“Justice For All” – Ferguson Community Demands End to Police Repression

Ferguson council members listen uncomfortably to the anger of residents

Ferguson council members listen uncomfortably to residents’ anger

The determined street protests against the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri have diminished, but the anger of the community has not. Demonstrators are still demanding the arrest of Darren Wilson, the officer who fired the fatal shots, but it seems unlikely this will happen. The county prosecutor has declined to recommend any charges to the grand jury, and public calls for the prosecutor’s removal have been ignored by the Missouri political establishment.

While the protests and the militarized police reaction brought the profiling of African American youth to national attention, they also uncovered the systemic nature of the constant police harassment and ticketing of African American motorists in the St Louis area. Some journalists attribute the problem to the multiple underfunded towns in the county, but the economic imperative for local authorities to raise revenue through disproportionate penalties for minor offences is a national issue. As local budgets are cut due to the economic recession, the police are squeezing the poor to support their own activities.

At a tumultuous Ferguson council meeting last week, its members were besieged by citizens who denounced racism, police harassment and the council itself. They demanded to know why Wilson had not yet been taken into custody, why young African Americans were so frequently arrested, and when there would be an overhaul of the police department. Above all they demanded an amnesty on outstanding court fees and warrants: “You make your money off our backs,” shouted one resident. But the mayor, James Knowles III, announced that the council would not answer any questions and would only listen to public comments. At this point, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “He was met with shouts of protests and the sight of attendees rising to their feet, pumping their fists in the air. ‘Shut it down,’ they yelled. During the constant barrage, council members looked out over the audience and remained mostly expressionless. They had arrived with police escorts more than an hour before the meeting. And when it ended around 10 p.m., they left through an exit off the stage without interacting with the crowd. … ‘What I see up there for me, is taxation without representation,’ said Louis Willis, a former mayoral candidate.”

Even before Brown’s killing, there had been simmering anger over the way the city had been financing itself from court fees and fines generated by aggressive policing, in particular intensive traffic enforcement which raised court revenues by 44 percent over the last three years. In an attempt to defuse this anger, the council introduced a new rule that limited the contribution of fines to the town’s budget, but this is merely window-dressing. As The Guardian pointed out: “under the new rule, Ferguson could collect 15% of the $20.2m total revenue that the city is expecting for 2015. This is more than $3m, an increase of $943,800 on the total taken in 2014 under the existing system.”

The  rich (and white middle class) have separated themselves off from the urban centers into more affluent enclaves, and refuse to pay their share of taxes that would allow opportunities for minorities and youth. An investigation by the Washington Post found that poorer towns in St. Louis County derived up to 40 percent of their annual revenue from fines and fees collected by their municipal courts from low-income residents. “Sales taxes are the primary source of revenue in most St. Louis County municipalities. Wealthier areas naturally see more retail sales, so the more affluent towns tend to be less reliant on municipal courts to generate revenue. In recent years a state pool was established to distribute sales taxes more evenly, but existing towns were permitted to opt out. Most did, of course. Perversely, this means that the collection of poorer towns stacked up along the east-west byways are far more reliant on municipal court revenues. That means they face much stronger incentives to squeeze their residents with fines …”

However, it is not only the St. Louis region where aggressive policing is used to extract funds from citizens. Detroit is a much more significant example of how so-called “broken windows” policing of minor infractions is used to impose a higher tax burden on poorer residents. The mostly African-American residents of the city “face an added cost of living as the city police pile on nuisance fines to crack down on smaller crimes,” reports The Guardian. Yet just a few miles from the center of Detroit is Oakland County, the fourth wealthiest county in the U.S. Robert Reich points out: “Forty years ago, Detroit had a mixture of wealthy, middle class, and poor. But then its middle class and white residents began fleeing to the suburbs … By the time it declared bankruptcy, Detroit was almost entirely poor. Its median household income was $26,000. More than half of its children were impoverished.” If the metropolitan boundary had included the surrounding suburbs, he writes, “Oakland’s more affluent citizens would have some responsibility to address Detroit’s problems, and Detroit would likely have enough money to pay all its bills … But because Detroit’s boundary surrounds only the poor inner city, those inside it have to deal with their compounded problems themselves. The whiter and more affluent suburbs (and the banks that serve them) are off the hook.”

A prominent law enforcement official writes: “Many law enforcement agencies are facing the reality of severe budget cuts, reduced workforce, and the elimination or reduction of many law enforcement programs. Today, police chiefs are being asked to look for ways of economizing, increasing efficiency, eliminating redundancies, and finding revenue sources. … cities will begin to see successes at nearby agencies and look to new revenue streams as a panacea to forestall reduced services or even bankruptcy … there is a clear presumption of need for law enforcement to generate new income streams.”

