By this weekend, the show of military force by local police in Ferguson, Missouri, had prompted a response from Congress. The chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) promised to review the Pentagon program that since the 1990s has transferred $4 billion in surplus military equipment to police forces. But many concerned with the policing of communities of color are also saying that demilitarizing local police really isn’t the point—or, as comedian John Oliver says, it “would just change the optics.” Writing for MSNBC, Columbia University professor Dorian Warren, a board member of Race Forward, which publishes Colorlines, explains:
“…the demilitarization argument does nothing to challenge or change the fact that ‘nearly two times a week in the United States, a white police officer killed a black person during a seven-year period ending in 2012,’ according to FBI statistics. …That’s everyday local policing, and has nothing to do with the militarization of local police forces….The choke-hold that killed Eric Garner or the multiple gunshots that killed Michael [Brown] were not military-grade weapons.
But authorities in Ferguson continued to make even more trouble over the weekend, especially when it came to dealing with journalists during the ongoing state of emergency. Here are just five of the ways Ferguson continues to get things wrong:
Saturday’s press conference turns to chaos Governor Jay Nixon called a press conference on Saturday during which he announced a state of emergency—which was met by community members asking questions Nixon wasn’t exactly comfortable answering (jump to 04:18 for the first audience response):
Caging reporters Accredited reporters were allowed to remain in a “staging area,” which impeded them from doing their jobs. While some reporters refused to accommodate the police’s request, other stayed behind in this zone:
Lying to reporters about use of tear gas One of the perils of journalists remaining in the police-sanctioned staging area is that they’re influenced by what the police say is happening over what is actually occurring. For example, police used tear gas on Saturday night but convinced journalists in the staging are that it was only smoke—and many inaccurately reported it that way:
Police throwing smoke at protestors. Official at media area says there has been no tear gas used tonight. https://t.co/kchqCuiaF6
Failing to get help a gunshot victim Police were out in full force this weekend, yet failed to get a gunshot victim to the hospital Saturday night. USA Today reported that Missouri’s State Highway Patrol Captain Ronald Johnson claimed “police used tear gas in an effort to reach the wounded person, but that other protesters already had taken the shooting victim to the hospital.” We’re not really sure how tear gas would help get a victim to a hospital—and his community got him there instead. This is presumably the gunshot victim being lifted off the ground on Saturday:
Middle-of-the-night press conferences In what seems like a willful effort to avoid questions from the press (as well as local residents), Ferguson keeps hosting press conferences in the middle of the night. Writer Tina Vásquez pointed out just how problematic this is:
Ferguson PD doing another middle-of-the-night press conference. Obviously.
Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson shot 18-year-old Michael Brown at least six times, twice in the head, according to a private autopsy released Sunday evening, the New York Times reported. The autopsy was performed by Dr. Michael M. Baden, a former chief medical examiner for New York City, and requested by Brown’s family.
The autopsy results were released on the same day that Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Department of Justice will perform its own autopsy alongside ongoing investigation the agency is conducting into Brown’s death.
Dr. Baden said that while Mr. Brown was shot at least six times, only three bullets were recovered from his body. But he has not yet seen the X-rays showing where the bullets were found, which would clarify the autopsy results. Nor has he had access to witness and police statements.
Dr. Baden provided a diagram of the entry wounds, and noted that the six shots produced numerous wounds. Some of the bullets entered and exited several times, including one that left at least five different wounds.
“This one here looks like his head was bent downward,” he said, indicating the wound at the very top of Mr. Brown’s head. “It can be because he’s giving up, or because he’s charging forward at the officer.”
The geographic difference between Ferguson and Crestwood is tiny—a short 26 miles away. But the demographic differences are severe. In 2012, the median household income in Ferguson was $36,121; it was nearly double for Crestwood, at $64,724. And while Ferguson is a largely black city where 64.9 percent of residents are black, Crestwood’s black population is tiny, at just 1.3 percent. Wilson previously worked in nearby Jennings, where the black population is 86.1 percent.
Wilson has policed two cities with majority black working class populations. Cities that look nothing like the one he calls home.
