Ferguson police occupation, community resistance continues

A summary of major developments in Ferguson, Missouri from Tuesday through Thursday afternoon (August 12-13, 2014), as the community continues to peacefully resist occupation by militarized police presence.


New York Times home page prominently featured an examination of the U.S. media trend of automatically showing unflattering images of Black Americans when killed by the police. Black social media users were speculating whether their “respectable” photos would be used if they were gunned down or more casual photos from parties and the like, which could be misconstrued. (Everyone has a dichotomy of available photos like that, of course, but the media tends not to use the unflattering photos of White victims, or often even assailants.)

Screenshot from U.S. Edition of NYTimes.com home page at 1:15 PM ET on August 12, 2014

Screenshot from U.S. Edition of NYTimes.com home page at 1:15 PM ET on August 12, 2014

Beyond the racialization of it, I think it’s super creepy in general that the U.S. news media feels comfortable taking and using people’s Facebook profile pictures without permission for use in news reports.

We also saw British news media start to emerge as an important source of accurate reporting on the ground in Ferguson, particularly on the subject of what weapons were being used on unarmed civilians. The Guardian reported on Monday’s police crackdown with evidence photos in an article headlined: “Missouri police fired wooden bullets at crowd during protest over teen’s death”

Local news reporters and news bloggers from St. Louis and Ferguson, of course, also remained critical sources of news. A blogger for the Riverfront Times reported on a development from Monday night: Police in Ferguson Fire Tear Gas on Protesters Standing in Their Own Backyard

Photojournalists continued to capture countless examples of militarized police overreach in downtown Ferguson, which have rapidly gone viral. TIME posted this AP photo (which I’m using here due to its newsworthiness, despite the copyright).

Riot police walk toward a man with his hands raised in Ferguson, Mo. (Jeff Roberson—AP)

Riot police walk toward a man with his hands raised in Ferguson, Mo. (Jeff Roberson—AP)

On Tuesday night a second person was shot and critically injured by police in Ferguson. Police claimed he had been brandishing a handgun threateningly, but they also began making extremely fanciful claims about the circumstances surrounding the original shooting of Michael Brown (which was seen by multiple eyewitnesses), so it was not an easy claim to buy on face-value.

Wednesday and overnight to early Thursday morning

The Atlantic’s CityLab blog reported that the militarized and violent police presence was not only going against the FBI manual for defusing such situations but was also a very one-sided “clash” that could obviously not be deemed a “riot.”

Media outlets have used the word “riot” dozens of times, even hundreds of times, to describe the crisis in Ferguson. Yet despite last night’s violence, three days after the death of the unarmed 18-year-old resident, Ferguson does not yet resemble the notable riots from the 1960s to the present day. Rather, it is starting to look like an occupation.

On Wednesday night, the police response escalated yet again. It was already clear that they weren’t thinking logically or strategically, but then they arrested and assaulted a Washington Post reporter and the Huffington Post’s reporter for The Department of Justice beat, this is some next-level self-immolation. The two detained reporters were only released when a Los Angeles Times reporter called the local police chief to ask why they had been arrested, and he was surprised to learn of the information. The immortal quotation was “Oh God.”

That development — understandably — really got the East Coast journalists in a huff.

I’m glad we spent 13 years fighting the people who “hate our freedoms” and that it’s “better to fight them there than here,” because it would be terrible if people who hated freedom were over here, among us.

Additionally, the crew from Al Jazeera America got directly teargassed while setting up a live broadcast. It was caught on video by an NBC affiliate.

To recap: a team representing the Middle East’s leading global news outlet got teargassed reporting on a police crackdown in the United States…

During the day, the police chief had tried to say that protests could not occur at night. One assumes this is because the First Amendment famously only allows freedom of assembly and the petition of government for redress of grievances during work hours and at the convenience of the police. [eyeroll here]

As various commentators observed, the contrast with the response to Occupy Wall Street — which was also a problem but far less of one — could not be clearer: A bunch of White middle class kids camped out all day and night for 2 months in New York before the cops made them leave, but police turn up to 11 from day 1 when unarmed Black Missourians in Ferguson exercise their First Amendment rights to peaceably assemble and petition the government for redress.