For some police departments, seizure of cash from motorists who the police claim are connected with drugs has become a major new income stream – even though they are never charged with a crime. A three-part series by the Washington Post described how hundreds of state and local police agencies were relying on seized cash to fund their budgets, despite a federal ban on using the money this way. “There have been 61,998 cash seizures made on highways and elsewhere since 9/11 without search warrants or indictments through the Equitable Sharing Program, totaling more than $2.5 billion. State and local authorities kept more than $1.7 billion of that while Justice, Homeland Security and other federal agencies received $800 million.” Steven Peterson, a former DEA agent, told reporters that agency leaders saw cash seizures “as a way to provide equipment and training for their guys. If you seized large amounts of cash, that’s the gift that keeps on giving.” Of course, minorities are disproportionately targeted for cash seizures.

The problem for the ruling elite is that the structural pressure for sharply-increased extraction of funds from minority communities is undermining the popular acceptance of the system of authority, the consent of the governed. When the poor refuse to be sacrificed on the altar of neoliberalism, that poses a real threat to the legitimacy of the state. That’s why federal authorities had to step in quickly to defuse the protests in Ferguson when war-zone-like images from the clashes got national attention. But the anger of the community at last Tuesday’s meeting shows the conflict is far from being resolved. Residents challenged police harassment by counterposing to it the founding principles of the US constitution, demanding that political equality entitles them to equality under the law. At the very start of the meeting, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports, “Shouting erupted during the Pledge of Allegiance, during the phrase ‘and justice for all.’ ‘For all!’ many cried.”

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Filed under political analysis, police presence, poverty, African Americans, Ferguson, broken windows, aggressive policing

Scotland: ‘the opportunity for real people power’

Originally posted on People and Nature:

In this guest post, CATHERINE MILLIGAN, a socialist and community activist who lives in the Castlemilk housing scheme in Glasgow, explains how she has changed her view of the referendum on Scottish independence

I am voting Yes to Scottish independence, and I haven’t come to that decision easily – because I call myself a socialist, and believe I am a citizen of the world, and felt it was ill advised to break up the working class movement

Standing room only at one of the meetings in Castlemilk, Glasgow, to discuss the referendum

Standing room only at one of the meetings in Castlemilk, Glasgow, to discuss the referendum

in Britain. I also fear the rise of fascism, especially in England where Ukip have free range to expound their ideas via most established media outlets.

However the young people of Scotland have changed my point of view, in that they are very pro-Yes and their arguments for this are very sound in my eyes.

They are clearly…

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Whatever It Takes in the Fight For 15: Workers Mobilize Against Poverty Level Wages in America

Fast food workers in Raleigh, N.C march along South Wilmington Street to protest outside a Burger King. Photo: MSNBC

The “Fight for 15” campaign has spread rapidly from its beginnings in New York City two years ago. Last Thursday’s civil disobedience strikes affected 150 cities throughout the U.S. – significantly, many of them were in the South, historically hostile to unions. As well as broadening their support, strikers faced jail as a way of showing their determination to achieve a $15 an hour minimum wage.

Obama referred to the movement at a speech on Labor Day in Milwaukee. He said: “There’s a national movement going on made up of fast food workers organizing to lift wages so they can provide for their families with pride and dignity. … If I were busting my butt in the service industry and wanted an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work, I’d join a union.”

As well all the major cities in the North, protesters were arrested in St. Louis, Missouri; Little Rock, Arkansas; Durham, North Carolina; Phoenix, Arizona; New Orleans, Louisiana; Nashville, Tennessee; Atlanta, Georgia; Miami and Tampa, Florida; and Charleston, South Carolina. In Nashville, McDonald’s worker Jamar Black was at a protest outside of a Sonic restaurant. He told In These Times “We’ll do whatever it takes to get to $15. If we have to go to jail, we’re doing that.”

The Huffington Post reported that in Charleston around two dozen fast food workers blocked traffic at the entrance to a freeway, backing up traffic for miles. Police arrested 18 in what were deemed “non-custodial” arrests – but “the fact that it was happening at all in South Carolina took onlookers by surprise … Dave Crossley, a local who came out in support of the protest, marveled at the line of workers bottling up traffic for blocks on Spring Street, chanting for ‘$15 and a union.’ ‘This sort of thing doesn’t happen in Charleston,’ he said.”

