Police, Media Smear Victim of Missouri Shooting – Shifting Focus Away from Military-Style Occupation

By Patrick Martin
Global Research, August 16, 2014
World Socialist Web Site
Region: USA
Theme: Militarization and WMD, Police State & Civil Rights

police-state-ferguson-swat--400x299Police in Ferguson, Missouri have released material to the media which they claim identifies Michael Brown, the 18-year-old victim of a police killing last Saturday, as a participant in the robbery of a convenience store the same day.

At a press conference Friday morning, Police Chief Thomas Jackson finally made public the name of the police officer, Darren Wilson, who shot the unarmed youth multiple times in broad daylight, as he knelt with his hands up. Jackson then distributed 19 pages of photographs and purported eyewitness statements about the alleged robbery, and left without answering any questions from the media.

The documents have several political purposes: to shift the focus from the policeman who pulled the trigger; to provide a pretext for the execution-style slaying of Michael Brown, by smearing him as a violent lawbreaker; and to draw attention away from the massive military-style occupation of Ferguson earlier this week.

Even if the photographs and testimony were conclusive evidence—and they are not—there is no death penalty for grabbing a few packs of candy-flavored cigars, priced at two for 99 cents. And Jackson later admitted that Wilson had no knowledge of Brown’s alleged participation in a petty theft when he fired multiple rounds from his service revolver into the young man’s body.

These undeniable facts have not stopped the US media from giving saturation coverage to the claims that Brown robbed a store only minutes before he was shot to death, as though that made his killing justifiable.

Conveniently for the police, the principal eyewitness to the killing of Brown, his friend Dorian Johnson, is named in the robbery complaint. This means that the Ferguson police may now lock up and silence Johnson, who has been widely quoted in the press describing the wanton and unprovoked actions of Officer Wilson in shooting Michael Brown.

Speaking through their attorney, Michael Brown’s family denounced the police smear campaign. Benjamin L. Crump, who previously represented the parents of Trayvon Martin, said Brown’s parents were “beyond outraged.” He told the press, “Nothing, based on the facts before us, justifies the execution-style murder by this police officer in broad daylight.”

Ferguson residents echoed the family’s anger. “I am incensed,” Laura Keys, 50, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I can’t believe this is the tactic they are using, bringing up a robbery to make the victim look like he was the person who created this whole mess. Where’s the footage?”

The actions of the Ferguson police had the character of a deliberate provocation against the community, in the wake of the decision by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon to put the Missouri state police in charge of police operations in the town, while relegating St. Louis County and Ferguson police to a backup role.

This maneuver, which placed an African-American police captain and native of Ferguson in command, succeeded at least temporarily in defusing tensions on Thursday night. There were peaceful protests over the death of Michael Brown, and none of the military-style attacks on demonstrators, using teargas, flash-bang grenades and armored cars, seen on four previous nights. No one was arrested.

Both Governor Nixon and Captain Ron Johnson, the Missouri state police officer in command on the scene, denied knowing in advance that the Ferguson police intended to release a load of derogatory information about Michael Brown Friday morning, along with the name of his killer. Johnson said he “would have liked to have been consulted” ahead of time.

It is unclear whether this reveals actual friction between the Ferguson cops and the state authorities, or represents a Missouri version of the “good cop, bad cop” routine, but that matters very little. The crude thuggery of local police and the more sophisticated maneuvering by the Democratic politicians have the same goal: to suppress the popular protests over the killing of Michael Brown and cover up the fundamental class issues revealed in this incident.

Governor Nixon, in consultation with the Obama administration, is using the services of a privileged layer of upper-middle-class blacks, including preachers, Democratic politicians and figures such as the Reverend Al Sharpton, to divert the anger over Michael Brown’s murder into safe political channels.

Sharpton’s comments Friday are particularly significant. The MSNBC talk-show host warned that one night without violence was not enough. “Let’s not act like we’ve solved the problem because we now have the cops marching with the marchers,” he said. “We’re not out of this yet.” Sharpton will appear Sunday at a rally with Brown’s parents and other nationally prominent African-Americans, including Martin Luther King III.

Sharpton cited the upcoming funeral of Michael Brown as a potential flashpoint, asking, “What happens when these kids see their friend laying in the casket? I’ve been through this more than one time. We’re not out of the emotions because we all of a sudden had a good night of marching.”

That is, for Sharpton and those he represents, the “problem” to be “solved” is not the police killing of Brown, but the anger that has erupted in response.

In its editorial Friday morning, the New York Times sounded something of the same note, criticizing the brutal actions of local police earlier in the week, while praising the actions of Governor Nixon and the rhetoric of President Obama. It commented that “law enforcement officers in Ferguson did not need to respond to mostly peaceful protests by deploying armored vehicles, pointing sniper rifles at civilians and tossing tear gas and shooting rubber bullets liberally into crowds. These tactics have been an affront to a community that needs to be heard, not suppressed.”

What the Times counsels is of consultation between the police authorities and so-called community leaders that changes absolutely nothing in the actual conditions of life for residents of impoverished working-class areas like Ferguson.

