After Ferguson: In defense of non-peaceful resistance

The regular suspension of due process and the repeated failure to restrain or reasonably manage the use of lethal force by the state against its citizens violates the American social contract on a fundamental level.

The social contract is an “agreement” that the state will have a legitimate monopoly on the use of force, instead of all individual people having the use of force all over the place with no rules, in exchange for meeting those basic conditions and maintaining the safety of all people and protecting their property.

Although it’s never possible to preserve that balance 100% of the time — and the United States has an unusually extensive set of loopholes for normal civilian use of force — it is reasonably considered in effect if it is upheld the vast majority of the time and with consistent, non-discriminatory application. Significant and repeated failure of the balance or failure to apply the principles consistently across the population would constitute a breach of the contract.

With a widespread and ongoing breach in the social contract by the state, the use of force is legitimately de-monopolized and reverts to the people to use on an individual or collective level, against threats and oppressors, including but not limited to — racial supremacists, exploitative businesses, and the state. The data has been clear for some time that a breach of the social contract exists between the state (federal, local, and everything in between) and the Black citizens of the United States.

Therefore: Violent resistance to police and destruction of select private property in the aftermath of a particularly egregious violation such as witnessed in Ferguson last week (suspension of the rule of law and restricted rights to peaceful assembly) is quite easily morally justifiable — though obviously optional — until the restoration of a legitimate social contract between the people and their government, which re-monopolizes the use of force.

To be clear: I’m not calling for violence and destruction; I’m just saying it’s not inherently unacceptable right now, and that decision is a matter of basic self-determination by those for whom the social contract has been broken (a sub-population which does not include me). For the majority of Americans, the social contract remains intact and normal rules of conduct apply. For a regularly legally and forcibly repressed sub-population without redress of grievances, the contract is currently void.
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Video released of John Crawford’s execution by police

WARNING: Below is the silent surveillance video showing an unarmed John Crawford being gunned down by the police last month in an Ohio Wal-Mart. [Video removed. Learn why.]

The video is not graphic. It is just the grainy, abrupt, and unnecessary extinguishing of an innocent human life on camera. Moreover, it corroborates everything we knew about the circumstances that led to John Crawford, a Black man, being summarily executed by White police officers on the false statements of a serial liar (full background at the link). It depicts everything the family told us it did and appears to match the account of his conversation on the phone at the moment he was shot.

At no point did Crawford pose a threat or attempt to threaten anyone, least of all the police, whom he apparently did not see or hear before they opened fire. Nevertheless, as the video shows, he is shot multiple times — first from down the length of the aisle, and then again at close range as he attempts to “surrender” (though he was of course unarmed the whole time).

[Video removed. Learn why.]

As alerted by a reader of mine, I encourage folks to listen to the ten minutes of Crissle and Kid Fury’s reaction (1:09:40 – 1:19:20) to this video on their podcast “The Read.”

And as an additional update to the story, the county coroner has ruled a homicide the death of 37-year-old Angela Williams, a customer who died of a heart attack related to a heart condition as she attempted to flee the store during the panic that followed the police opening fire.


What have we learned so far from Wisconsin’s police shootings law?

According to an article from Al Jazeera America, Wisconsin’s groundbreaking law on investigations of shooting deaths by police has not (so far) resulted in any cops facing consequences, but it has revealed a lot more information on cases that previously would have remained shrouded in mystery.

So far this year, law enforcement in the state has shot and killed 6 people. Not a big pool of data, but still worth examining. Of those 6 cases, 2 were suicidal (so, not a helpful response by police), 1 was allegedly attempting to burn down the house of his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend (a sheriff’s deputy), and 3 were schizophrenic (but not necessarily having an episode). At least 3 of the victims were already known to the specific law enforcement members involved in the shootings.

This is, of course, not really a revelation — mentally ill or developmentally challenged civilians in the United States have long been the victims of fatal incidents with the police — but it provides more information and case studies that should be used to advocate for increased training for how police can and should respond to people with serious mental health issues or other mental difficulties, to avoid chaotic responses that end in tragedy.

