aNewDomain commentary — Ferguson, Missouri offers a lesson for those of us who are trying to make life more fair: Powers that be pay more attention to violent protest than nonviolence.
Coverage of the race riots following a white cop’s shooting of an unarmed young black man in that suburb of St. Louis is all over the newspaper headlines and TV network news. Federal and state officials, in a rare move, are chastising local police authorities. And now the second-guessing is extending to a do-over of the autopsy of Michael Brown, the 18-year-old victim of the shooting. Brown was shot at least six times — twice in the head — from a distance. There wasn’t even gun powder on him, a veteran NYC medical examiner has said.
Violent demonstrators nabbed the attention of the Attorney General and United States President Barack Obama, who broke away from his summer vacation to call for both “respect for public order and the right to peaceful public protests.”
After the Obama administration’s coordination of the brutal crackdown against the peaceful Occupy Wall Street movement, and his decision to shunt marchers at the 2008 and 2012 Democratic National Conventions into distant, caged and hidden “free speech zones,” Obama’s defense of the right to protest has taken a startling 180 degree turn.)
So finally we are beginning a long overdue national conversation about police racial profiling of African-Americans, especially young men.
After all, “driving while black,” “stop and frisk” and the militarization of local law enforcement that always seems to fall heaviest against black communities (c.f., New Orleans during Katrina) have gone on for decades. Yet no one seemed to care besides the victims. Thanks to the rioters in Ferguson, wealthy, white and so-called mainstream America is at last questioning such tactics.
It’s a breakthrough. But it’s only happening because people are coming out night after night to confront the police even though — arguably because— the police are shooting tear gas and rubber bullets at them. They’re also throwing Molotov cocktails and rocks, looting and breaking windows. The violent protest worked.
Michael Brown’s death fits the typical standard narrative of “White Policeman Shoots Unarmed Black Youth.”
Happens all the time. White cops who kill unarmed black people are rarely charged with a crime. And those who get charged are rarely convicted. As far as I can tell, no white policeman in the United States has ever even received a lengthy prison term for killing an unarmed African-American civilian.
Police shootings provoke anger among the black community — and there it remains. Usually black political and religious leaders are able to persuade citizens to limit their tactics to peaceful protest. The ruling class isn’t scared by peaceful marches. That’s why they don’t lead to meaningful change.
Nonviolent protest was the reaction last month when a NYPD officer killed 43-year-old Eric Garner, suspected of selling untaxed cigarettes, using an illegal chokehold. At a rally, Garner’s mother said to a crowd: “We’re not gonna start fighting and pushing each other and breaking windows, right?”
So far, the protesters’ decision to respect private property rights has had zero effect. Garner’s death was ruled a homicide, yet the cop remains at work. He remains uncharged.
Also in New York, another unarmed 18-year-old, Ramarley Graham, was shot to death by an undercover narcotics officer who broke into his apartment without a warrant in 2012. Protesters adhered to the usual nonviolent tactics. As usual, results were nil. From The Los Angeles Times: “A judge threw out a manslaughter indictment against the officer who shot Graham on a technicality. A second grand jury failed to indict the officer, saying there was insufficient evidence to charge him. Graham’s family and local lawmakers have called for the Justice Department to investigate.”
I’m a white guy, so I don’t have to worry about getting shot by cops if I’m in a car accident. As a black man, however, Manuel Loggins, Jr. wasn’t so lucky. After Loggins wrecked his SUV, an Orange County sheriff’s deputy shot him — he was unarmed — in front of his 9- and 14-year-old daughters because he had a “mean” expression. This was in 2012. Again, there were peaceful protests. As usual, the deputy has not been charged.
This is how it always goes.
Ferguson’s protesters include old-school nonviolent civil rights types as well as younger activists who are fighting back against the police in kind. At a meeting, The New York Times reported, “clergy members despaired over the seemingly uncontrollable nature of the protest movement and the flare-ups of violence that older people in the group abhorred.”
The NYT quoted an older man from East St. Louis: “These kids do not understand why the nonviolence movement is the best way to get done what we need to get done.”
Really? Considering how quickly the violent protesters are getting results, it looks like it’s the old folks who don’t understand.
Based in New York, Ted Rall is a syndicated writer and cartoonist — and a Pulitzer Prize finalist. He’s also a columnist at aNewDomain and the author of After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan, due out Sept. 2, 2014. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon, follow him @TedRall on Twitter and check out his posts on Google here. His Silk Road to Ruin: Why Central Asia is the Next Middle East (expanded and updated) is available now.