While police, armed and armored to the hilt, staged a paramilitary operation in Ferguson, Missouri this week, the officer who started it all had already left town. Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, a six-year veteran who shot and killed Michael Brown on Saturday, was nowhere to be found when USA Today reporters visited his home in Crestwood, Missouri today. A police officer stationed in front of Wilson’s home told the paper that “Wilson and his family left days ago,” USA Today reported.
Yamiche Alcindor, Marisol Bello and Aamer Madhani reported for USA Today:
A neighbor, who did not want to be identified, said that Wilson had moved into the neighborhood less than a year ago. She described him as ” tall and slim” and that she would see him walking his dog in the neighborhood of mostly single-story brick homes. She said she didn’t know he was the cop until this morning when Crestwood police informed residents that he was involved and the neighborhood would be getting attention.
Another neighbor, Ron Gorski, said he hopes Wilson gets a fair break.
“He’s a young guy,” Gorski said of Wilson. “Things happen and it’s a complicated situation. I feel for the family and the entire country.”
Complicated, sure. If police response thus far has been any indication, Wilson’s neighbors ought to be more concerned about the “fair break” Brown and his family and community will get.
Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson fatally shot an unarmed teen, 18-year-old Michael Brown. That’s about the only point of agreement among many people watching the Ferguson story unfold. With today’s announcements about the officer and Brown in mind, here are a few must-reads for your weekend.
Begin with USA Today, whose reporting reveals that the nation doesn’t count annual police killings all that well. Next MSNBC finds one explanation for why a majority black suburb has a majority white city government and police force: low voter turnout.
Reason looks at who in Congress is voting to militarize local police—and who isn’t. (It might surprise some of you.) Then wash it all back with this Storify, supposedly from Iraq and Afghanistan vets, along with this image of an on-duty balaclava’d officer.
As we first saw with Trayvon Martin, national and social media are again exposing private black family conversations to a general audience. Wash-U professor John Inazu wants white families to get in on the act. “[Let] me implore my white friends and colleagues not to let this be a “black thing,” he writes in the Post-Dispatch. “Join the peaceful demonstrations, and get your friends and families to join with you.” Some of these conversations aren’t pleasant. See The New Republic for what some white St. Louisans are saying about their neighbors in Ferguson. Bear in mind the TNR reporting is only one article, just one view of many. More reporters need to follow TNR’s lead and talk to more white people.
And finally, an observation. Social media and citizen journalists are becoming more effective at not only helping to organize physical protests but in challenging perceptions of unarmed young black men as criminals. As a woman, it’s difficult not to see similarities between this image war and the one waged 30 years ago by my mom’s generation. At one point, society took it as truth that women wearing short skirts, “deserved it” too. That belief is still around. But it’s no longer considered the truth.
As always, feel free to add your links. Have a good weekend, y’all.
CNN’s Don Lemon is in Ferguson today talking to local residents about new developments there related to Saturday’s shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown, who we now know was shot and killed by Officer Darren Wilson.
A young woman, whom Lemon fails to identify, shared a troubling story about her encounter with Officer Wilson about a month ago—in which she alleges that Wilson mistreated her, making her suffer the effects of a painful macing. She says Wilson also threatened her with arrest.
“I looked at his nametag and I was telling myself that I’d never forget who he was and what he did to me,” she explains. When she saw his name in the news this morning, the young woman says she knew exactly who Darren Wilson was.
On Thursday, five American Muslims filed a lawsuit in federal court charging that they were added to the federal watchlist of “known or suspected terrorists” without due process.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Yaseen Kadura, Naji Abduljaber, Abdus Samad Tootla, Alaa Saade and Ahmed Saleh Abusaleh by the Michigan chapter of the Council and American Islamic Relations (CAIR) to challenge “the government’s broad and unchecked power to secretly label individuals as ‘known or suspected terrorists’ without concrete facts, but based on only a vague standard of ‘reasonable suspicion,’” said CAIR attorney Lena Masri in a statement.
“The federal government has unjustly and disproportionately targeted American Muslims by routinely adding their names to the Terrorist Screening Database without affording them their rights to due process,” Masri said.