Reports indicate that the police were much more careful in their treatment of protesters than in previous strikes, which reflects both public support for the movement and the condemnation of police over-reaction to the protests in Ferguson. For example, Durham police in union-unfriendly North Carolina “followed the city’s protest for upwards of three hours while making no arrests, even as workers sat in a series of increasingly busy intersections. Eventually, the protesters advanced to the corner of West Main Street and Great Jones Street, one of the busier intersections in downtown, where 23 workers wearing red armbands sat down in the middle of the street. The police blocked off traffic around the intersection but did not advance on the protesters for about an hour and a half.”

The LA Times reported that in New York City, “Hours after the morning protest in Manhattan, marchers gathered again on the busy corner of 8th Avenue and 56th Street, where several were swiftly arrested and taken away in a police van after they lay down on the pavement and blocked traffic. … Lunchtime diners at a nearby open-air bar watched the protest and arrests, which lasted no more than half an hour. ‘Good for them,’ one man in a business suit said who was weaving his way through protesters as they chanted and disrupted traffic. ‘Everyone deserves to make a living’.”

Ashona Osborne, who works at Wendy’s in Pittsburgh, told Democracy Now: “We volunteered that we were going to take a nonviolent civil disobedience and sit down, just to make the point to these CEOs and corporates that ‘We’re not playing.’ … This strike that we had, as opposed to our last strike, we had way more people walk off the job and way more people from the public and workers come and join us as we were striking. We started out with about 10 people at 5:00 in the morning. By the time they came about noon, we had over 200 people all striking together as one.”

There is a fusion between the fight for a living wage and other campaigns for social justice, such as the “Moral Mondays” movement in North Carolina and the struggle for immigrant workers’ rights. The larger movement includes activists from Ferguson, Missouri, who decided to travel to New York City on Thursday to join the protests there. Jeanina Jenkins, a McDonald’s employee in Ferguson, said she believes their fight against Michael Brown’s shooting will be on the minds of many striking fast food workers. “We’re fighting for the same thing, basically,” she said. Co-worker Carlos Robinson told the New York Times: “In Ferguson we needed to stand up for what’s right. Here we have to stand up for what’s right. It’s all about rights. … Ferguson gave us a boost because it helped us realize some people really don’t care about you. If you don’t care about yourself and take a stand for yourself you’ll always be at the bottom.”

The change in tactics to civil disobedience was combined with the addition of home healthcare workers to the campaign. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has been a major backer of the fast-food strikes; its president Mary Kay Henry said: “Homecare workers … decided to join with fast-food workers yesterday in building the broadest, most powerful movement possible … We looked at [Obama’s speech] at 5:45 yesterday morning in Oakland. And workers who hadn’t had a chance [to see it], because they were working on Labor Day, were incredibly thrilled that the president of the United States is saying that what they’re doing makes complete sense.” She added: “There’s an incredible intersection of the immigrant rights movement and the fast-food workers’ movement. I saw it in Oakland yesterday. Many of the workers were Latino and had immigrated from Central America and Mexico. We’ve seen it across this country as the city organizations get built in local coalition with the immigrant justice movement.”

The strikes are not directed at obtaining concessions from one particular company or store, but are aimed at changing the political climate so as to make it unacceptable for corporations earning billions of dollars to keep wages at poverty levels. This includes challenging the legal strategies used by corporations to avoid liability for labor conditions. The movement achieved an important success in this respect by winning a decision by the National Labor Relations Board that McDonald’s could be treated as a joint employer with its franchise holders in labor complaints, opening the way for major pressure on the corporation’s practices.

Most new jobs created in the U.S. today are low-waged, but workers in these jobs are becoming more militant and political in their fight against multi-billion dollar corporations. Washington Post correspondent Harold Meyerson pointed out that: “even though the campaign has yet to win a union contract for a single worker, it already has to be judged a signal success. By highlighting the abysmal incomes of millions of hardworking Americans, it has prodded governments to phase in minimum wage increases in a growing number of cities and states. … The fast-food workers’ campaign, then, may be viewed … as the second act of a broader workers’ movement kicked off by the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations of 2011. Occupy never developed a strategic focus that went beyond occupying, but it nonetheless focused the nation’s attention on the widening chasm separating the 1 percent from everybody else. The fast-food campaign … has staged enough high-profile actions, with a compelling economic and moral message, to win real gains for workers, whether those workers stand to ever become union members or not.”

The gains that have already been made have built workers’ confidence in their own ability to fight and their strength as a class. Alliances with community activists to build an inclusive movement are creating a new form of labor struggle, in the teeth of antagonistic courts and Republican-dominated state legislatures. Much greater conflicts are in store as the movement challenges the basis of corporate profits and their political and legal influence.

