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Ferguson peacemakers–No Justice Without Peace

Note: The Grand Jury is expected to make an announcement in the Mike Brown case any day now. Supporters of Officer Darren Wilson anticipate violence from the protesters, and the Don’t Shoot Coalition expects violence from the police and a declaration of ‘open season’ on communities of color and political dissenters.

By : Jeanine Molloff

The search for ‘peace makers’ in the Michael Brown tragedy has revealed an activist community more complex than the vapid, two dimensional representation seen on corporate media.

Covering the events here on the ground in Ferguson and the surrounding St. Louis region is akin to performing surgery on a flesh wound and finding a malignancy. The cancers of racism and police brutality have metastasized from Fallujah to Ferguson, and inspired a renewed call for global justice. Oppressed people from Gaza to Hong Kong have sent messages of support to protesters in Ferguson. During this investigation, one thing was clearly evident—there can be no peace without justice.

As the corporate press continues to focus on teargas, rubber bullets and looting—the deeper story focusing on ingrained racism, police brutality, and blatantly unjust laws, is treated as a curious anecdote. In addition to these problems; we have a scenario familiar to the protesters—namely the ‘leaking’ of evidence aimed to vilify Michael Brown and support his police killer.

Illegal ‘leaked’ evidence aimed to trivialize protests… and prejudice juries…

Now that detailed information about the Michael Brown shooting has ‘leaked’ to various news outlets, (ie. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, The New York Times, The Atlantic and the Washington Post); the pundits are ready to declare that no indictment of Officer Darren Wilson is necessary. Based on the shooter’s police report and the autopsy conducted by St. Louis County—the mainstream media has concluded that Officer Wilson’s story is supported by the same leaked information. A CNN commentator complained that the protesters are still in the streets, in spite of the evidence—all with the exasperated tone of a woman being kept from her mani-pedi.

The fact that the police report and the autopsy were confidential information restricted to the St. Louis County Prosecutor’s Office and the Grand Jury—is irrelevant to the pundits—the evidence supports the police officer—or does it?   First of all, the leaks are illegal and clearly intended to prejudice any jury pool, in Wilson’s favor. Secondly, the evidence from the autopsy supports the story that there was a struggle between Brown and Wilson—nothing else. I obtained the copy of the official autopsy and it can be viewed here.   (http://bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/stltoday.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/c/e0/ce018d0c-5998-11e4-b700-001a4bcf6878/5447202ea9b4e.pdf.pdf)

Contrary to the exasperation of helmet hair broadcasters; the evidence of ongoing police brutality and suspension of civil liberties remains a serious concern to all but the corporate media.

Medical examiner contradicts pundits…

Dr. Judy Melinek was one of the forensic experts the St. Louis Post-Dispatch interviewed. She took the paper to task for misrepresenting her comments. Dr. Melinek explained to MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell that her comments had been taken out of context.

“I’m not saying that Brown going for the gun is the only explanation. I’m saying the officer said he was going for the gun and the right thumb wound supports that,” Melinek. “I have limited information. It could also be consistent with other scenarios. That’s the important thing. That’s why the witnesses need to speak to the grand jury and the grand jury needs to hear all the unbiased testimony and compare those statements to the physical evidence.” Source : (http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/judy-melinek-ferguson-autopsy-report-msnbc)

Whether you believe the family of Michael Brown, or the supporters of Officer Wilson; one thing becomes clear—the early suppression of evidence, the tacit disrespect and brutality of police, and the battleground denial of civil liberties by Ferguson, St. Louis County and Governor Jay Nixon, speaks to a political culture of repression and police lawlessness.

Not since Occupy, has such a public display of police abuse been witnessed against anyone daring to question the police and their authority.   So, in order to identify the peace makers; an examination of false or tepid peace makers is needed.

False peace maker …the Police….

During this entire saga, press organizations continued to assume that abusive police practices were limited to the Ferguson Police department. That was not the case here. The beige shirted police in media photos, bursting with civil liberties violations—was St. Louis County Police.

Additionally, the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Association) filed a federal lawsuit against Ferguson, St. Louis County and Highway Patrol Superintendent Ronald Replogle.  The lawsuit challenges police policies which criminalize any recording of police.  Police have been accused of arresting both citizens and media groups attempting to record incidents.  http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/aclu-sues-to-obtain-mike-brown-shooting-report/article_e121542f-f9

Though the Ferguson Police department has a long history of abusive practices hailing back from the Jim Crow era, and the officer who killed Michael Brown—was from the Ferguson force; the entire situation in Ferguson became the official property of the St. Louis County Police in October coinciding with the Don’t Shoot Coalition’s Ferguson October. Ferguson Police Chief Jackson called St. Louis County and requested they take over security duties as of October 3rd. (Source : http://news.stlpublicradio.org/post/st-louis-county-police-take-over-ferguson-security)   Since St. Louis County has taken the driver’s wheel, protester arrests continue to be rife with civil rights violations. Ferguson police, following County police orders; tweeted that protesters were arrested for ‘noise violations’, ‘resisting arrest’, ‘failure to comply’, and ‘language to incite violence.’ (Source : http://news.stlpublicradio.org/post/st-louis-county-police-take-over-ferguson-security)   Charges were based on the arbitrary judgment of the police officer.