Ferguson prosecution now some kind of Agatha Christie choose-your-own-adventure

Dana Milbank examines whether a grand jury might refuse to indict Officer Wilson in Mike Brown’s shooting death in Ferguson, Missouri last month. It doesn’t look good, in large part because grand jurors are essentially now being asked to become detectives in a real-life crime novel:

October is when a grand jury is expected to decide whether to indict the white police officer, Darren Wilson, who killed an unarmed black teenager by firing at least six bullets into him. It’s a good bet the grand jurors won’t charge him, because all signs indicate that the St. Louis County prosecutor, Robert McCulloch, doesn’t want them to.

The latest evidence that the fix is in came this week from The Post’s Kimberly Kindy and Carol Leonnig, who discovered that McCulloch’s office has declined so far to recommend any charges to the grand jury. Instead, McCulloch’s prosecutors handling the case are taking the highly unusual course of dumping all evidence on the jurors and leaving them to make sense of it.

McCulloch’s office claims that this is a way to give more authority to the grand jurors, but it looks more like a way to avoid charging Wilson at all — and to use the grand jury as cover for the outrage that will ensue. It is often said that a grand jury will indict a ham sandwich if a prosecutor asks it to. But the opposite is also true. A grand jury is less likely to deliver an indictment — even a much deserved one — if a prosecutor doesn’t ask for it.

I’m sorry — are we basically now relying on 12 randos who didn’t find a way to get out of jury duty to pore over the evidence on their own, without help from the experts, and then decide if it’s safe to ask another jury if it was, in fact, “Officer Wilson in the Conservatory with the Candlestick”?

Apparently, McCulloch, the St. Louis County prosecutor, has had a lot of family members on police forces (including a father who was killed in the line of duty) and has (coincidentally?) declined to prosecute any of a dozen police officers involved in questionable fatal shootings in his jurisdiction over the twenty years he has been in the office. He has actually excused some pretty horrific wrongful shooting deaths by police, as Milbank reports.

John Crawford was summarily executed by cops on the false statements of a serial liar

On August 5th, 2014, John Crawford III was shot dead by police from behind and without warning in a Wal-Mart in Beavercreek, Ohio. He was just 22 years old and was a father to two young sons. Police believed, based on a 911 call, that he was preparing to open fire in a mass shooting.

In fact, he was holding a toy gun he was about to buy and was chatting amiably to his girlfriend on the phone at the time he was killed, while they both shopped in different parts of the store. Crawford was not violating any laws at the time — even if the gun had been a serious firearm licensed to him and carried openly, he would have been in the clear under local laws and store rules — and there is no evidence to suggest he was about to break any laws. No one passing him in the store, as seen on surveillance footage, appears concerned or frightened by the toy gun.

Although many things quickly began to not add up about the official version of events that led to his death, much of the justification hinged upon that 911 call. As further details have emerged from the incident (such as video footage and audio of the 911 call, plus reports from his girlfriend who heard the shooting over the phone as it happened) and as journalistic investigations have been conducted into the circumstances surrounding it and the people involved, we have learned that there was very little reason to believe Crawford was an imminent threat to anyone.

In particular, the credibility of the primary witness, who called in the purported threat to 911, has been falling apart extremely rapidly. Not only did his 911 call claims not match reality seen on store camera footage — a BB gun became an AR-15 assault rifle, holding became waving/loading/pointing — but he also immediately lied to reporters in public statements right after the shooting. To bolster his allegedly ability to assess the level of danger accurately, he claimed to be an “ex-marine.” In fact, we now know he was kicked out of training less than two months in the U.S. Marines for “fraudulent enlistment” and a heart condition.

A man with a history of lying made a false report to police (and subsequently reporters) because a Black man living his life, simply existing, and obeying all relevant laws was a clear and present danger in his eyes. Such a a belief stems, inevitably, either from personal racial animosity or institutionalized suspicion and fear of Black men in America that makes unconscious racists out of many others who claim not to be. The latter category, acting out their denied prejudices in mistaken police reports and 911 calls, get a lot of people killed.

One might be tempted to shift all blame onto him and away from police, who were arguably just reacting to the information given to them. But the police officers who responded did so with the most extreme response two uniformed officers can make, and they did not provide warnings before firing, nor did they assess the situation to ensure they were not making a mistake. As they reached the scene, acting on the word of one person, they could not possibly imagine that he was anything but a violent and dangerous man who needed to be put down without any attempt to halt him, negotiate with him, or provide him with due process. They shot him fatally (he died of his injuries at the hospital) and the ensuing panic resulted in the death of another woman in the store.

