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It’s Clear: In Ferguson, Resistance is the Only Option

feature image via peoplesworld.

This is what it looks like when you must defend your right to exist.

Today, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon announced what exactly law enforcement will do when the grand jury delivers a decision to indict – or worse – not indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson for the murder of 18-year-old Michael Brown. In advance of presumed “unrest,” Nixon was expected to – and did – announce a reactivation of the National Guard to “support” response from the local unified command. That unified command includes the St. Louis County Police Department as well as the Missouri State Highway Patrol, but it does not include the Ferguson Police Department.

The longer the decision takes, and the more surreptitious the state’s briefings with local law enforcement become, the more certain it appears that the grand jury will not indict Wilson. Nixon’s remarks all but ensure that there will be more of the very hyper-militarized response that launched domestic protests onto global radar in the first place.

In anticipation of the grand jury’s decision, the Don’t Shoot Coalition, made up of multiple activist organizations on the ground issued their own Proposed Rules of Engagement which include a call for law enforcement to disallow crowd control equipment like armored vehicles, rubber bullets, rifles, and tear gas. But it doesn’t stop there. A full read of the list offers telling and terrifying insight about the tactics employed by the state to dispel and discourage the growing movement. Other notable demands call on the government not to tap protesters’ phones without a warrant; not to contact employers or publish private information to intimidate protesters; to allow media and legal observers to do their jobs without fear of arrest; and not to artificially inflate bail as a means of detaining “leaders” within the larger movement. At today’s news conference, there was no indication that the Governor or any heads of local law enforcement intend to adopt those rules.

Further, the tone and overall conduct of the state under Nixon’s leadership have been nothing short of discouraging. Since the August shooting death of the African American teen, Wilson, a white officer, has been virtually M.I.A., save his testimony before the Ferguson grand jury. The grand jury has been deliberating over evidence since August 20, during which time, at least five criminal cases had to be dismissed because Wilson – a primary witness – “wasn’t available” to appear in court. In that time, Bob McCulloch has had total control over what evidence the grand jury hears and does not hear as the prosecuting attorney in the case. There have been well over 100,000 calls for McCulloch to recuse himself, including from St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley, but Gov. Jay Nixon stood by this questionable character, further stoking the ire of those residents whose interests and safety he still seems unwilling to protect. The residual leaks of evidence in the case, added to rhetoric from the Governor about his refusal to tolerate those “vandals” and “criminals” who only bring “ugliness” upon his state with their, apparently, unjustified rage, project an utterly oversimplified narrative onto protesters in this movement.

Knowing it may be too much to ask that Missouri law enforcement agencies treat citizens humanely instead of treating them as “enemy combatants,” organizers are employing every method possible to preempt further infringement of the people’s civil and human rights. Civil disobedience and direct action trainings have been underway to teach participating protesters how to fight back peacefully. Understanding that the risk of direct action could give officers an excuse to escalate response, activists have prepared for every possible threat to their constitutional right to resist.

Today and thousands of miles away in Geneva, Switzerland, Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown, Sr. testified before the United Nations that their son’s death at the hands of law enforcement is symptomatic of larger human rights abuses carried out by the United States – most often – against defenseless black and brown bodies. The family of Michael Brown, HandsUpUnited, the Organization for Black Struggle, and Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment submitted testimony to the 53rd Session of the United Nations Committee Against Torture which will convene through the end of November. There, activists from cities across the country are calling the UN’s attention to gross violations of the body’s convention against torture.

The United States has been a signatory of the anti-torture treaty for 20 years. According to the ACLU, this week’s review of the US’ torture record is the first since President Barack Obama took office in 2009. Against the backdrop of torture practices carried out at Guantanamo Bay and secret facilities overseen by the CIA, the problem of police brutality and excessive force emerge as a peculiar brand of militarized aggression reserved, not for (alleged) war criminals, but the disenfranchised within US borders.

In addition to the Ferguson contingent, the brother of Rekia Boyd, and activists from Chicago-based We Charge Genocide are testifying before the UN about patterns of the Chicago Police Department’s reckless use of force in their city. According to WCG’s presentation to the UN, between 2009 and 2013, more than 75 percent of all police shooting victims in Chicago were black. Black residents are also 10 times more likely than white residents to be gunned down by Chicago PD. But greater than all this, WCG reports that of 1509 complaints of excessive force, only 2 percent resulted in any kind of penalty.

In Boyd’s case, the unarmed 22-year-old woman was an innocent bystander, struck by a Chicago Police officer who was firing at another unarmed man.  While Boyd’s family received a $4.5 million settlement, prosecution of the officer was repeatedly delayed. Dante Servin, the officer responsible for the shooting death, will only go to trial at the end of this year.

The American Civil Liberties Union report to the UN includes even more torture abuses on the part of the US that constitute a clear violation of the international convention. Their 93-page report reminds the UN of its own previous “concerns” about “the excessive and lethal use of force” per the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

The entire delegation of intergenerational activists, largely coordinated by the US Human Rights Network, are ultimately calling on the UN to facilitate revision of US policies and patterns of practice that feed this state violence.

Against the backdrop of torture practices carried out against alleged war criminals at Guantanamo Bay and secret facilities overseen by the CIA, the problems of police brutality and excessive force emerge as uniquely local crises of hyper-militarization employed against the nation’s own citizens.

Whether at the level of the vote (despite illegal ID checks) or the hope of international intervention, the masses are employing every possible means of counter-engagement to defend their right to existence and belonging as a part of this country – and at every turn they are met with opposition.

At best, it’s incredibly ironic that on Veterans’ Day those US citizens sitting before the UN are demanding the right to have their personhood affirmed globally because this nation – still – refuses to respect their personhood locally. The Double V campaign of World War II sounds like a gimmick, but it was an attempt to respectfully and civilly acknowledge the sheer lunacy of calling on soldiers of color to defend their country against some global boogey man when they had no rights the boogey man at home was bound to defend.

So, who really deserves the right to rage?

Robert McCulloch won’t say when the grand jury will deliver a decision, but as far as many activists are concerned, the deal is already done. In Ferguson and beyond, the only option that remains is to continue to resist.

The Words to Action Newsletter  from @deray and @netaaaaaaaaa has consistently listed ways allies and activists can support on-the-ground action in St. Louis County. 

#FergusonToGeneva Click here to learn more about and to support the Ferguson trip to Geneva.

Support Livestreamer @Rebelutionary_Z by donating money or purchasing supplies.

Bail Fund Donations. Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment (MORE) have a bail fund to assist protesters. Click here to donate. According to organizers, the police are aiming to deplete the current bail fund by making the bail of any arrested protester $1,000, the legal limit. Please help.

ArchCityDefenders. This is the group of lawyers providing legal assistance to arrested protesters and assisting with legal strategy related to the protests. This is also the group that has led the work on the fines and fees issue in Missouri. Learn more and support them.

Ferguson Digital Archive. Washington University has led the creation of a digital repository aiming to “preserve and make accessible” content related to the killing of Mike Brown. Submit or review material.


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