The lawsuit asked that the federal government notify those who are being placed on the watch list, and offer an opportunity to challenge their placement on it. Some 1.1 million people were on the watchlist by the end of 2013, AP reported. Dearborn, Michigan, with a large Muslim population, ranks second on a list of cities with the largest representation of those on the federal terrorist watchlist.
The lawsuit was filed just weeks after The Intercept first reported that the federal government had been secretly monitoring the email of American Muslims.
Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson finally released the name of Michael Brown’s shooter this morning: Darren Wilson. But in doing so, he took the opportunity to distribute still images and video from a robbery that he says occurred Saturday morning before Brown was shot and killed. Ferguson has already failed on multiple levels since Brown’s shooting. Today’s development just adds to that list.
In the images and video released to the media this morning, someone who is purported to be Brown is seen pushing another person assumed to be a store clerk. We’re told that the person identified as Brown stole a box of little cigars.
The problem here is that the supposed images of Brown, along with the unverified allegation that he carried out a “strong-arm robbery,” primes the media—and its readers—to focus on the wrong suspect.
Rather than releasing images of Darren Wilson—who’s suspected of something far more serious than theft— this emphasis places blame on the victim. Even if it’s confirmed that Brown took a box of cigars and pushed a store clerk in one place, he was killed in another—and witnesses claim the 18-year-old was essentially executed in cold blood.
Aside from not having images of Wilson, we don’t even know how many shots he fired. We lack basic facts about the investigation into Wilson, assuming one is truly under way.
Julia Ioffe has done something that reporters rarely do. She went to one of St. Louis’ predominantly white suburbs and asked residents what they think these days about neighboring Ferguson, scene of the fatal shooting last Saturday of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown by officer Darren Wilson. Their comments lack empathy. And notably, no one reveals their name for publication. Never mind. What’s important is that Ioffe asked white St. Louis residents what they thought in the first place.
Too often, white perspectives go missing when national media reports on a “race story.” They show up at a remove in surveys about white attitudes, studies about the criminal justice system, or as anonymous or ranting opinions in an online comments section—but less so as real people quoted in the reported story. This absence especially shouldn’t happen in Ferguson.
Early reporting situates this week of protest within racially skewed power dynamics, regional disinvestment, residential segregation and racial profiling by local police to say the least. White St. Louis residents probably have a lot to say about that—and not all share views with those anonymous folks in Ioffe’s reporting. But first, let’s hope other reporters even ask. They are a crucial part of the Ferguson story, too.
Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson were two trans activists whose contributions to the 1969 Stonewall Riots were somewhat lost to history. Now, two modern-day activists have raised more than $25,000 on Kickstarter to bring the story of their radical friendship to new audiences.
Reina Gossett and Sasha Wortzel wrapped up the successful crowdsourcing campaign for “Happy Birthday, Marsha,” a short narrative film based on the hot summer day in June of 1969 when the two friends helped make history.
When Marsha and Sylvia, self-proclaimed “street queens” - homeless, Black & Latina trans women - ignite the Stonewall Rebellion, they change LGBT politics forever. It’s a hot summer day in June, 1969. Marsha throws a party, but no one shows up. Meanwhile, Sylvia gets stoned and forgets the party after unsuccessfully introducing her lover to her family. Throughout the difficult day, the friends struggle with harassment and alienation before converging at the Stonewall Inn to finally celebrate Marsha’s birth. Unbeknownst to them, the NYPD has plans to raid the bar that night.Happy Birthday, Marsha! is the story of two brave best friends and the everyday decisions they made that changed the course of history.
As Wortzel says in the Kickstarter video, the film is about “the everyday choices that can change the course of history.” It’s currently in pre-production, according to a tweet from Wortzel:
It’s taken nearly a week to reveal the identity of the Ferguson police officer that shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown last Saturday. His name is Darren Wilson, an officer who’s served on the force for six years.
Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson police disclosed Wilsons’s name in front of the local QuikTrip, which was burned down on Sunday during clashes between police and demonstrators.
Jackson also referred to a “strongarm robbery” that Saturday—although it’s unclear if it had any connection to Brown’s killing. The mention of a “suspect” in connection to this case appears to have angered local residents attending the press conference this morning in Ferguson.
