Ferguson + 365 Days: A Culture of Police Impunity

On the anniversary of Mike Brown’s death, another abusive police crackdown played out.

Map: Ferguson, MO within St. Louis County. (© OpenStreetMap contributors)

Map: Ferguson, MO within St. Louis County. (© OpenStreetMap contributors)

Last year, on August 9th, the death of Mike Brown at the hands of a police officer pushed the chronic abuse of an entire community at the hands of police to the forefront of global news media and kicked off a national movement.

Ten days ago, on August 9th 2015, the first anniversary of his death, people began tweeting links to articles and feeds about violence breaking out in Ferguson. I naively thought that people were posting old articles, as a reminder of the trauma that Ferguson residents endured last year in the wake of Mike Brown’s death. It wasn’t until the next morning that I realized that the links being posted were brand new. It’s been a year to the day, yet St. Louis County Police Department still doesn’t seem to want to fix the problem.

Over the past year, Whiteness and its privileges have been under the microscope. More and more people of color, especially Black people, are able to document their interactions with Whiteness — from the smallest micro-aggressions to major instances of Police Brutality and abuse. Ferguson in the past week alone has shown examples almost all of these issues.

On the night of August 10th, a 19-year-old White girl decided she was going to show solidarity with St. Louis PD as the tension increased at the ongoing Ferguson anniversary protests. The girl is quoted saying that she was there to protect the police, because she would rather have something thrown at her, than to have something thrown at and possibly injure cops.

It seems strange that someone would feel that police with guns riot gear would need protection from peaceful protesters. Meanwhile, the same instinct isn’t felt for a 12 year old Black girl detained by St. Louis County PD in Ferguson during protests. When the news spread on Twitter of the girl’s arrest, the STL PD account was quick to respond that the girl had an ID that stated that she was 18 years old, despite the fact that there were eyewitness accounts of the girl stating that she was 12 when asking why exactly she was being detained. Apparently she posed the same threat that Dajerria Becton posed in McKinney, Texas: being young, Black, and female in front of the police.

Earlier that same day, prominent activists Netta Elzie and DeRay Mckesson were both arrested, along with many others, during a peaceful protest at the Ferguson courthouse. It wasn’t until the following day, upon release, that other detainees came forward on Twitter with stories of being abused by the police — who ignored their requests not only to know why they were being detained, but also requests for things such as rolling down the windows in hot police vans.

This level of neglect harkens back to the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, or the death of Sandra Bland in Texas. In both of those instances, the police claimed that the victims hurt themselves, but the negligence shown toward the detainees makes one think that any pre-existing issue anyone might have had could only have become worse in police custody.

While Black protesters were detained abusively, an armed group of vigilantes called the Oath Keepers showed up at Tuesday night’s protests weren’t even approached initially by police and the legality of their presence had to be reviewed before the police ever asked them to leave. As usual, the threat of White violence (against Black protesters) was apparently less dangerous than the protesters’ unarmed presence.

Virtually all of this — incredibly — played out in front of global news media again, just like the first time around.

It’s been a year since the death of Mike Brown at the hands of a Ferguson police officer, and it seems as if the police there has not learned a single lesson. It is still treating unarmed Black citizens as a threat. Its attempts to “control” already peaceful situations only raise tensions higher. With the growing list of Black and Brown people being murdered by police, and with the entirety of the world watching, Ferguson is a reflection of the entire country’s inability to take any substantial move towards valuing and preserving our lives.

While the movement that expanded in the aftermath of Mike Brown’s death seems to have started very slightly changing the discussion in the country — by refusing to “let it go” — it is telling that the police in St. Louis County feel they can act with such impunity with the world watching.

That means they believe enough people in power or the general public don’t object to their behavior enough to correct it. Or that if they do object, the system will continue to protect them anyway. Sadly, that assumption is probably correct. And with Ferguson being the example of systemic racism on a smaller scale, imagine how that is playing out nationwide, off-camera.

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.

Missouri Republicans keep making the case for Missouri Democrats

Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” comments during the 2012 U.S. Senate election may be the most famous example of Missouri Republicans being so effortlessly terrible that voters are forced to pick the Democratic nominee regardless of that candidate’s merit, but he’s far from the only one.

Recently, of course, I blogged about the Missouri state legislator who said he would rather let everyone overdose on prescription drugs than have Missouri implement a database to track misuse of prescriptions for medications, just as every other U.S. state has done.

Today we were treated to three-term Republican Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder’s views on the crisis in Ferguson, which were either the loudest dog whistle of the decade or the most tone-deaf political remark uttered in the Show Me State since Congressman Akin’s non-scientific beliefs on rape “shut that whole thing down,” in terms of his career.

Here’s the quote from Kinder via RawStory:

“We do not do justice in America in the streets though,” he argued. “We have legal processes that are set in motion, that are designed after centuries of Anglo-American jurisprudence tradition, they’re designed to protect the rights and liberties of everyone involved.”

“That includes the Brown family, for justice for them and for the community. It also includes the officer who has not yet been charged,” he added. “Our constitutional and our Bill of Rights protections have to be followed here, and we do not do justice in the streets.”

“That’s one of the great advances of Anglo-American civilization, is that that we do not have politicized trials. We let the justice system work it out.”

Anglo-American civilization and jurisprudence? We do not do justice in the streets?

For someone commenting on a racially charged crisis, resulting from a White police officer unilaterally gunning down an unarmed Black teen he did not suspect of any crime, in a state (and country) with a long and ugly history of White lynch mobs enacting “justice in the streets,” this is about the worst possible thing he could have said short of actually just dropping n-bombs and death threats all over the broadcast.