And suddenly the “We want our country back” crowd is dead silent because this is the country they want and those are the people they want it “back” from.

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon’s potential national career pretty much imploded overnight as he stayed silent for days on the crisis and then waited until after midnight following the Wednesday night crackdown to “urge” law enforcement to stop attacking peaceful protesters and journalists. He refused to go to Ferguson until Thursday.

Nixon’s statement on the Ferguson crackdown — apparently issued over Twitter in short bursts? — suggested that he had basically given up control of the situation and any semblance of authority over the police: “…and I urge law enforcement agencies to keep the peace and respect the rights of residents and the press during this difficult time.”

There now appears to be no functional civilian control in the state of Missouri, from Ferguson up to the capital. It’s just self-directed cops from all over, converging into St. Louis County, to do whatever they want. Not clear that any elected officials are giving orders anywhere. Or that there’s any sort of plan.

In addition to the suppression of news media — arrests, gassing, and ejections from certain zones — the police also arrested and held overnight City of St. Louis Ward Alderman Antonio French on “unlawful assembly” charges. He had been on-scene tirelessly uploading videos to Vine from his mobile phone for days.

British media continued to provide top-notch reporting alongside local sources, as well as Al Jazeera America, the LA Times, the Washington Post, Huffington Post, and others. Their overnight story — echoing the disbelief of media outlets all over the world — raised important questions about why teargas and rubber bullets were being fired at non-violent protesters. They also challenged local law enforcement to provide evidence for claims that police were being assaulted and injured. This amazing response came back:

[Brian Schellman, a spokesman for St Louis County police] said he could not say whether any bottles struck officers. However, he said, “the fear of threat like that is still construed as an assault. Injury does not have to happen for an assault to happen.”



President Obama returned early from Martha’s Vineyard to address the situation in Iraq (U.S. Special Forces apparently landed for an intelligence-gathering operation on Mount Sinjar overnight) as well as the crisis in Ferguson. He mainly just appealed for calm and affirmed the U.S. Department of Justice was working on the case.

As police continued to refuse to release the name of the cop who shot and killed Michael Brown, Reuters reported that the stonewalling bunker mentality appeared to be growing:

“We can’t let … even public groups pressure us into doing anything we don’t think we should do” — Edward Magee, a spokesman for the St. Louis County prosecutor’s office

No, clearly not. It would be terrible if you, a government official, had to answer to the public.

And the craziest part is that the protests have largely been motivated by the fact that the police is refusing to disclose any details of the case (including coroners’ reports) or even interview the eyewitnesses. Many of the eyewitnesses have been interviewed by national media but have yet to be questioned by the police. The longer it takes before they give official statements, the likelier it will be that the details of the story will change. The energy of the protests at this point is being fueled by the stonewalling and by the crackdowns more than anything else. Standing down the police occupation presence and giving more details of the case to the public would probably cause the protests to largely dissipate.

A veteran of the 1960s Civil Rights marches, U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia told MSNBC that he thought President Obama should declare martial law and federalize the Missouri National Guard and deploy them to protect the assembled protesters from law enforcement.

On the upside:

More soon.

Update 4:23 PM ET: Local news media and elected officials are now reporting Gov. Nixon has announced the deployment of Missouri Highway Patrol to Ferguson to replace local police.

The current head of the Highway Patrol is Black, which may help dial back the response toward protesters to a proportionate level, but it also seems like Gov. Nixon managed to find every Black authority figure in Missouri all of a sudden, for this press conference, after days of his own absence from the crisis. Moreover, the investigation still needs to be handed over to someone else.

Update 12:52 AM ET, 8/15:
The occupying militarized police forces were withdrawn and replaced with Missouri Highway Patrolmen in normal police uniforms, who provided a safe environment for a protest march. The tension seems to have broken, and there were no instances of violence or arrests reported. Tonight was a pretty solid confirmation that people will calm way down if you stop deploying armored police to attack them and instead send regular uniformed officers from outside to help them march safely. Which of course is what they were trying to do on Sunday when they were illegally ordered to disperse, for no apparent reason.

Bill Humphrey

About Bill Humphrey

Bill Humphrey is the primary host of WVUD's Arsenal For Democracy talk radio show and a local elected official.
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