Here are nine moments, starting from Saturday, that make you wonder how Ferguson got so much, so wrong:
Killing Michael Brown Because the police, Justice Department and FBI haven’t divulged details of their investigations into Brown’s shooting, all we have to go by are eyewitness accounts. And those accounts indicate that Brown was essentially executed:
Militarizing the streets from day one M-16s, armored trucks, tanks, tear gas, rubber bullets and pepper shots didn’t just start today. As local residents have documented, police displayed a massive show of force just hours after Brown’s shooting:
Declining to interview key witnesses Dorian Johnson was walking down the street with Brown as a police car approached them on Saturday. Moments later, Brown was killed. But Johnson says local police have declined to interview him about what he witnessed:
Declaring a no fly zone Although it was soon lifted, the Federal Aviation Administration initially agreed to restrict flights over Ferguson. The agency claimed it was for the safety of officers involved—but it also restricted airspace for media helicopters:
.@FAA lifted flight restrictions moments ago. The airlines will resume normal flight paths. #flystl
À la 1964, Ferguson police chief claims ‘outside agitators’ It’s reminiscent of the Civil Rights Era 50 years ago. In an interview with Sean Hannity on Fox Wednesday, Ferguson’s police chief, Tom Jackson, claimed “outside agitators are causing the violence” (you can forward to 05:28 to hear it):
Michael Brown, the 18-year-old African-American teen who was gunned down by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, last Saturday lived in a community with longstanding residential segregation, issues with racial profiling and concerns about the racial makeup of its police force. He also graduated from Normandy High School, a racially isolated high school with a dismal graduation rate—and alarmingly high school suspension rate.
The national suspension rate for secondary schools is 11 percent. Normandy’s was nearly four times that, journalist Dana Goldstein reports in a portrait of Normandy High school by the numbers.
Typically, racial disproportionality is a central part of the conversation around school suspensions. But African-American students already make up 98 percent of the school, so it’s barely surprising that the school’s black students received 99 percent of the school’s out-of-school suspensions in 2011.
Read Goldstein’s blog post, which offers a quick look at the conditions Brown went to school in and survived before he was killed.
Read Colorlines’ long look into the school-to-prison pipeline, its impact on black youth and efforts to reimagine the school discipline paradigm in our Life Cycles of Inequity series.
A new eyewitness last night shared her account of the shooting death of unarmed teen Michael Brown by a Ferguson, Missouri, police officer. Tiffany Mitchell’s description of Brown is graphic, cautions local station KMOV, and matches the statement given by Brown’s friend, Dorian Johnson. After last night’s arrests and tear-gas volleys and today’s presidential address, the court of public opinion is in highest gear. Here’s what to keep in mind as you wade through (and for those just joining, start here):
The militarization of local police forces has a long history—and libertarian Sen. Rand Paul is calling for its end. In St. Louis County, according to an August 2013 report, about neighbors shaken up by the sight of heavily armed officers, police have been using SWAT teams to serve felony warrants, no matter what they’re for. This June, the ACLU issued a comprehensive report, War Comes Home—and they don’t mean St. Louis.
Ferguson is not Watts, 1965. It’s not even Crown Heights, 1991. Today’s St. Louis American editorial provides perhaps the best first draft of history you’ll read explaining why Ferguson residents stood together in the hours following Brown’s death. Ferguson fits into the well-documented history of police abuse triggering demonstrations and riots. But pay attention too, to Ferguson’s differences. They may indicate whether we’re witnessing something new.
Among many African-Americans, feeling themselves drown in a waterfall of murdered unarmed men and women, pushback against the Obama model is gaining fresh ears. From Duke University professor Mark Anthony Neal:
Six years into the Obama Presidency, we now realize that pulled-up, belted pants, neatly-pressed dress-suits and bow-ties are apparently a policy initiative intended to save Black men and boys. President Obama was seemingly shamed into the creation of My Brother’s Keeper (MBK), in the aftermath of the Trayvon [Martin] shooting and with the stark realization (via every index imaginable) that the lives of Black youth were not significantly better under his leadership, and perhaps worse.
