Zaki Baruti is the President-General of the Universal African People’s Organization. He sat down with Liberation for an interview last week.
BB: People all over the world are watching St. Louis. How would you, as someone who has been centrally involved, characterize what is going on there?
ZB: I characterize it as justified, righteous outrage among many of the youth in the community, as well as the elders, at what happened to a young man, who was about to enter another new stage of his life and go to college. That’s a young man named Michael Brown who was brutally shot multiple times, over 8 times, by a killer cop whose identity we still do not have as of today.
That senseless murder has caused a major event that many of the authorities cannot put a complete handle on. I look at it as a righteous rebellion.
Why do you think the rebellion has broken out?
ZB: The killing of Michael Brown is a small symptom of what is taking place across America where young Black man are brutalized by the police forces.
It’s also sad to say that in the city of Ferguson, in a city that is 63% Black, there are 53 commissioned officers and only 3 are Black. That speaks to a situation that is not peculiar to Ferguson — it is like that in many other cities. In the cities across America, our organization, the Universal African People’s organization, as well as the Coalition on Police Crimes and Repression, we say that the police forces should reflect the ethnic communities they patrol. But that’s not the case in Ferguson or St. Louis.
Ten years ago the Missouri General Assembly mandated that the Attorney General conduct yearly studies to see if we had an epidemic of DWB (Driving While Black.) And every year there are proven statistics that show that Black people are disproportionately stopped and arrested.
The frustrations of our youth are compounded by the fact of tremendous unemployment, poor educational system, families that have been split by the disproportionate incarceration of Black people — this is the country with the most prisoners in the world. We are also calling for financial investment, similar to what happened after World War II when they had the Marshall Plan to infuse dollars from the United States to rebuild the war torn cities in Europe. We’re saying the same thing has to be done for the cities here.
Are there organized forces taking the lead in St. Louis and Ferguson?
ZB: There are several key grassroots organizations that have consistently spoken truth to power and made efforts to organize our youth to address the issues of police brutality and harassment. In addition to the groups I represent, there is the Tauheed Youth Organization, led by a brother Anthony Shahid who has been working diligently. You have the New Black Panther Party on the ground there, Nation of Islam Mosque #28, the Organization for Black Struggle, the Moorish Science Temple.
But let me be clear: there are many spontaneous protests organized by youth who do not belong to any particular organization. Out of this struggle, we’re hoping to mobilize them into some form of organized movement in terms of attracting them to our organizations or any others that speak truth to power.
Why do you think building such organizations is so important?
ZB: To deal with the ills of this society people have to be organized. Therefore, our message is that everybody needs to belong to an organization — preferably one that is real strong and not afraid to deal with the issues of the day.
What is your message to people who are outside of St. Louis, and might be feeling powerless as to what to do?
ZB: One, we are planning a National Day of protest and support in the memory of Michael Brown. But not just him — also the brother Eric Garner who was just choked to death in New York, Oscar Grant, Amadou Diallo and so on. This will be a protest against police violence and we’ll be announcing a date soon.
We’ll be asking masses of people — 10,000 to 30,000 people — to come to the St. Louis area to support us in our just cause. And for those who cannot come to hold solidarity rallies in the communities where they live.
We also ask that people across the country search online for the office number of the St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch, and bombard it with calls demanding that the officer be indicted and vigorously prosecuted with a conviction.
What has been the response of the prosecutor thus far?
ZB: At one of our demonstrations outside the St. Louis County Justice Center, where the prosecutor has his office, we were going to send a delegation of five people to meet with him. When he saw the list and saw my name on it, he said I could not come. Out of principle, the other people refused to meet with him also based on that. They cannot determine who is going to go and negotiated and represent our people.
For those who are hearing from the media that there is a looting and criminal element taking over at night in Ferguson, how would you respond to that?
ZB: It’s another falsehood. Although there was some of that — and I don’t call it “looting,” I call it the liberation of some of the goods that have been stolen from the people over the centuries — that has not been an ongoing situation. What has actually taken place is that a number of young people have come to the forefront daily, in the daylight and in the evening, to express their outrage. They have been by and large peaceful. All they have done is block the streets of the major thoroughfares, somewhat similar to what took place in Egypt at Tahrir Square and other places where there have been rebellions of the masses of people. The theme has been “enough is enough.”
As an elder, I’m in absolute agreement with it because it could as easily been my son or grandchildren. So we have to create an environment where these injustice do not occur any longer.