Ferguson: This is not just more of the same.

It is, in my opinion, very dangerous to see what is happening in Ferguson as “more of the same.” I’ve been alive long enough to see many cases of police getting off free after committing murder, but never, never has there been this degree of provocation. 1000 cops, plus National Guard troops, were mobilized a week before the decision, and the contempt for the law shown by the prosecutor has never, never been this blatant–they publicized the result, they let us see that there is no justice, then stood there behind the militarized police and said, “What are you going to do about it?” We are being challenged.

Of course, it could be simply coincidence that this happens at a time when there is the greatest degree of economic inequality since the Depression. Oh, wait–no, it couldn’t. The ruling class knows very well what happens when there is that much inequality, when so many working class families are threatened with losing everything–those who still have something to lose. They know we will fight, because they’ve seen it again and again. With their right hand, they pull out military force, and with their left, they insist racism is the only issue* and try to channel our rage into harmless support for the Democratic Party–the same Democratic Party that is led by the chief law enforcement officer of the United States, while those National Guard troops were called out by a Democratic Party governor.

What will be the result? That depends on what we do–on how we fight.   But being clear on what is happening is the first, important step.

“The masses are long-suffering, but they are not clay out of which you can fashion anything you want to. Moreover, in a revolutionary epoch they learn fast.” — Trotsky


*I am aware that there are those on the right who deny racism is an issue in this at all. In my opinion, these people are not worth the trouble of arguing with.

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21 thoughts on “Ferguson: This is not just more of the same.”

  1. With shootings of young blacks at epidemic levels nationwide, it’s clear this isn’t limited to the few square miles around Ferguson.

    The SWAT team member who shot a 7 year-old African-American girl in a botched warrant service raid just walked away from any charges.

    We also just learned that not only did a rookie cop shoot and kill a 12 year-old boy, he and his partner simply stood around for four minutes and let the kid bleed out before someone else showed up and administered basic aid. (The police are already justifying that shooting, despite surveillance video suggesting there wasn’t nearly enough time for the police to shout three warnings to the kid.)

    And I’d argue the Crawford shooting in the Beaver Creek Walmart was far more egregious than Michael Brown’s shooting, and that cop was cleared in an “investigation.”

    I could go on. And on.

    In most cases, there won’t even be career implications for the officers, much less criminal sanctions.

    Friends who have simply waved off police overreach in the past — who don’t pay much attention to these issues — are sitting up and taking notice (an upside to surveillance cameras and smartphones).

    It’s going to be an interesting decade.

  2. I’m less optimistic than you, but I’d love to be wrong. Major working-class revolts look like race revolts in the US because the urban working class is so racially disproportionate, and the rural working class is scattered, and most importantly, race and class have become very mixed in the minds of working class black folks, who more and more see bourgeois blacks as a separate race. At least, I think that’s the trend based on this, from 2008: http://articles.latimes.com/2007/nov/14/nation/na-NUvalues14

  3. I wish more people would use the word “cowardice” when talking about these too-quick-to-shoot cops. Because I think cops actually care about that insult.

  4. I agree with the main point, but the questions I’m chewing over are whether the reaction is as systemic as your post implies: that not only is there a degree of planning, but it’s consistent at the federal, state, and local levels (the connection between Gov. Nixon and AG Holder, for example). Because I’m not sure the reactions (Nixon calling out the Nat’l Guard; Holder not stopping him; Pres. Obama calling for “calm”), are coordinated or even really connected. They may be explained by a confluence of factors at the individual or job level.

    The second, and more important question is whether the first question even matters. The results–state-level militarization of police forces, increased police violence without repercussion again poor and (especially) black people, and the federal governments inability or unwillingness to do anything about it–may as well have come from a coordinated attack from the upper class through its control of the state at every level, whether it actually did.

  5. My understanding of the evidence is that the shooting itself may have been justified. Wilson was attacked in his cruiser, so he was sitting and couldn’t get to his baton and if he had used his pepper spray some of the spray would have hit the car interior and bounced back into his own face. So he went for his gun.

    My understanding is also that everything else around the shooting is racist. Ferguson cops stop black motorists far more often than they stop white motorists. Ferguson cops arrest black motorists found in possession of illegal drugs far more often than they arrest white motorists found in possession of equal amounts of the same drugs. The Ferguson police department did not start asking for witness statements about the shooting itself until there was a public outcry (instead of taking witness statements at the scene). The Ferguson police wore camouflage combat fatigues and carried assault rifles instead of wearing dress uniforms and carrying standard issue sidearms when patrolling near the protestors, when the idea of an enemy combat force is ludicrous and the US military itself recommends against walking around with assault rifles near civilians. Members of the Ferguson police have been videotaped making racist comments to the protestors. Members of the Ferguson police have been videotaped using tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protestors that were not rioting. Members of the media had their equipment confiscated or dismantled, and in at least one case they were held overnight in prison without having any charges filed – which is against our constitution.