Ferguson McDonald’s worker Jeanina Jenkins said that Michael Brown’s shooting had made her think about the reasons why it had happened. “These corporations make billions of dollars each year,” she said, “and if it wasn’t for the workers they wouldn’t have a company to run. … I want to make a history that’s going to change not only us but change the world.”

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Filed under African Americans, fast-food workers, Ferguson, Fight for 15, immigration, low-waged, Obama, poverty, strikes, We are the 99 percent

Ferguson Protests Are Not the Revolution but Herald a Challenge to Plutocratic Supremacy

The protests in Ferguson, Missouri over the shooting death of Michael Brown exposed for all to see how local police have been militarized and deployed to suppress social unrest and dissent. As the super-rich increasingly accumulate all society’s wealth and refuse to pay more taxes, thus defunding social services and benefits, their solution for poverty is to herd the poor into ghettoes patrolled by armored vehicles.

Aggressive policing of minority communities to segregate them from comparatively affluent middle-class communities is the strategy that has long been adopted by the U.S. state to absorb social and economic tensions exacerbated by globalization. As an African American in Ferguson succinctly explained: “It’s not a racial thing. It’s a police thing. It’s America against the police.”

The protests drew national attention to the way exaggerated “threats” to public order have been used to justify the use of extreme force against citizens exercising their First Amendment rights. The war zone-like images from an American city forced federal and state authorities to step in to defuse the situation in Ferguson and prevent the clashes from escalating.

Although Michael Brown’s funeral last Monday marked a pause in the protests, as a judicial investigation got under way, African American youth have shown they refuse to internalize the white power structure’s evaluation of their lives as worthless. Their defiance of police in riot gear, backed by snipers and armored trucks, brought Michael Brown’s death into the political spotlight.

Parallels with TV news portrayals of the Middle East became another subtext of the confrontations: the head of the St. Louis NAACP, Adolphus Pruitt, compared the militarized police response to Israeli treatment of Palestinians, for example, and a young girl held a sign at the protests that read “Negro Spring.” She told reporters: “The same as the Arabs fought for their rights, for their civil rights, to oust their corrupt government, we’re fighting for our civil rights, our human rights.”

The Guardian’s Gary Younge recounts an incident that shows how the aftermath of the clashes subverted fear of the police. “Just outside a mall in Ferguson, Missouri, shortly after 10 o’clock on Wednesday, a black man in his 30s was stopped and frisked by around eight white policemen. As he gingerly emptied his pockets, careful not to move too quickly, he yelled at them. … ‘Yes I’m angry,’ he shouted. ‘Four hundred years we been here. We built this place for free and y’all still hate us.’ A man filming the incident was told to move on but did not budge. When the police let the pedestrian go (whatever they were looking for he didn’t have), the man recording went too. ‘I’ve done my job,’ he said.”

This is a remarkable change, given the history and extent of police intimidation of the Ferguson community. The culture of militarism in the local police force is combined with a vicious racism encouraged by the town’s political structure, which finances itself by the extraction of fees and fines from the mostly African-American population.

The overwhelmingly white Ferguson police department attracts individuals seeking to perpetuate the inferior status of African Americans. Their supporters (including Fox News) channel a revival of segregationist fervor as some in the white communities fear the influence of a multi-racial majority on the political power structure. St. Louis Republicans were outraged when activists set up a voter-registration booth near Michael Brown’s memorial: the executive director of the state Republican Party was quoted as saying “I think it’s not only disgusting but completely inappropriate.” He described it as “injecting race” into the tragedy of Brown’s death.

As well as the shooter of Michael Brown, at least five other officers in the town’s 53-member department have been named in civil rights lawsuits alleging the use of excessive force. A 5-year veteran of the force, Dan Page, was suspended after video surfaced of him saying “I’m into diversity. I kill everybody, I don’t care” and describing Obama as “that illegal alien who claims to be our president.” Another officer posted on social media that he thought the Ferguson protesters should be “put down like rabid dogs.”

North of Delmar Boulevard, running east-west through St. Louis, the population is overwhelmingly black

North of Delmar Boulevard, running east-west through St. Louis, the population is overwhelmingly black

St. Louis itself is probably the most segregated city in the U.S. today. The Washington Post comments: “the break between races — and privilege — is particularly drastic, so defined that those on both sides speak often about a precise boundary. … St. Louis’s geographic divide stems from a legacy of segregation — legal and illegal — and more recent economic stratification that has had the effect of reinforcing racial separation. … Look at a map of St. Louis, color-coded by race, and majority-African American communities sit almost exclusively to the north — that is, above Delmar [Boulevard].”