The occupation of Ferguson this week by police forces has exposed before the eyes of the country and the world the brutality of class relations in the United States. The militarization of police forces, particularly over the past dozen years, has a fundamental class logic. The US ruling class is building up an apparatus of violent repression to be used against the working class as a whole, the vast majority of the population.

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Copyright © Patrick Martin, World Socialist Web Site, 2014


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Even the US’s smallest towns can be instantly turned into occupied territories as local police agencies quickly transform themselves from peacekeepers into occupying military forces. The small town of Ferguson, Missouri, is living proof of that.


The London Guardian covers the story:

Why are white people scared of black people’s rage at Mike Brown’s death?

Because ‘working together’ on Ferguson means nothing unless white privilege gets used for change – and defers to the black experience

We live in a society where this little girl has to spell this out. Photograph: Rebecca Barnett / AP

We live in a society where this little girl has to spell this out. Photograph: Rebecca Barnett / AP

In the days since 18-year-old Michael Brown was killed in broad daylight by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri – amid the flurry of media coverage, the teargas and the wooden bullets, the shameless character shaming of Brown, and the gut-sick heartbreak of his family – all I keep thinking is: Make it stop, white people.

You are the ones who created this godforsaken racist system by using your circumstantial power and privilege 400 years ago to institutionalize white supremacy. Now use that power and privilege you still have, 400 years later, to dismantle it.

And please don’t quibble about whether you have any direct lineage to the architects of racism. You are benefitting from it, so you have a direct responsibility to figure out how to undo it. Because maybe you’ve seen what happens when we black people try to undo it in 2014 – they call in the National Guard.

In between talking with my son to both protect him from the same fate as Michael Brown and empower him to walk tall in his skin, I have tweeted and posted on Facebook about this all week to no avail. Some white friends and acquaintances have said their silence is not complicity, or that we all need to work together. More pointedly, it was suggested in one thread comment that my upbringing – adopted by two white parents and raised in a majority white town – imparts a certain privilege that does not allow me to truly understand the racism toward black people in places like Ferguson.

But cops in places like Ferguson don’t see my white parents – that I learned early on. Since my parents, with the best of intentions, downplayed the significance of racism and racial inequality in our family, as a kid I felt as entitled to living, breathing and cultivating a full-on, ass-out, individual personality with big opinions as much as any white kid. But when I entered the real world, my opinions become angry accusations, and my individuality became threatening.

My parents’ liberal ideals of a race-blind world were gorgeous in their romanticism, but they neglected to consider what might happen should my individual body end up in a place like Ferguson, Missouri … in which case all the gorgeous romanticism in the world wouldn’t save me from being teargassed or shot to death.

Even if I had ended up in Ferguson, and my white parents happened to have been visiting me last week, well, who would really try and argue that the police – dressed in their camouflage, armed with their heavy artillery, driven by a militaristic us-and-them state of mind – wouldn’t kindly have asked my parents to step aside while they kept their guns pointed squarely at me?

Darren Wilson, the cop who shot Michael Brown, didn’t know whether his victim was headed to college or a high school drop-out, a straight-edge or had THC remnants in his blood, whether Brown was looking for a good flat stretch of pavement to skateboard or an unlocked car door, any more than Wilson would have known that I was raised by white people in New Hampshire, or that I bristle at authority, that I am defiant as hell, or that I sometimes drink too much wine.

That cop in Ferguson saw what he was looking for: a big, black, dangerous man, because that’s what white people learn to see. And no amount of “us” behaving better is going to change that calculus for white people: white people have to change it themselves.

To me, being black is about the brown of my skin, the dream-memories of high cotton, hymns, hollers and the soft backsides of nut-colored hands against my cheek. It is about the refuge I feel in the face of another black person, and the intrinsic joy at the base of my belly when I enter a room full of black people. But it is also about enduring racism on a daily basis, and often swallowing my rage and my pride in order to teach my son what it means to be black and endangered as he walks down the street.

So when I call for white people to get woke and get real serious about how you can use your privilege to make change, I don’t want to hear how I’m not like those black people in Ferguson. The cops in Ferguson or on Staten Island don’t care – don’t think – that I’m a “different kind of” black. The Detroit man who shot Renisha McBride in the face didn’t ask about her educational achievements. The North Carolina cop who shot and killed the unarmed football player didn’t ask him what color his parents are. The white guy walking down the street in Manhattan last year after George Zimmerman’s acquittal – the one who said to me, “poor Trayvon” – he didn’t turn and say it to a white woman.

I’m just black to them – and you’re white. You need to come for your own. Maybe start with the still existing New Empire Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, who are currently raising money in support of Darren Wilson, “a cop who shot a n*gger criminal”. But when black people’s anger is demonized, pathologized and criminalized – when it’s never seen as righteous, when we’re being gassed in the streets for it – don’t tell me you’re afraid of making black people angry by speaking up, or that my anger feels isolating to you. Because then I have to wonder if the people whose anger you really fear are white.