Mass protests in the majority-black St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri over the police killing of an eighteen year old man over the weekend before what would have been his first day of college.
The victim, Michael Brown, was reportedly walking in the street with a friend when an as-yet unnamed police officer arrived and ordered them on to the sidewalk. The police account claims that Brown assaulted the officer, forcing him to act; witnesses on the scene report that Brown was shot with his arms up as he tried to escape the officer’s fire.
Unsurprisingly given the black community’s increasingly active role in fighting police brutality and the racist, anti-worker justice system since Trayvon Martin’s murder in 2011, protests sprang up almost immediately, chanting slogans of “No justice, no peace!” The local political establishment has responded in force. Ferguson Mayor James Knowles pledged that “justice will be served”, calling on people to “have faith in the process.”1
This is ‘the process’ that the people of Ferguson are supposed to have ‘faith’ in: police were brought in from surrounding towns, many in riot gear or with shotguns in hand. Dozens have been arrested after a few protesters rioted, although participants maintain that this was a visceral response to a deliberate police provocation – specifically, use of “monkey” as a racial slur by law enforcement.2 Of course, the corporate media has seized on rioting and looting – perpetrated by a few fringe elements – to paint the whole population as savage, animalistic and desperately in need of the iron hand of authority: in other words, the typical picture of Black America in the white supremacist’s mindset. To add insult to injury, the ‘no justice, no peace’ slogan has been slanderously reported in many accounts as ‘kill the police’!
All genuine partisans of justice and civil rights will reject this narrative, instead seeing the situation for what it really is: an explosion of grief and anger as yet another human life falls for the crime of ‘existing while black’, an elemental revolt based on refusal to accept the disparity between the formal equality of races and the real situation of steadily worsening oppression. We should not follow the demagoguery of the Reverend Al Sharpton, that ever-present ‘respectable’ (read: housebroken, pro-capitalist) face of the Black community, when he wags his finger at protesters and urges them to show peace – in fact surrender – in the face of state violence. Rather, we should be calling for organization, building for democratically controlled workers’ self-defense and a trial for Brown’s killer in the area and building solidarity elsewhere. The latter would entail no small amount of myth-busting, not only to answer the media distortions of the present protest movement but to rebut distortions about Black life, and crime, in general.
A program of action is developing on the ground. A new group calling itself the Ad-Hoc Committee for Justice on Behalf of Michael Brown is distributing a leaflet calling for3:
• The officer involved in the shooting death of Michael Brown be IMMEDIATELY identified.
• The same officer should be immediately fired and charged with murder.
• The Ferguson Police Department “Protocol Handbook” be distributed throughout the Ferguson community.
• The racial composition of the Ferguson Police Department should reflect the racial demographics of the community.
While the fourth demand reflects some illusions that changing the racial composition of the police would change their fundamental role, the rest is a solid minimum program for democratic reform. Working class activists and organizers should take this up – if we don’t, we leave the initiative to the likes of Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson or even the black-supremacist New Black Panther Party.
3. After having initially stated they would release the anonymous officer’s name by noon today (Tuesday), the police reneged and have declared that he or she will remain anonymous out of ‘safety concerns.’ Photo of the leaflet at https://pbs.twimg.com/media/BuxIMCNIcAA81qL.jpg