Ferguson lies just outside the city’s boundary, in St. Louis county. When deindustrialization impoverished communities in the region, they lost their revenue base. The county’s infrastructure and police are now financed by court fines and fees imposed on the mainly African-American population for minor nonviolent offenses like traffic violations; if they can’t pay, they are arrested.

Despite having a population of just over 21,000, Ferguson issued 32,975 warrants for non-violent offenses – most of them driving violations – in 2013. African-Americans make up 67 percent of the town’s population, but 86 percent of drivers stopped by police are black. Jeff Smith, an assistant professor at the New School and a former Missouri state senator from St. Louis, says Ferguson “facilitates a debtors prison” because of the high number of arrest warrants that get issued when people don’t pay.

Bradley Rayford, an executive of student government at a local community college, told the Washington Post that youth feel “they are caught in a vise, with police harassment on one side and little economic opportunity on the other. ‘It’s a socioeconomic thing,’ he said. ‘It begins with getting a traffic ticket. You get pulled over and get this huge ticket. In some parts of the city, tickets actually double.’ Get a couple of those and soon ‘most people can’t afford their bills.’ … ‘If you don’t pay the ticket,’ Rayford said, ‘you get a court date. But you can’t go to court because you’re working two jobs. Now, warrants are out for your arrest. You can get arrested, then you can’t get a job. So many people are made criminals from traffic tickets’.”

While the Ferguson protests are not the revolution, the recognition of a common political enemy in the one percent has the potential to unite diverse communities in the fight against globalization. Bradley Harmon, local head of the Communication Workers of America, told The Nation labor is “probably the most racially integrated social force in St Louis. … I think if we’re going to reverse the decline of organized labor, we’re going to [have to] take on the systemic poverty and exclusion and withdrawal of public services that made Ferguson happen.” Lara Granich, director of the Missouri branch of Jobs with Justice, points out that “Getting rid of the idea that there has to be poverty jobs is a very important step. Economic inequality and racism are mutually reinforcing forces.”

The confluence of struggles against police intimidation and corporate exploitation is evidenced by the fact that members of the fast food workers group “Show Me $15” participated in the Ferguson demonstrations from the beginning. According to Labor Notes, “Shermale Humphrey used to work at the McDonald’s in Ferguson that sits right across from the scene of Brown’s shooting. ‘This [protesting] is something I had to do,’ she said. ‘I’m African American, and this could be anyone I know. I just can’t let it go on any longer.’ … Humphrey and her fellow Show Me $15 member Jeanina Jenkins were both arrested for trespassing when they protested at McDonald’s shareholders meeting in Oak Brook, Illinois, this May. Jenkins works at that same Ferguson McDonald’s but hasn’t been to work since the August 9 shooting, spending her days and nights at rallies instead.”

More and more Americans of every ethnicity will be drawn into political struggles against poverty wages and the apartheid-like policies that aim and often succeed in separating Americans. As Michael Brown’s tragic death shows, Americans of color in the United States continue to pay their most lethal costs. Yet these policies also blind those who benefit from white privilege to the costs they themselves will have to bear should they seriously try to assert their rights against the plutocratic order that now controls the state through laws like the Patriot Act, which has given us a militarized police, and decisions like Citizens United, which allows plutocrats and corporations to essentially buy Democratic and Republican candidates and unlimited legislative and political power.

The Ferguson protests and inclusive movements like the campaign for a $15 minimum wage, OUR Walmart, and activist groups fighting evictions to protect communities, fighting for We the People, herald the challenge that’s coming to plutocratic supremacy.

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Filed under African Americans, fast-food workers, Ferguson, low-waged, Obama, OUR Walmart, police presence, political analysis, poverty, Republicans

Justice for Michael Brown, Justice for the 99 Percent.

Students at Howard University show solidarity with Michael Brown

Students at Howard University show solidarity with Ferguson protesters

After a week of protests following the police shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, an inner suburb of St. Louis, the Missouri governor declared a state of emergency in the township. Eighteen-year-old Michael Brown was shot multiple times after surrendering with his arms in the air.

Some 200 protesters defied the resulting curfew, mostly younger African-Americans, who were unresponsive to older members of the community who urged them to go home. Their lives have become bound up with getting justice for Brown – they say that it was murder and the white policeman who shot him should be in jail. They feel that without the police being subject to the rule of law, their own lives are being treated as worthless.