The more disturbing charges aka…’failure to comply,’ and using ‘language to incite violence,’ pose a legal problem for police. St. Louis University Law Professor Alan Howard explained the ‘inciting language’ statute applies only if the language results in actual violence. The ‘inciting language must also be recorded by authorities, subsequently this charge is very difficult to successfully convict in court. Professor Howard added that non-inciting language which is insulting or critical of police, is protected under the 1st amendment. (Source : http://news.stlpublicradio.org/post/st-louis-county-police-take-over-ferguson-security)

As of October 26th 2014, the PEN America Center is demanding the US Justice Department investigate 52 allegations of 1st amendment suppression of media freedoms by multiple local police departments, including St. Louis County Police. Unconstitutional practices used by police against the press included denied access to events, using flashing lights aimed at cameras to hinder photographers, and threats of assaults against reporters and photographers; culminating in 21arrests—all for the crime of journalism. http://www.pen.org/ferguson#sthash.n4q758nF.dpuf

A major concern in the PEN America Center complaint is the extreme military force used by police departments in response to protests. By now, the photos of local police using tear gas, rubber bullets, pepper spray, and the LRAD sound cannon, has become the face of Ferguson to the international community. We have become, Gaza on the Mississippi.

Crisis Response Team…DOJ failing to crack down on police brutality…

DOJ’s Crisis Response Team is here to broker some kind of settlement between what are in reality—warring factions. The CRT team attempts to present each side as an equal stakeholder, but the Ferguson Mayor and police department know once DOJ leaves—everything returns to the status quo. The high probability of blowback from the police onto Blacks living in Ferguson and surrounding areas remains the giant unseen elephant in the room.

Mo. State Law granting police a ‘license to kill’…

Mo. Interpretation of ‘fleeing felon rule’ Though the Supreme Court of the United States restricted the previous ‘fleeing felon rule’ in the 1985 Tennessee v. Garner ruling;–Missouri standards on the use of lethal force–are beyond lax. Basically police in Missouri—have a ‘license to kill.’ The Missouri statute permits the use of deadly force even if the suspect does not present a similar threat.  Essentially if the officer ‘believes’ the suspect has merely attempted to commit a felony and also believes there is no other way to effect the arrest—deadly force is legally sanctioned.

So, if an officer wants an excuse to use deadly force, they merely have to state a ‘reasonable belief’ that the suspect attempted a felony—and they can legally kill.   Later the officer can state that there was no other way to make the arrest.  The suspect does not have to present any immediate deadly threat—they just have to be hard to catch– minus bullets.  Source : (http://www.realclearpolicy.com/blog/2014/08/16/missouris_rule_on_deadly_force_by_cops_1044.html)

Missouri’s standard listed below in the ‘legalese’ can be found at this link.   (Source : http://www.reason.com/blog/2014/08/15/missouris-standard-for-use-of-deadly-force)

To add further insult to injury; Missouri does provide access to such statutes—for a fee.

Section 1033—providing military equipment and training..

. Not only is this program unecessary—it is insulting to anyone who believes in democracy. Section 1033 provides ‘gently used’ military equipment (including MWRAP armoured vehicles), and the same military training received by soldiers sent to Iraq , Afghanistan or Gaza. Section 1033 has been expanded to grant cold cash to police departments, so they can buy new military arms. (Source: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2011/12/20/local-cops-ready-for-war-with-homeland-security-funded-military-weapons.html) It’s a cash cow for arms manufacturers. We can’t afford health care for little Johnny—but the police get a big shiny tank.

5 Second Rule…

For the members of the public who have been living in a cave the past 70+ days; the 5 second rule permits peaceable protest providing you never stop moving. If you stop beyond 5 seconds—then you risked arrest for..’failure to disperse.'(Source : http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2014/10/07/3577001/judge-to-ferguson-police-you-cant-arrest-protesters-for-standing-still/)

‘5 Second Rule arrests were also made for walking too slowly, or pacing back and forth in a small area, praying, reporting news, holding a public meeting and teaching people about their rights. Police systematically ‘kettled’ protesters into ‘assembly lines’ while barking orders to ‘keep moving’, or face arrest.

The 5 second rule was thankfully struck down in a preliminary injunction by U.S. District Judge Catherine D. Perry, on October 8th. The court order was in response to a series of ACLU requests to declare this procedure an undue denial of 1st amendment rights. Judge Perry denied the first request based on nothing but— the word of police– that protesters had been granted ‘designated areas’ to gather and rest. ACLU employee (and Plaintiff) Mustafa Abdullah spoke to various officials who stated they knew nothing about such a ‘safe designated area.’

Next, the police created a “Protester Assembly Zone”, clear from threat of arrest—but it was isolated from water access, restrooms and any media staging areas, all in the 100 degree heat. This ‘Protester Assembly Zone’ was no safe haven, as protesters kept tweeting that they were facing imminent arrest for ‘standing still’ an entire 5 seconds.

