Ferguson: Monday and Beyond
A struggle is going on in Ferguson, MO. It is the struggle for the hearts and minds of the youth, especially the black youth. And as that youth goes, so goes the youth of America.
Until now, the main strategy a combination of propaganda and outright intimidation repression. The propaganda came from the TV, the radio and “respectable” society, which preached that the only goal in life should be money, cars, and good times. Since millions of black youth knew that this was denied to them, then intimidation and outright repression was needed on a mass scale. From the little daily acts of disrespect and intimidation to the beatings and murders, the war against black and Latino youth has been unrelenting.
But in Ferguson, something snapped, and after the police tear gas attack Sunday night, it was clear they had to do something. The main goal was (and is) to get the uncontrollable youth off the streets, or at the very least to get them under some degree of control and to control the crowds in general.
Until Monday, the gathering at the lot of the burned out QuikTrip (“QT”) store was as much the heart and soul of the protests as was Oscar Grant Plaza for Occupy Oakland. That was where people hung out, exchanged thoughts, shared food and water, and stood along the sidewalk with their signs, expressing their thoughts.
people making up their own protest signs in the QT lot
Out in the street, hundreds of cars passed, almost every single one with horn honking, young people hanging all out the car, standing up through their sun roofs, with the new sign of defiance – hands up in the air. Those cars passing by with the youth – it was a real people’s street theater, the street theater of the hood. And it inspired people; it was as much nourishment for the “soul” as the food they distributed was for the body.
So it had to be stopped.
During the Civil Rights movement days, the Kennedy and Johnson administrations’ main goal was to get the people off the streets. That was because the tear gas, fire hoses and police dogs didn’t look good to all the newly independent African nations, and elsewhere around the world, especially not with the Soviet Union hovering in the background. And it’s the same thing now, especially with all that’s happening in Gaza, Iraq, etc. So they came together – all the elements of official society – to put a stop to it.
On Monday morning the police announced that we could no longer gather in the QT lot and could not stand on the sidewalks. We had to keep moving. At the same time, some “respected” leader (nobody I talked to knew who he was) held a press conference (why did the press even pay attention?) in which he announced that he was going to herd the protests into a church that night, in order to keep things peaceful. (Since I never did find out his name, I’ll just call him the Respected Leader.)
Out of sight, out of mind.
The People Gather
But the people of Ferguson had a different idea. The crowd was very thin Monday morning, but by later in the afternoon it started to gather. All along, the mood was “enough is enough”. As one young man said, “This has been going on for years. Michael Brown’s murder is the last drop of water in the glass.” So just because the cops had tried to drive people off the street with tear gas, just because some “respected community leaders” wanted people people off the street… Well, the people had a different ideas, so here they came.
Up and down N. Florissant we wandered. Sometimes a small crowd would group themselves together and start chanting. “Hands up! Don’t shoot! One side of the street is all stores set well back to leave room for parking. From time to time, groups would gather there just to hang out. After awhile the cops would come by. “Folks, you’re going to have to keep walking. You can’t just stand there.” Off we would move, with much grumbling. “They just want to tire us out so we’ll go home,” several people said. And they were right, not just tire out our feet, but also our spirits.
Peace Without Justice?
Along with the respected leader from the morning press conference came a cohort of preachers. Their focus was on “peace”, but you know how the chant goes, “no justice…”
Dusk deepened and the crowd swelled further. Up and down the sidewalk we marched, but with the growing numbers and also just naturally, it started to overflow off the sidewalk. Continuing efforts by Mr. Respectable and the lieutenants of the ministers to provide order by getting us back onto the sidewalk. Then it happened: Mr. Respectable had promised he’d get us inside a church, but maybe due to his being from out of town possibly, he maybe didn’t know that there were no churches in that immediate area to lead us to, or maybe he just hadn’t been thinking that morning. For whatever reason, he had to make do with second best, which was a fenced-in parking lot behind a closed business – right at one end of N. Florissant where the cops were lined up and across the street from the press gathering point. As the sky darkened, the Respected Leader with one of the only bull horns the crowd had, led us back to this parking lot.