Democratic Governor Jay Nixon’s policy response to Ferguson has been pretty terrible, and his rhetoric has been pretty misguided, but this line by the Lieutenant Governor is a pretty good demonstration of why Nixon ended up as the only credible option for reasonable voters, Democrats or otherwise… Complete awfulness as an alternative makes a great case for living with mediocrity.

AFD Radio Exclusive: Firsthand reports from Ferguson


Eyewitness accounts from Ferguson MO by longtime area residents and from the National Moment of Silence 2014 rally in Chicago.

Ferguson/NMOS14 Discussion:
AFD 96 – Ferguson / NMOS14

Recorded late afternoon of Sunday August 17th, 2014

Segment 1 Panel:
– JP from St. Louis County: Lives near Ferguson, 10-year U.S. military veteran, 20 year county resident
– Ama from St. Louis County: Lives next to Ferguson, wife owns a business there, 12 year county resident, participant in Ferguson rallies
– Michael from South Carolina: Returning guest, host of “Pound4Pound Boxing Report” show

Segment 2 Guest:
– JP from Chicago: Co-host of the “Nerdgasm Noire” show, lifelong Chicago resident, participant in the NMOS14 rally in Chicago

What we talked about this hour:

– Longstanding tensions with police in Ferguson and the wider St. Louis County
– The geography of the Ferguson protests and manifestations of outrage
– Militarization of American police forces
– Respectability politics: Why dressing and speaking a certain way won’t save Black Americans
– National Moment of Silence events
– Personal stories of being harassed by police in the St. Louis area, including Ferguson
– Raising children under / growing up with an abusive police force
– Organizing for future change, from social media to events on the ground


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And don’t forget to check out The Digitized Ramblings of an 8-Bit Animal, the video blog of our announcer, Justin.

After peace, Ferguson cops again incite disorder

After two nights of peaceful demonstrations under the supervision of the Missouri Highway Patrol on Thursday and Friday nights, things in Ferguson took a turn for the worse after midnight last night, when heavily armored local police unexpectedly returned to the scene (on the orders of the St. Louis County Prosecutor, which seems bizarre).

Prior to this surprise development, there was no looting happening or any kind of violence, despite the local authorities spending all of Friday disseminating objectively false information (as well as highly dubious claims) about the original shooting of Michael Brown. Most people and reporters were actually going home or leaving for the night by the time the riot police appeared unexpectedly and started antagonizing people, pointing guns at them, and firing “less-lethal” devices at them, including smoke grenades. The police also explicitly tried to order media members to disperse in particular.

This turn of events prompted a small minority of the people assembled (predominantly young people, by most accounts) to start breaking into stores to steal and destroy stuff. A much larger proportion of community members began frantically trying to block access to halt the looting, with mixed success. Meanwhile, the police just sat in their vehicles for at least an hour and didn’t do anything, as the chaos began unfolding and the property damage figures started mounting quickly. This is a very obvious provocation, and in no way was the police presence a response to the looting (since they arrived well before it).

Of course, the national media immediately tried to revise the timeline of event to imply that the renewed presence of armored police was a response to (rather than the catalyst for) looting. Here’s a sample headline from the middle of the night / early Saturday:

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Saturday afternoon’s development is that Governor Jay Nixon has declared a State of Emergency and proclaimed a curfew in Ferguson tonight from 12-5 AM. This is completely the opposite of a logical reaction, given that the community clearly wasn’t the problem and there had been two evenings of peaceful demonstrations under his original solution of bringing in uniformed highway patrolmen from outside in place of armored SWAT divisions. Thursday night 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. Friday night proved that taking away the supportive force and bringing back the militarized units will rile people back up again.

Meanwhile, there has been very little progress toward a credible investigation up to now, which is all that the protesters have been demanding this entire time, yet they are the ones being punished. It seems fairly likely there will be mass civil disobedience against the curfew order tonight.

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.”
Read more

Resistance against the police in Ferguson MO

Over the weekend, a cop in Ferguson, Missouri (in St. Louis County) shot and killed an unarmed Black teenager in the back. The local Black community, which has borne the brunt of law enforcement activities in recent years (especially as the city has rapidly gone from almost 50-50 Black and White to being two-thirds Black), was quite understandably very angry about the situation and began protesting. Despite the FBI being brought in to take over the investigation of the case, the situation has continued to escalate as Ferguson’s police department mobilized very aggressively against the protesters.

After some property damage occurred yesterday (though most of the protests were peaceful and undeniably reasonable), the standoff being the police and protesters became even more tense until this evening when the police began corralling and attacking the assembled community members.

Below are some firsthand videos posted by a City of St. Louis Ward Alderman, Antonio French:

And here’s a report from NBC St. Louis:

This aggression toward the community they are supposed to be protecting is yet another demonstration of the terrible results of Department of Homeland Security handing out grant money like candy to provide military-grade equipment and riot gear to local police forces all over the country.

Meanwhile, the U.S. media seems hellbent on driving the narrative that this story isn’t about the cold-blooded street execution of an unarmed child — or about the wider problem of police aggression and occupation of American black populations, or about legitimate resistance to unfair and violent practices. Rather, they’re obsessed with the idea that there might be “looting” happening or that there is a “riot.”

Screen Shot 2014-08-11 at 12.10.30 AM

Here’s the reality of the situation: Unarmed Black American kids keep getting shot to death for no reason on the false assumption they’re packing, and there’s rarely any justice. Meanwhile, unhinged adult White American men with avowedly anti-government views can walk around unchallenged in public places with assault rifles, telling you all about their “rights” and how important those are.

Is this country ever going to stop perpetrating and ignoring outrageous daily violence against and extrajudicial executions of Black Americans?

And I don’t think the media gets to decide who has the right to decide who has the right to resist (or how) when police keep targeting and fatally misjudging a population and then refuse to uphold the First Amendment’s guarantee of “the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”