Brandon Sneed was among those who stayed on the street. He told a Washington Post reporter that he was defying the curfew because “there is no justice.” “We are all Mike Brown,” he said. “By that I mean all people. We are the 99 percent. But the 1 percent rule the world.” Another protester, Timothy Booker, held an American flag upside down. “After Trayvon Martin, everybody turns the flag upside down because it shows there is no justice,” he said. “George Zimmerman got away with murder. The justice system is backward. So we turn the flag upside down.”

The initial protests after Brown’s death on Saturday a week ago were peaceful, but were met with a heavy-handed response from police in riot gear. On Sunday night a gas station near the site of the killing was torched and looted; in the following evenings, police in military-style uniforms, some carrying high-powered sniper rifles and wearing balaclavas, were accompanied by armored vehicles blocking the main street. They warned demonstrators to get out of the road or face arrest, before firing teargas, rubber bullets and wooden baton rounds into the crowds.

The Guardian reported on Tuesday night: “For 40 minutes, the protesters defied the threat. Some hung out of car windows, while others raised their arms aloft and repeated what has become their defining slogan: ‘Hands up, don’t shoot.’ A police helicopter swooped around the dark sky above, shining a bright spotlight on the faces of the almost entirely African American crowd.”

The slogan rapidly spread across the country as demonstrations against police violence transformed the universal symbol for surrender into a symbol of defiance and protest.

Protests continued on Wednesday, when local politicians and journalists covering the ongoing demonstrations were arrested. Wesley Lowery, a reporter for The Washington Post, was arrested with another journalist in a McDonalds. Lowery, who is black, made it clear he was not resisting arrest, but was slammed against a wall and cuffed. “That is probably the single point at which I’ve been more afraid than at any point.” Lowery said after. “More afraid than the tear gas and rubber bullets, more afraid during the riot police. I know of too many instances where someone who was not resisting arrest was assaulted or killed.”

As images reminiscent of police attacks on 1960s Civil Rights marches flooded the media, Obama appealed for restraint and Missouri governor Jay Nixon transferred command for maintaining order in Ferguson to the state highway patrol, led by an African American captain. “We all have been concerned about the vision that the world has seen,” Nixon said. According to the Guardian, he admitted that Ferguson had come to resemble a “war zone.”

The results of minimizing the police presence were immediate. The Washington Post reported, “A stunning change in tone radiated through the suburban streets where protests had turned violent each of the last four evenings … [Highway Patrol Captain Ronald] Johnson spent a considerable amount of time talking to media, explaining that the decision to tone down the show of force was deliberate, a calculation he said was made by St. Louis County police officials.  … The protesters remained angry about Brown’s killing — but unlike Wednesday night when they furiously demanded the release of family members being detained, the scene was not tense.”

However, on Friday morning sharp conflicts between the state administration and local authorities surfaced. In an effort to smear Brown’s reputation, Ferguson police chief Thomas Jackson named him as the prime suspect in a convenience store robbery that occurred just before the shooting. The Washington Post reported: “Police dramatized the allegation, releasing security camera photos showing a person they identified as Brown towering over and menacing the store clerk, images that were circulated nationwide. Yet, despite the implication that Brown was stopped because of the robbery, Jackson later appeared to reverse himself, saying at a second news conference that the confrontation ‘was not related to the robbery.’ Instead, he said, Brown was stopped because he and a friend were walking in the street.”

Ferguson police released the images despite the objections of state and federal authorities, concerned that it would heighten tensions in the community. They may have been encouraged to do so by the county prosecutor, Robert McCulloch, who was angered at the governor’s decision to take control of the scene away from St. Louis county police. “It’s shameful what he did today, he had no legal authority to do that,” McCulloch told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “To denigrate the men and women of the county police department is shameful.”

In a remarkable display of anger, St. Louis Representative William Lacy Clay attacked McCulloch on Friday. He accused McCulloch of attempting to influence a potential jury by the release of the robbery video at the same time the officer’s name was released. “Bob McCulloch tried to taint the jury pool by the stunt he pulled today. I have no faith in him, but I do trust the FBI and the justice department,” he said. The county executive is also leading a push to remove McCulloch from the investigation into Brown’s death because of bias.

Confrontation returned to the streets again after midnight on Friday, when police showed up in riot gear. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that several hundred protesters had been peaceful but faced off with the police, “some officers pointing guns at the crowd, some protesters pointing cameras at police. Police told the crowd over a loudspeaker to disperse immediately. … After several minutes, police turned and left, but as they retreated, they sprayed smoke bombs and threw sound cannons at the crowd.” This only served to incite the angrier elements in the crowd further.

