Michael Brown, 18, was unarmed and walking to his grandmother’s house when police accosted and murdered him. According to witnesses, his hands were up when he was shot eight to ten times.
The cops are promoting a story about Brown struggling for a gun within a patrol officer’s car that eyewitnesses say is completely concocted.
Dorian Johnson, who was walking with Brown, said that an officer pulled up next to the two teens, cursed at them, and then began choking Brown to try to pull him into the squad car. Brown broke away and tried to run away, at which point the officer exited his car, fired a shot and chased after him. He shot Brown from at least 35 feet away.
“Once my friend felt that shot, he turned around and put his hands in the air. He started to get down and the officer still approached with his weapon drawn and fired several more shots.” Another eyewitness Piaget Crenshaw tells the same story — of an execution, not a “struggle” for the officer’s gun.
Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, suffering through unimaginable pain and grief, has called out the cop’s action for what it was—racist murder. “You took my son away from me. Do you know how hard it was for me to get him to stay in school and graduate? You know how many black men graduate? Not many. Because you bring them down to this type of level, where they feel like they don’t got nothing to live for anyway.”
McSpadden spelled out what sort of justice she demands: “I would like to see him fired. I would like to see him go to jail with the death penalty.”
Ferguson is a primarily Black suburb of St. Louis. The police department is primarily white and widely resented for its unchecked abuses of the community.
That community is now in upsurge. Hundreds have rallied, chanting “No justice, no peace” and, with their arms up, “Don’t shoot!” Police have surrounded protesters with shotguns and attack dogs on the ready, but they have not backed down. The police brought out tear gas to try to force the community out of the streets and out of sight, while various politicians have pleaded with the youth to “go home.”
Today they canceled school. They said it was for the safety of the children, but the more likely reason is they fear the youth rebellion spreading further.
It is not just Ferguson either. The real and justified anger is palpable across the country. Just as outrageous as the initial murder is the killing of Brown’s character. The mass media have chosen images that intend to show him as a thug. In response, the hashtag #IfTheyGunnedMeDown has gone viral across social media, with Black youth posting pictures of themselves that the media would likely use if they were to be shot down.
The corporate media has focused entirely on looting. The looting is a side story. It is a feature of all spontaneous upsurges in which the state authorities and police temporarily lose control.
The real story is that of a young man who — despite the odds that racism and oppression have stacked up against him — was going to college on Monday, and is now dead.
The real story is of rampant police brutality being waged against poor and oppressed people. The real story is of a criminal justice system that never prosecutes killer cops, and from which the Black community has come to expect injustice.
Those who are condemning the “violence” of the young people in the streets falsely claim the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In 1968, weeks before his own assassination sparked rebellions across the country, Dr. King explained that “a riot is the language of the unheard.” He blamed the government that fails to address the “intolerable conditions” of racism, poverty and inequality. The 1968 report of the President’s own Kerner Commission came to the same conclusion about the social conditions that cause “riots.”
But what has really changed in those conditions 46 years later? The Black unemployment rate is higher now than it was then. The housing crisis remains severe. Mass incarceration has exploded. And to add insult to injury, cops are killing a Black person every 28 hours without ever facing prosecution.
They shot 13-year old Andy Lopez in Santa Rosa, Calif. They shot Alejandro Nieto in San Francisco. They shot James Boyd in Albuquerque. They murdered Eric Garner in New York. There is a new cop killing or act of racist, anti-people brutality essentially every day in this country.
The cops kill because they know they can—the government goes through a ritual “investigation” but they rarely prosecute, and never convict. They do not jail racist killer cops because, in a capitalist system marked by growing inequality and worsening conditions, they need a state apparatus with the confidence to fire at will. It is their way of intimidating those communities with the most reason to rebel, sending a message that “we can kill you at any moment.”
The St. Louis community is losing its fear, and will not be intimidated any further. The masses in the streets are unpersuaded that their militancy is “unproductive” and “not constructive.” After all, how can the legal system that let George Zimmerman off and still has not arrested Brown’s killer be more “constructive?”
It has to stop. Not one more mother should feel that pain. Not one more community should feel that loss. The militant protests in Ferguson are a necessary part of pushing back against the system.