of Ferguson


As of press time for Socialist Action newspaper, the grand jury investigating Michael Brown’s death at the hands of Officer Darren Wilson has still not issued its decision. The grand jury is made up of six white men, three white women, two African-American women, and one African-American man. Nine out of the 12 must agree that the probable cause threshold has been met in regards to Wilson’s having committed a crime.

As you can see from the jury makeup, the process has been rigged from the start, to let Officer Wilson off the hook. For instance, leaks have taken place that are all favorable for Wilson’s version of what happened that day. Attorney General Eric Holder said, “Leaking out selective information … These are all the kinds of things that I think are inappropriate. I’ve said I’m exasperated. That’s a nice way of saying it. I’m mad. That’s not how things should be done by people in law enforcement.”

One might think that Holder’s Justice Department investigation may, given his apparent disgust, issue charges for violating Michael Brown’s civil rights; after all, the unarmed youth was murdered and the grand jury investigating it was rigged. This looks like a very small possibility. The Washington Post published an article stating that the Justice Department won’t be issuing civil rights charges against Wilson, and doesn’t want to admit it because “tensions are high” in Ferguson. A Justice Department spokesman called the article “irresponsible,” adding that the investigation will continue.

There have been ongoing protests since the Aug. 9 murder of Brown, and tensions are high. The so-called “justice” system of this country has no recourse for the most often Black and Brown victims of police and vigilante violence, even when the African-American Attorney General and President verbally state their sympathies with the victims.

Meanwhile, Brown’s mother is scheduled to testify at a United Nations convention in Geneva, once again (rightfully) shaming the U.S. government and its lack of serious action. Who could blame her for taking her case to the world audience, when the response from authorities has been so completely inadequate?

It is a very complex, sophisticated, capitalist system that could maintain this bloody and brutal status quo, in the face of such blatant evidence. And those who would protect this system will pay millions of dollars to the family of a victim, they will retrain police officers en masse, they will decry the brutality in the news; but they will not fundamentally attack The New Jim Crow, they have no intention of really changing things.

What made Ferguson different? The key ingredient was the youth and young adults, who came out consistently, a new layer of promising activists. To their immense credit, the youth and young adults have consistently mobilized, and while sell-out leaders are ever-present, they seem not to hold as much sway as they used to. There is also much to be said about the militarized response to peaceful protesters, broadcasted across the world (despite police roughing up journalists and instituting a No Fly Zone to explicitly stop the media).

In addition to having unique aspects, Ferguson is also a representative picture of so many places in the U.S. The Black and Brown youth are fed up; the constant harassment they are subjected to is building considerable resentment, whether it is New York’s “stop and frisk” policies, or the Ferguson Police Department’s racial profiling African American drivers despite whites’ being more likely to have contraband.

There is a national consciousness building around police brutality; people are connecting struggles and seeing beyond the local scene. The demands for justice, for the victims and their families, are being broadened and built upon. While the powers that be are concerned about uprisings (“riots”) in which property is damaged, an actual tragedy would be that the youth and community’s anger isn’t channeled into something that could challenge the racist and classist system on an ongoing basis.

The documented evidence of widespread police brutality is overwhelming and readily available. And that only includes what has been recorded; it’s only a small fraction of the real story.
The lessons of Ferguson are that we should stay in the streets and organize, demand the attention of the world. Rather than putting faith and trust in politicians, demand results and push the struggle forward. The status quo cannot hold the contradictions, the promises versus the reality, which are bound to heat up to a boil at some point.

Photo: Protesters in Clayton, Mo., raise their hands while chanting, “Hands up!” “Don’t shoot!” Scott Olson / Getty Images



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