Hoopin’ for Justice, Striking Back at Erasure

There is a woman who has lived in Ferguson, MO for most of her life who has documentary evidence of the genesis of a revolt in the summer of 2014. She recorded video on August 9–the day of the killing of Mike Brown–at Canfield Green Apartments and at Ferguson Police Department headquarters. Canfield Green was where Mike Brown lived and was shot. Ferguson PD became one locus of the incipient protests on the first night. She made the walk from Canfield to the police department. Following roads the two locations are more than three miles apart.

I could not save her videos properly, so all I can do is link you to my timeline on Facebook.

Several important points arise from these videos. In the first video, one senses the fear instilled by the show of force at the scene of the killing. The dogs, the guns at the ready, the chopper…the presence of police is palpably oppressive and starkly at odds with the lived situation. There is no rioting, there isn’t chaos. A community has come outside on a summer night to collectively grieve the loss of a young man at the hands of the police. It’s a community in mourning, coalescing into an impromptu vigil.

In the video showing the arrival of riot police appearing before Ferguson PD, protesters challenge the call to disperse or there will be arrests. They say, “What about freedom of assembly?” and “You’re violating the Constitution!” Many of those assembled were arrested, and spent the night in the Ferguson jail.

We now can assert with confidence that there was an eagerness to test the populace with new toys; to play a “SWAT game”. The police clearly abrogated people’s First Amendment rights and other civil liberties throughout the first phase of the protests.

Some reflections: More than a month now since August 9, it’s hard for engaged citizens to get a handle on what they should be doing; even where they should physically be as events play out. There are so many meetings and events to attend, and competing agendas with which to contend.

People are frustrated with stasis. “Movement” types–those most passionately engaged with deterring police brutality, ending the “poverty capitalism” St. Louis County municipalities engage in through incentives to be “hard-ass”, tackling structural racism embodied by the white leadership and almost all-white police force of a majority black city–are soured on the stagnant quality of officially-sanctioned protests and protest sites. They are searching for new methods and new venues for direct citizen resistance and consciousness-raising exercises.

They are finding them. Monday, protesters assembled in front of Ferguson City Hall for the first time. Their signs note that local police forces are breaking Missouri Sunshine laws and their own written policies regarding police use of force.

In effect, the police are working with two sets of laws–one for them, and one for everybody else. The police do this to obfuscate, to cloud and confuse the situation. They are hoping the movement will splinter and wither away. We’ve just learned the grand jury in the case of Darren Wilson, the Ferguson police officer who shot Mike Brown, was granted an extension until January 7, in a new year, and after the November elections.

I fear that mainstream media ignoring my friend Laura Charles’s information is bound up in her gender, race, and even the fact that she is a longtime resident. I don’t know this, but it is of a piece with discussions around Ferguson. Canfield Green resident eyewitnesses have been devalued by their blackness and proximity to the home of Mike Brown. When the information came to light that outsiders, white men, working at Canfield Green corroborated what Canfield residents were saying, the local media privileged their take. It didn’t matter what they said; what mattered was that these guys said it, so their information had to be more valuable.

Laura’s lack of credibility is just assumed. It’s bad journalism, and deleterious to the civil dialogue. We need to know her story.

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