It was after these incidents that governor Nixon declared a state of emergency at a public press conference. “The governor’s extraordinary action came as the attorney for a key witness described the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown as an execution-style slaying. … But after his opening remarks, Nixon quickly lost control of the crowd, with the images being recorded for a national television audience. ‘You need to charge that police [officer] with murder!’ one person yelled. Others demanded to know how the curfew would be enforced. ‘Going to do tear gas again?’ someone asked. When Nixon began answering that ‘the best way for us to get peace’ was for everyone to go home and get a good night’s sleep, another resident interrupted him, shouting: ‘We don’t need sleep! We need justice!’ ”

Many commentators have remarked on the effects of the militarization of local police using the Pentagon’s used equipment. Although this is important, especially to journalists who are illegally prevented from covering protests, in Ferguson it is combined with the re-segregation of the community by white flight. While the residents of the suburb are overwhelmingly African American, the police force is overwhelmingly white. It closed ranks in the face of public protests, refusing to release the name of the officer who shot Michael Brown or any details of the shooting for days after the event, underlining its alienation from the community and exacerbating the long-standing racial tensions between them.

According to the New York Times, “As African-Americans moved into [St. Louis] and whites moved out, real estate agents and city leaders, in a pattern familiar elsewhere in the country, conspired to keep blacks out of the suburbs through the use of zoning ordinances and restrictive covenants. But by the 1970s, some of those barriers had started to fall, and whites moved even farther away from the city. These days, Ferguson is like many of the suburbs around St. Louis, inner-ring towns that accommodated white flight decades ago but that are now largely black. And yet they retain a white power structure.”

Like Anaheim in California, where unarmed Manuel Diaz was shot dead while running away from police, political control of public order is retained by a white elite even though the residents are overwhelmingly nonwhite. Jim Crow segregation has been replaced by economic segregation, white flight, and the appropriation of resources from society by the super-rich.

However, the creeping militarization of the police is now challenged by the growing political self-consciousness of minority American youth. Their resistance has exposed disarray among the St. Louis state agencies and indicates an awareness of the need for an inclusive movement against oligarchy in America. As Brandon Sneed said, “We are the 99 percent. But the 1 percent rule the world.”

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Filed under African Americans, anaheim protests, Ferguson, Obama, police presence, Trayvon Martin, We are the 99 percent

Gaza invasion shifts American attitudes to Palestinian resistance

In Europe, civil society has expressed its revulsion at Israel’s attacks on Gaza with mass protests across the continent. Ireland, historically pro-Palestinian, has whole towns that are boycotting Israeli products, and one British cabinet minister has resigned.

In the US, by contrast, popular sentiment is divided. Once monolithic, cracks are appearing in the post-Nixon ideological consensus that justified its pro-Israel foreign policy. While up until now most criticism of Israel has been met with  denunciations and sanctions, vehemently equating it with anti-Semitism, individuals and groups have begun to speak out against the occupation.

On Sunday August 3, an estimated 10,000 people protested outside the White House in Washington, D.C., calling on Obama to end military aid for Israel. One demonstrator told reporters: “My reason for being here today is that my tax dollar is paying for 1,600 people dead in Gaza today, many of whom civilians, many of whom are children. And I regret that my tax dollar is paying for them.” At the demonstration, Professor Cornel West described Obama as a “war criminal” for facilitating “the killing of innocent Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.”

The Washington Post reported: “Many Jewish Americans were among the crowd, said Shelley Cohen Fudge, 57, of Silver Spring, Md. She is the D.C. metropolitan chapter coordinator for Jewish Voice for Peace. ‘We have Arab Americans, Jewish Americans, people from Pakistan, people from all walks of life here,’ she said. ‘There are many Jewish Americans who are very upset by the very disproportionate situation — it’s not a war, it’s an assault and an invasion’.”

Smaller solidarity demonstrations have been taking place in major cities over the last two weeks, but have been ignored by the mainstream media. In New York City on Friday, several thousand braved driving rain to protest one-sided media reporting. “The US media is absolutely biased. All we hear is pro-Israel [stuff]. All the leaders we hear from on television are Israelis,” Palestinian-American Mohammed Hamad told Press TV.

In Washington, D.C., young Jewish-Americans protested outside the national office of the Jewish Federations of North America, calling on the organization to condemn the killing of Palestinian civilians and the bombing of UN schools. Huffington Post commented: “The protest is a reflection of broader trends among young Jewish Americans … while 70 percent of American Jews aged 18-29 believe there is a way for Israel and an independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully, just 26 percent of people in that age group believe the Israeli government is making a sincere effort to reach that goal.” This is in line with national polling, which has found that American millennials were more likely to blame Israel for the current wave of violence than Hamas.