There was some resistance, and a few people – especially some youth – left just as soon as they entered, but most people stayed for awhile. There we were subjected to one speech after another about the need for a plan, the need to be smart, that “they wanted an excuse to arrest us, but we have to be smarter than that,” etc. They were right in the abstract, but remember what his promise had been that morning: To get us off the streets. (During the Civil Rights movement days, that was the entire goal of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.) He promoted himself as a national police brutality expert. To cover for his plan, he and others with him tried to sound militant by shouting “black power!” The youth in the crowd were clearly unhappy with this, but they had no clear alternative, no clear plan.
People were frustrated and started to drift away, first in ones and twos and then in a stream.
Rumor had it that they were going to chase us off the streets when night fell, but night had fallen and we were still there. I would have given a lot to hear what negotiations were going on behind the scenes between all the respected”community leaders”, top local law enforcement and politicians as well as a representative or two of the Obama administration – maybe from the (in)Justice Department. The overall agreement was clear, though: That what had happened Sunday night was not acceptable, especially with Corporate America trying to keep a lid on what was happening in Gaza, Iraq, etc. “Of course, we can’t let these young crazies out rioting,” they might be saying, “but it’s best to let the respected community and “faith community” leaders control things.”
And try they did. When they couldn’t keep us penned in, they tried to keep us on the sidewalk as we marched up and down. Without our central gathering spot of the QT lot and without the street theater of the hood of the car show, people were frustrated. So a different outlet was needed.
Back Onto the Street
Clearly, the cops had been told to cool it so with our growing numbers they couldn’t stop people from going out onto the street altogether. At one point, people surged out into the street en masse to confront this police line. Shouting and curses. The respected leaders did their best to get us back away from the line of cops, who stood there impassively. The fact that the cops didn’t use gas at that point showed that a new tactic was in place. As it was, under the urging of the respected leadership the crowd reluctantly drew back. Into this gap a few plastic water bottles started flying.
Again, the majority in the crowd seemed to see that there wasn’t much sense in just confronting the cops. We weren’t about to overthrow them or drive them off the street. But at the same time, what was the sense of just marching back and forth, up and down West Florissant?
“Move Back! Do Not Throw Objects!”
“Move back! Do not throw objects at the police,” came the booming voice of the cops’ loudspeaker. Then some sort of high-pitched, piercing sounding siren they use started going off. That was the warning or threat that tear gas was going to follow, and most people drew back even further, leaving a smaller band of youth confronting the cops. The respected leadership was able to get a march of the large majority going, back down the street. As the larger crowd marched off, the most militant youth started to follow. The moment was over… for the time being.
Up and down we marched. Except by now it tended to overflow even more into the streets. As does the union leadership in similar instances, a group of lieutenants did their best to herd us back onto the sidewalk (bear in mind there was absolutely zero traffic at this time). Meanwhile, in the parking lots on the side of the street little crowds would gather. The peace-keepers came by at one point to warn us that we would be arrested if we remained there, and at that point people all moved. Later in the evening, as a new crisis arose, the disobedience of gathering in these open parking lots was completely ignored by everybody – the crowd, the peace-keepers and the police.
Shots and CNN Lie
At one point we heard shots fired off at some distance. Sunday night, this was the excuse for the tear gas, even though the shots were after the tear gas. Monday night, some cop cars went racing off to wherever the shots sounded from, but there was no tear gas. (An interesting incident: I heard a CNN lie-caster speaking about those events on Sunday night. He was commenting about the shots and the tear gas. He clearly left the impression that it happened in that order if he didn’t directly say so, which maybe he did. In other words, the shots were what caused the cops to shoot off the tear gas. When he got off camera I asked him if he heard shots and if so from where. He said he definitely did and they came from “back there” – pointing in the exact opposite direction from the police line from which the tear gas had been fired. He then admitted to me that the shots were after the tear gas – the exact opposite of the impression he’d given on camera.)
Defending Turf vs. Respected Leader
Sometime later – maybe around 10:00 – a crowd of these youth gathered in the QT lot. They were carrying out the slogan I saw on one shirt: “Defend your turf.”