  6. Dennis: Reading your 2nd ¶, I have to wonder at your conclusion. Shouldn’t strategy for opposing these malfeasances (if that’s possible) take their structural relationship into account?

  7. thnidu: That’s the thing (and I know I’m not explaining myself well): I think the structural relationship may be overrated. Steve’s original post draws connections that may be significantly overrated: for example, the national Dem party is different than the Missouri Dem party. That said, I’m not sure it matters that these connections may be tenuous; the results, even if they’re only due to a confluence of multiple factor, are the same is if the connections were are strong as Steve suggested, so maybe we should just respond as if they do exist.

    So I’m thinking that yes, we should take the structural relationship into account, even if it’s not nearly as strong as we think it is.

  8. Viewing this whole sad story from afar (Australia). I worry it seems to me the U.S. is being pulled apart by a lack of strong leadership, vision and the current way of dealing with things is to push things back into the box and hope the problem goes away.
    One other thing that the governments of the world are all doing is SPINNING everything. And we the public aren’t listening anymore.

  9. I live in MIchigan. While driving this morning I heard a story of a black man who had the police called on him this past weekend. Why? Because he was walking around Flint with his hands in his pockets, and someone thought he “looked threatening.”

  10. I think you’re exactly right that this is a challenge – and the purpose is not only to emphasize that the gap in power is even larger than the lack of justice, but also to reinforce the behavior pattern of watching as our rights are eroded.

    In a world as heavily networked as ours, public awareness of apathy is even more valuable to tyrants than fear. NSA surveillance, drone assassinations, even the ostensibly well-intended amnesty are all intended to make it clear that a) this isn’t a democracy, b) most people won’t do anything about it, and c) those that do take action are more interested in stealing iPads individually than protecting liberty collectively.

  11. *hijacking this thread*

    Hey, everyone, there are a lot of actions going on today protesting US police brutality. It is about class, and race. I urge everyone who is able: find your local action (for starters: http://fergusonresponse.tumblr.com/), get out there, talk, shout, join the people.

    If you’re angry at the police state? Demand justice. The protests that have been going on are excellent. Organization happens on the ground and via social media. When the police block a march, the march moves on and takes another street, bridge, highway. This is important and it’s going on right now. Are we poised for revolution? If we are, I want to be on the streets. Do I agree with every sign in the march? Nope, but that’s why I’m going–so I can carry my own sign. (Or my own head. Protip: getting someone to write on your head is easier than carrying a sign.)

    They say stand back. We say: fight back.

    *returning you to regularly-scheduled discussion*

  12. Drew, I share the same outsider view (albeit not from down under). It is sad and terrifying to see how the values the US stood for have been eroding since 9/11, all the way from condoned torture, to the NSA spying on allies, to the rise of racism – and the latter under a president who shares the ancestry of the victims. I don’t know enough about the legal system in the US, but I think he should have been able to do, or at least try to do something, be it only a strong statement.

  13. Aspiring, I share your first two concerns, but racism is not rising. What’s growing is the wealth gap between rich and poor.

    Regarding the change of racism in the US, I recommend this: http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/08/when-class-became-more-important-to-a-childs-education-than-race/279064/

    One bit from it: “According to a 2011 research study by Stanford sociologist Sean Reardon, the test-score gap between the children of the poor (in the 10th percentile of income) and the children of the wealthy (in the 90th percentile) has expanded by as much as 40 percent and is now more than 50 percent larger than the black-white achievement gap–a reversal of the trend 50 years ago. Underprivileged children now languish at achievement levels that are close to four years behind their wealthy peers.”

  14. Thank you for the link, Will. The media in my country have focussed a bit too much on the racism aspect, and not the economical one, it seems.

  15. You’re very welcome. Alas, the media in our country does the same thing. Capitalists are much more comfortable with racial issues than class ones.

  16. Qeegqeg , where to begin?

    Well, there were people who said feudalism wasn’t the problem—the problem was bad lords and ungrateful serfs.

    I live near Lake Street. I like the neighborhood. I haven’t walked around Payne Avenue, but in New York in the ’80s, I walked around Harlem at night. Never had any trouble.

    We agree that there are black racists. Like white racists, they’re confused about the real problem. People who know me have to be bored of my love of Malcolm X quotes, but this is among the reason I love the man: “I totally reject Elijah Muhammad’s racist philosophy, which he has labeled ‘Islam’ only to fool and misuse gullible people as he fooled and misused me. But I blame only myself, and no one else for the fool that I was, and the harm that my evangelical foolishness on his behalf has done to others.”

  17. Will, I deleted his comment because it overloaded my “racist filth” bucket. Want me to delete your remark as well? I’m happy to leave it if you wish.

  18. Hmm. Thinking about his comment a bit more, I’m struck by the self-obsession of racists of all hues. The neighborhoods they identify as scary aren’t scary because a particular race is dominant there. In those neighborhoods, most victims are of the dominant race. There was a tweet today by a muslim pointing out that most victims of muslim terrorists are muslims. But racists insist on making things all about them.

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