Thursday, November 27, 2014

Andrew Slack Asks The 13 Crucial Questions About Ferguson


Andrew is someone I know from progressive activists circles and who also happens to lead the Harry Potter Alliance, which uses popular culture to make social justice popular. Today he gave me permission to crosspost the 13 questions from his Facebook page.

Guest Post
by Andrew Slack

Here are 13 questions I have around Ferguson, numbered but in no particular order of importance. While I realize it's long, I think these questions are important and worth asking about, acting around, and wrestling with:

1) #‎WHYTWELVESHOTS: Not even in Officer Wilson's telling of the story, did it seem that it was necessary for a trained police officer to shoot his gun twelve times. I doubt that there was ever a reason to shoot his gun one time. But twelve? And hit Michael Brown six times. How can this ever be justified? I think the simple truth is that it can't.

2) #‎WHYNOTRIAL: Michael Brown had 12 shots to die. Shouldn't Officer Wilson have one shot at a trial of his peers? A larger systemic issue is that 99.99% of grand juries move to indict but they barely ever do when it comes to matters of the police. This needs to change.

And how do we now unite with Color of Change to work with the federal government to ensure that Officer Wilson is given the trial that he deserves?

3) #‎WHYAFTERSUNDOWN: Though none of us are eye witnesses to what happened between Officer Wilson and Michael Brown, all of us are eye witnesses to what happened between the Ferguson police and peaceful protests this last summer.

As protestors remained disciplined and peaceful as police beat them and threatened them with extremely dangerous military weapons. The Ferguson police and Missouri state government were caught off guard when it came to media attention. Now they needed to save face. They had a lot of face to save! So what better way to do this than to paint the protestors as "violent animals" by inciting a riot. Why else did they wait until after sundown to read the grand jury's decision and for the prosecuting attorney to make everything worse by blaming the protestors, social media, etc? I have a hard time believing that any one could be THAT inept. If they didn't fear riots, then why would they have already called in the National Guard....creating expectations and a more tense situation, only to let it out by announcing AFTER SUNDOWN?!

I think there needs to be Congressional hearings on whether or not the Ferguson police intentionally incited riots.

4) WHY ARE THE FERGUSON POLICE AS WELL ARMED AS ISIS? There's something frightening about the militarization of the police that has occurred steadily over the course of 25 years. At this point, it seems like a corrupt way for weapon companies to make money.

5) WHAT'S RACE GOT TO DO WITH IT? The fact that young black teens are killed at over 20 times the rate as young white teens or simply John Green's Tumblr post on the raw data in Ferguson, all point to the fact that structural racism exists.

Even hearing Officer Wilson describe Mike Brown as "a demon"-- just looking at the choices of words have historical racial undertones that may have suggested the officer's mindset in this particular case and underline the strange relationship that white cops have with communities of color.

The rug has been lifted over structural racism and how it intersects with police brutality and we find that we've been pushing stuff under it for decades. As the NY Times writes:
"For the black community of Ferguson, the killing of Michael Brown was the last straw in a long train of abuses that they have suffered daily at the hands of the local police. News accounts have strongly suggested, for example, that the police in St. Louis County’s many municipalities systematically targetpoor and minority citizens for street and traffic stops-- partly to generate fines-- which has the effect of both bankrupting and criminalizing whole communities.

In this context, the police are justifiably seen as an alien, occupying force that is synonymous with state-sponsored abuse"
As Kaiser Soze said, "the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist." Well what is coming from Ferguson (a year and some months since the trial around the killing of Trayvon Martin) and the fact that Ferguson is typical of an American town-- all of this points to the notion that the devil of structural racism is real. The first step in recovery is acknowledging that we have a problem. And we have a problem.


Look no further than Martin Luther King Jr to understand the intersection between economic inequality and structural racism. King believed very deeply that racism could not be fixed without addressing classism. His writing and speaking on this are as extensive as they are unrecognized. Perhaps because people rather not be challenged by quotes such as this one from Dr. King:
"Many white Americans of good will have never connected bigotry with economic exploitation. They have deplored prejudice but tolerated or ignored economic injustice."


Dr. King, himself, believed that only nonviolent resistance could demonstrate the kind of change necessary to change a system that was built in violence. To this day, we watch as that same system that Dr. King fought nonviolently. In Dr. King's words:
"A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, 'This is not just.'"
The need to say "this is unjust" is just as great today as when King said these words. And yet what about nonviolent resistance? Michael Brown's family has bravely asked for it!

The reality is that almost all protestors have remained nonviolent. But it's impossible to avoid the violence. Again, I believe that it was intentionally incited by the police. But this does not remove the agency of those who are committing violence and we must stand in solidarity, nonviolently.