A police line formed at that end of the street. This included what looked like armored personnel carriers. (Although there was the announcement of the National Guard being called up I never saw them. Again, how would that look to the world, with the Obama administration making all that noise about different rulers – those not in the US camp – repressing their own people?) Some youth gathered on the QT lot – their turf. Then they uprooted a “Yield” street sign and dragged it out onto the street along with some traffic delineators and a few other things.
The police loudspeaker boomed: “Move off the lot. If you do not move off the lot and out of the street, you may be subject to arrest of other enforcement measures. Do not place objects in the street. Do not remove street signs. Do not throw objects at law enforcement. (Nothing was thrown at them, most definitely not any molotov cocktails, contrary to later police lies.) If you do not comply with police orders you may be subject to arrest or other enforcement measures.” Over and over, the police loudspeaker repeated this message. And still the youth held their ground. The Peace Keeper came rushing down the street. “Hold off,” he shouted at the cops through a bull horn. “Please… be quiet and let me do my job (!),” he repeated, nearly in a panic that the cops would make a move and he and his team would lose control. There they stood, trying to convince the youth to abandon their post. He and his team failed totally.
What did convince the youth, after maybe a half hour of this, was a barrage of smoke grenades (rather than tear gas this time). Down the street everybody fled. (I caught a fair few whiffs of this stuff and it’s no fun but nowhere as near as bad as actual tear gas. Again it showed the new strategy.)
In effect, there was a struggle waged between the respected leaders on the one side and the angry youth on the other for the vast majority in the middle. The respected leaders clearly had a goal and strategy: They want the struggle off the streets, as explicitly stated by the The Respected Leader that morning. The angry youth want to keep it on the streets, but where to go from there and for what goal? Everybody agrees that a common goal is to have Darren Wilson arrested and tried for murder. There was also a general consensus that the problem was way beyond Darren Wilson. What to do about that? A common call – one made by both the black chief of the state police as well as by some in the community – is for more black police. There was also talk about requiring that Ferguson’s police live in Ferguson. But in other parts of the country we have more black cops and women cops. Has that changed anything? Really, will where they live make a real difference?
Angry Youth vs. Moderates
Clearly, some real steps to solve all the problems lie not in gathering in a church or back where nobody can see in a parking lot and listening to some respected community leaders. Nor will the federal Department of (in)Justice solve the problem. They are part of the problem.
There are another group of respected leaders – the leaders of the unions. I met a few union members over the few days I was in Ferguson – members of the Painters Union, the United Auto Workers (UAW), the Postal Workers. But they were all there on their own. In fact, the UAW member told me that his leadership had told him “it’s not our problem.” Can you imagine that?
Just imagine if the union leaders called out their members, and there were hundreds of union members marching up and down West Florissant with their union banners. But those who control the unions are another wing of the respected leaders. They are completely tied in with the (Democratic) politicians and with the bosses on the job.
Another part of the problem is how Hollywood along with the education system and others have managed to squash the real traditions of the Civil Right Movement. It’s as if we almost have to start all over again.
Those who resisted the respected leaders had to win the hearts and the minds to a different goal and a different strategy, but what could that be? Many people have no problem with the idea of a “revolution”, but where to begin and where to go from there?
Of course Darren Wilson should be put on trial for murder. But will that solve the problem?
And as some said who I talked with, there are also the other problems – no decent jobs, an education system that is collapsing, etc. What other steps can and should the movement take?
Only having been there a few days, all I can do is ask: Would it make sense to organize to hold a public meeting – maybe at the QT lot – about police abuse? Of course, this would mean mobilizing to retake the lot, but people proved they can do that. And it would reverse the police offensive.
Is it possible to get some of the young people to go to work places where other community members work and together try to get an even larger crowd out to the QT lot every afternoon?
What we saw was that the only constant is change. From day to day, from hour to hour, in the heat of a battle things change quickly. We are also at a disadvantage since the media always lies and distorts. So we urge any people in Ferguson to contact us, let us know what is happening now and what they think has to be done.
Together, we can join the world revolution.