Finally, consider how Michael Brown’s death in suburban, out-of-the-way Ferguson became news in the first place—and be wary of threats to the spread of that information. Zeynep Tufekci’s*, “What Happens to #Ferguson Affects Ferguson” is a great primer on legislative and corporate efforts to further restrict Internet freedoms. Also, the arrest-and-release of mainstream journalists rightly provoked the Twitterati’s furor last night and drew President Obama’s attention today. But many if not most journalists capturing the pulse of communities like Ferguson do not work for mainstream media. They’re freelancers or citizen journalists like Alderman Antonio French, also arrested and held last night. From Tufekci*:
The citizen journalists held on, even as choked from the gas, some traditional media started going live from the region, and today, [Ferguson’s] on the front page of many newspapers.
As always, feel free to share your own must-click links. See you back here tomorrow.
“There is no excuse for police to use excessive force against peaceful protestors,” President Obama said this afternoon as he addressed the police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the ongoing protests that have erupted in the aftermath of his death.
He commented directly on Brown’s death, and the police repression of protestors and journalists:
It’s important to remember how this started. We lost a young man, Michael Brown, in heartbreaking and tragic circumstances. He was 18 years old. His family will never hold Michael in their arms again. When something like this happens, local authorities, including police, have a responsibility to be open and transparent about how they are investigating that death and how they are protecting people in their communities.
There is never an excuse for violence against police or those who would use this tragedy as a cover for vandalism and looting. There is also no excuse for police to use excessive force against peaceful protesters or to throw protesters in jail for lawfully exercising their First Amendment rights. Here in the United States of America police should not be bullying or arresting journalists who are just trying to do their jobs and report to the American people on what they see on the ground. Put simply, we all need to hold ourselves to a high standard, particularly those of us in positions of authority.
I know emotions are raw right now in Ferguson, and there are certainly passionate differences about what has happened … Let’s remember we’re all part of one American family. We’re united in common values, and that includes belief in equality under the law, basic respect for public order and the right to peaceful public protest, a reverence for every single man, woman and child among us, and the need for accountabilty when it comes to our government.
Obama confirmed that the Department of Justice and FBI have independent investigations open into Brown’s death. The DOJ is also, Obama said, “consulting with local law enforcement on ways they can maintain public safety without restricting the right to peaceful protest and while avoiding unnecessary escalation.”
Fall semester for Los Angeles Unified School District students began this week, and the school district is opening its doors to some new enrollees. The district is planning for 1,000 new unaccompanied minor children to enroll in its schools, LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy told the Los Angeles Times.
The district isn’t rolling out the welcome mat out of mere kindness. It’s also the law. Under a 1982 Supreme Court ruling in Plyler v. Doe, school districts may not deny a child access to public education based on their immigration status.
While the unaccompanied minors crisis exploded this year, the district has already been experiencing increased demand for services for immigrant children. The Los Angeles Times’ Howard Blume reports:
During the 2013-14 school year, the immigrant enrollment center handled 1,800 students, an increase of 400 from the previous year. In the latter months, 80% were “children who crossed the border unaccompanied,” one just 7 years old, according to an internal district analysis.
The numbers from the center don’t provide a full count because schools typically enroll new students on their own.
The impact, however, is probably reflected in the figures for Spanish-speaking students who are not fluent in English. Their numbers had been declining in L.A. Unified, but increased last year from 142,457 to 146,794, even as overall enrollment dropped.
It took Missouri Governor Jay Dixon five days to get to Ferguson after the shooting of Michael Brown. Dixon, a Democrat, finally announced in the middle of the night that he would be altering his schedule to head to St. Louis County. The governor says he’s listening at Christ the King United Church of Christ in Florissant, Missouri.
Police have arrested some 60 people in and around Ferguson since Saturday—including two journalists and alderman and community journalist Antonio French. The local police department has meanwhile declined to release the name of the officer who shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown, which is one of the few modest demands demonstrators have been making. One of several Anonymous accounts on Twitter has claimed to have the officer’s name, but it hasn’t been independently verified.
It appears that Governor Dixon will soon announce that he’ll be relieving St. Louis County police officers of their duties in the county. Bloomberg’s Derek Wallbank tweeted that Representative Lacy Clay (D-Missouri) told him as much:
Clay: “The gov. just called me and he’s on his way to St. Louis now to announce he’s taking St. Louis County police out of the situation”