But there is something truly upsetting about the first instinct being to push against violence by protestors. As my friend Jess Morales puts it:
"If your first instinct is to talk about the need for nonviolence, please check your privilege. Your brain is in the right place, but it lost connection with your heart somewhere. Folks are angry, and they have a right to be angry and express that anger. That is NOT the same as violence. And again, check yourself if you see a group of people of color who are angry and automatically think violence. Turn around and look at police officers dressed up for war. Turn your directive for nonviolence over to the ones actually perpetuating it. In the meantime, my friends are going to be angry that they can be murdered in cold blood and the "justice system" could give two fucks about it."

Most people have been hearing about the eery and perverse system of American private prisons (why would we allow for prisons that actively release people, knowing they'll make money if they come back, increasing the rate of recidivism?). Further, why are prisons the only place for some people to find work and what does that have to do with Walmart and the Walmartization of America? Why is our entire justice system not striving towards the data around what prevents crime including restorative justice? How are there laws like Stand Your Ground, what does it have to do with the lobbying group ALEC, and how are some our favorite brand names associated with funding ALEC?


The treatment of teens who are people of color is the most extreme and it seems obvious that police in Ferguson and across the US constantly intimate young people of color. In general, this entire incident has hit on the topic of age as well. Young people are speaking up about how they get spoken down to. #‎SOCIALMEDIADIDIT: The DA's belief that somehow social media was the real culprit shows a generational and cultural misunderstanding that is disturbing. How can the world of social media reach out and cross the divide around this understanding?

Still, people in other generations have not truly heard about #‎IFTHEYGUNNEDMEDOWN-- the ultimate media critique. For those who need the 411 here: when the mainstream media covers the killing a black student, they don't ever pick out photos from their Facebook of their graduation or them with their family. They always pick out selfies and photos with friends to portray that teen as a "gangsta" but if it's a white student that's killed it's entirely opposite: provocative pictures on Facebook, partying with friends, being destructive, etc are all ignored and instead, the media love to go straight for the most dignified looking pictures. In other words, white victims are victims but black victims must have had it coming. This summer, young people of color imagined what pictures the mainstream media would use of them, if they were gunned down.

Which ties into questions around the media and the way it's out of touch with all of these issues. And how we can use social media to change that and work for media reform.

And how we do to honor the past stories of injustice-- and what do we do to prevent and prepare for future ones, even now as new stories keep coming in of young black people, mainly males, getting killed by police-- it just happened last week around the corner from me. The lights were dimmed or very dark, the officer couldn't see, and he shot a young man who was walking through his home. The young man was black and is now dead. There doesn't seem to have been any prior altercation and the officer is almost definitely not going to be indicted.


I feel like there's something bizarre about how this officer and the police are being defended and it goes deep into heterosexist ideas around defending bizarre and often racist comments of normative masculinity. I know this one may seem a stretch to some, but I think the lens of gender shouldn't be forgotten when it comes to just about any thing this major and systemic in our culture.


I've been hearing stories of parents who are black or people of color trying to explain to their teenage children tricks and tips on how to be safe....from getting harassed or killed by the police. Families all over America now are in panic over the immunity that police seem to have for potentially killing their children. How do we as a nation try to take real steps toward listening deeply to changing the environment that makes these fears real?


How do we protest in a way that fully honors the rage and anger and fury in a way that is compassionate, loving, and ultimately most effective. I'm not suggesting that love, in any way, is a force that should negate anger. Love is part of a totality and about wholeness. Part of being whole is being broken and being angry. How do we find spaces to hold each other? To mourn? To express? To include police who want to protect and serve. To include prison guards and any one else who wants to elevate the human condition even if that means acknowledging that their profession belongs to a system that is hurting the human condition. In short, to love...

13) WHAT STEPS CAN WE TAKE NEXT? to mourn, to mobilize, to be voices, allies, and more? Just some more general, sketched out thoughts and questions about next steps:

-can police be part of this conversation: the nation is full of amazing cops who want to do good and don't like working for a system that structurally intimidates the poor but not the rich, etc. How can the good cops be included in this conversation - without them we can't make the necessary transformations that need to take place nearly as well.

What will happen to protestors who were treated abusively this year? Or business owners who had their businesses destroyed due to riots that it seems the police may have intentionally incited? And WILL AND SHOULD THERE BE A TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION COMMISSION AROUND THE ENTIRE ISSUE OF FERGUSON as an emblematic canary in the coal mine regarding the entire system of class, race, gun violence, and justice in this country?

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At 11:15 PM, Blogger Bill Michtom said...

Excellent and thought-provoking list.

I have one small disagreement:

"The DA's belief that somehow social media was the real culprit shows a generational and cultural misunderstanding that is disturbing."

As a 67-year-old, I want to vigorously dispute the idea that generational differences have anything to do with this.

Like so many politicians on the hot seat, Robert McCulloch was grasping at anything to cover his own culpability. Media of any description is always the goto option and he went to it.

Anyone of any age knows bullshit when it is stinking up the street in front of you.


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