Most politicians – not just the born-again right, but the entire House and Senate, including Democratic progressives Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren – have proclaimed their unqualified support for Israel. Obama, while expressing distress at the plight of Gaza’s civilians, repeated and legitimized the Israeli rhetoric that it has an absolute right to defend its citizens from missile attacks.

In reply, Henry Siegman, the former executive director of the American Jewish Congress as well as the Synagogue Council of America, wrote in Politico that “Israel’s assault on Gaza … was not triggered by Hamas’ rockets directed at Israel but by Israel’s determination to bring down the Palestinian unity government that was formed in early June.” He asked on Democracy Now: “Couldn’t Israel be doing something in preventing this disaster that is playing out now, in terms of the destruction of human lives? … And the answer is: Sure, that they could have ended the occupation.”

According to the Guardian, the bombing “has emboldened diverse [Hollywood] figures to speak out – only in some cases to swiftly retreat. The actors Mark Ruffalo and Wallace Shawn, Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters and the director Jonathan Demme, have experienced jeers since taking a stand. … Two weeks ago Rihanna tweeted the hashtag #FreePalestine to her 36 million followers only to delete it eight minutes later, amid a surge of critical responses … Passions are running so high, however, that even silence from the likes of Spielberg, Streisand and Katzenberg is now considered a statement of sorts.” Pro-Israeli comedienne Joan Rivers yelled at reporters that Palestinians “deserve to be dead.”

One factor that explains American attitudes is the overwhelming partiality of the news media (with Diane Sawyer of ABC News showing footage of the aftermath of an Israeli airstrike on a devastated Palestinian family, which she then misidentified as an Israeli family), featuring Netanyahu prominently in newscasts and virtually nothing about Palestinians. However, reporters are beginning to question the official narrative.

At a State Department briefing, the spokesperson was challenged on the US resupply of weapons to Israel after the shelling of a school designated by the UN as a shelter. Alternet reported: “Matt Lee of the Associated Press dared to wonder about ‘consequences’ if the U.S. ever were to determine that Israel hit the U.N. school, and another reporter asked about U.S. munitions involved in these assaults on civilians.”

The Nation commented: “Already, there are anecdotal signs that conventional New York opinion, which tends to be liberal on everything except Palestine, is starting to shift. ‘If Netanyahu is so bothered by how dead Palestinians look on television then he should stop killing so many of them,’ wrote Benjamin Wallace-Wells in a piece on New York magazine’s website last week, a sentiment that would have been hard to imagine coming from that publication a few years ago.”

Americans in general are not aware of the connection of Israel with European settler colonialism, and propaganda about Muslim terrorists after 9/11 has had a cumulative effect. Furthermore, the Israeli narrative meshes with the American founding myth. An op-ed in the New York Times pointed out: “… the story of a nation of immigrants escaping persecution and rising from nowhere in the Holy Land resonates. The Israeli saga — of courage and will — echoes in American mythology …”

What should not be overlooked is that from the mid-1970s the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC had secured great influence in Congress by building on a narrative that linked the ideological justification of Israel with the Holocaust to make criticism of Israel taboo. Since Jewish people in the US benefited greatly from the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, when discrimination on the basis of race was outlawed, their votes became a pawn in AIPAC’s attacks on politicians who made even the mildest criticism of Israel’s actions.

What has changed is that politically significant sections of American society, especially the young, no longer believe the mainstream media and the spokesmen of their own government. While this may seem to be a minor change at the present time, growing struggles over the minimum wage and student debt will merge with this shift in attitudes to create potent new forms of resistance.

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The Boeing 777: can Putin back down?

Originally posted on People and Nature:

This article by ILYA BUDRAITSKIS, a Russian historian, researcher and socialist activist, was published on Friday 18 July, on Openleft.ru in Russian and on LeftEast in English.

We can say with confidence that the tragedy of Boeing 777, which took the lives of 298 people, has brought the conflict in Eastern Ukraine to a principally new level. Now the main centers of power – Russia, the US, and the EU – must make themselves known and must take

The crash, seen from a nearby village

The crash, seen from a nearby village

the responsibility for stopping the war or, conversely, for its practical legitimation and expansion.  Even considering the possibility that the plane was shot down by mistake, it is events of such magnitude that divide history into “before” and “after.” “After” such an event the possibilities of “strange,” “hybrid,” and other “wars without war” have been exhausted.

Over the past several months, as an endless…

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