Meanwhile, dozens of White “open-carry” activists have marched through big box stores across the country with actual AR-15s, to the fright of many customers, to demonstrate their “2nd Amendment rights.” No such “right” or benefit of the doubt was afforded to Mr. Crawford. Meanwhile, the White mass shooters in Tucson in January 2012 and in Aurora in July 2012, ages 22 and 24 respectively, were both arrested alive, having actually killed and wounded dozens of people. No such treatment was afforded to Mr. Crawford.

I want to re-state all of the facts of this situation as comprehensively as possible in one sentence: Police, approaching from behind, shot dead a young Black man in an “open-carry” state, without warning, while he was holding a BB air rifle he intended to purchase, simply because a customer with a record of false statements, who had washed out of the Marines in less than two months after fraudulent enlistment, called 911 with a fear of Black men and falsely claimed the victim was loading and pointing an AR-15 at children in the store.

John Crawford III — and so many like him — deserved so much better.

August 27, 2014 – Arsenal For Democracy 97


Topics: Big Idea – How to regulate the Ubers and Airbnbs of the world; US, ISIS, and Syria; Interview with freelance writer and Ferguson protest eyewitness Jamie Nesbitt Golden. People: Bill, Persephone. Produced: August 24, 2014.

Discussion Points:

– Big Idea: Are “sharing economy” services like Uber and Airbnb helping people avoid important safety regulations and local taxes?
– What would be the consequences if the U.S. intervenes militarily against ISIS inside Syria?
– How much focus should be on Ferguson versus the wider problem nationwide?

Part 1 – Sharing Economy:
Part 1 – Sharing Economy – AFD 97
Part 2 – US, ISIS, Syria:
Part 2 – US, ISIS, Syria – AFD 97
Part 3 – Jamie Nesbitt Golden:
Part 3 – Jamie Nesbitt Golden on Ferguson – AFD 97

To get one file for the whole episode, we recommend using one of the subscribe links at the bottom of the post.

Related links

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St Louis County: When cops become revenue collectors

Fines and court fees are Ferguson’s second largest source of city revenue, according a report by St. Louis-based ArchCity Defenders (a pro bono legal defense group) that was quoted in an article in Newsweek last week. That has created an extremely strong incentive for police to hassle residents (who are predominantly Black) and, based on the statistics, just about everyone has had a run-in. Worse, this trend appears to match the situation around the wider county:

“Despite Ferguson’s relative poverty, fines and court fees comprise the second largest source of revenue for the city, a total of 2,635,400,” according to the ArchCity Defenders report. And in 2013, the Ferguson Municipal Court issued 24,532 arrest warrants and 12,018 cases, “or about 3 warrants and 1.5 cases per household.”

Exacerbating the problem, the report says, are “a number of operational procedures that make it even more difficult for defendants to navigate the courts.” A Ferguson court employee reported, for example, that “the bench routinely starts hearing cases 30 minutes before the appointed time and then locks the doors to the building as early as five minutes after the official hour, a practice that could easily lead a defendant arriving even slightly late to receive an additional charge for failure to appear.”

Thomas Harvey, co-founder and executive director of ArchCity Defenders and one of the paper’s authors, says that residents’ perception that the system is unfairly stacked against them gives important context for the depth of the present outrage.

“There are 90 municipalities in St. Louis County that range from 12 people to 50,000 people. Eighty-six of them have their own courts. They have their own police forces,” he explains. “What ends up being the product of all that is just a low-level sense of harassment on a daily basis. The clients that we represent feel that. It’s palpable for them.”

“They resent it because it’s not about public safety,” he adds. “These aren’t violent criminals. These are poor people.”

For my interviews with locals who have each had multiple experiences of police harassment in Ferguson, St. Louis County, and the City of St. Louis, please listen to Arsenal For Democracy 96 (open full page or at click the audio bar below).

AFD 96 – Ferguson / NMOS14

Ferguson is particularly notorious, as the report demonstrates, but is far from unique. This is a big-picture story of the area around (and including, to some extent) St. Louis, Missouri.

(hat-tip to Phoebe Loosinhouse on Daily Kos for flagging that part of the article and digging up the cited ArchCity report)