On ACLU’s second motion, Judge Perry held that the ‘5 second rule’ violated the 1st amendment and due process rights of protesters, because of arbitrary selective enforcement. Those arrested were not the individuals looting or committing acts of violence. It was noted by the ACLU that hundreds of individuals were arrested since the Brown shooting, many for nothing but…’failure to disperse.’

It was unclear who came up with this little ditty. St. Louis County Police spokesman Lt. Jeff Burk was unable to find any documents tracing the origin of the ‘5 Second Rule.’

Gov. Jay Nixon’s proposed Ferguson Commission…another zero

October 21st, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon proposed another study group. His ‘Ferguson Commission’ will investigate the possible causes of public unrest and make empty recommendations. There is no mention of police brutality or any aim to instigate reforms. Lipstick on a pig would be an improvement over this vapid plan. (Source : http://governor.mo.gov/news/speeches/ferguson-commission-announcement)

Now the real peace makers …. The Don’t Shoot Coalition…

One thing the protests groups have consistently stated is the demand for equal justice before the law. Calls for ending police brutality and police lawlessness continue unabated. An unusual group—namely the ‘Don’t Shoot Coalition’ has emerged to demand accountability and transparency in law enforcement. This coalition’s very existence defies the journalistic stenography of most mainstream media, which continually portrays the protesters as a bunch of ‘thugs’, ‘looters,’ and outside anarchist-provocateurs.

The ‘Don’t Shoot Coalition’ is diverse and combines the efforts of multiple individuals and some 50 groups. The young protesters at the head of this battle including Ashley Yates, Tef Poe and Tory Russell, have allied themselves with Veterans For Peace, The Advancement Project, ACLU St. Louis Chapter, United for Peace &Justice, Organization for Black Struggle, Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment, HandsUpUnited, Don’t Shoot Coalition, National Lawyers Guild, ColorOfChange.org, SEIU, AFT (American Federation of Teachers-St. Louis), The Clergy Coalition, a Holocaust survivor and others. The ages of coalition forces range from 10 to 90. Diverse religious leaders represented Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Humanism.

Like Occupy before them, this group faces the daily threat that they are being monitored by local, state and federal agencies. This fact alone only demonstrates how far our government has strayed from an actual democracy.  Though there is tension between the young leaders on the front lines in Ferguson and the older activists—the level of teamwork is impressive.

Letter of Demands to DOJ from Don’t Shoot Coalition…

A plan of action was crafted by the Coalition during weeks of intense discussion. All stakeholders shared in the development of what can only be called a policy statement. The final letter was written by Attorneys John Chasnoff of the ACLU/St. Louis branch and Denise Lieberman of the Advancement Project, upon acceptance by the group. The letter proposes police reforms at the local, county, state and federal levels, designed to ensure accountability, transparency and fairness in policing.  This is the policy the DOJ should have created.

The recommendations in the letter from the Don’t Shoot Coalition letter to DOJ were drawn from the following legal and civil liberties groups: –thedemands.org –the Center for Popular Democracy –Color of Change –Don’t Shoot Coalition –“A Unified Statement of Action to Promote Reform and Stop Police Abuse (https://www.aclu.org/sites/default/files/assets/black_leaders_joint_statement-final_-8-18.pdf) Below are some key reforms listed in the letter.

Federal reforms …

…provision of a national database of police shootings, excessive force and deaths while in custody, made available to the public with privacy protections in force; … immediate divestment of federal anti-drug grant money for departments abusing power using racial profiling; …reinvestment in community controlled policing; …support for the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA); …enactment of a National Use of Force Policy with mandated use at both state and local levels; …enactment of strict limits on asset seizures; …enactment of limits on transfer of military equipment granted under the Section 1033 program; …provision of strict guidelines which ensure that Section 1033 military equipment is not used against non-violent protesters; …an end to the Section 1033 federal requirement that demands military weaponry be used within a year or returned; …en end to the Byrne Program that incentivizes arrests.  (Source :  DOJ Policy Letter     )

State Reforms…

One of the most important State Reforms listed in this letter is the demand for …”uniform and updated Use of Force Policies.  Missouri has one of the most lax standards for ‘use of lethal force’ in the nation. Missouri basically ignores the 1985 Supreme Court ruling in Tennessee v. Garner  (Source: http://www.wikipedia.org/Tennessee_v._Garner)

Additional state reforms demand the creation of a federal ‘best practices’ mandate which enumerates federal standards to leverage on states. Specifics include mandatory training requirements on cultural sensitivity, interacting with the mentally ill, responding to victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, and responding to officer misconduct.  Effective communication, dialogue with affected communities, and de-escalation skills are identified as areas of critical need.  Trained advocates for special-needs populations are requested to give feedback on policies and actual police actions. ‘Detailed and accurate’ racial profiling data is mandatory, which includes ‘pedestrian stops’ (aka…’Stop & Frisk), cause of action, and a series of ‘carrots and sticks’ to incentivize compliance.  Officers must carry malpractice insurance for misconduct.

Reforms demanded for St. Louis County…

The letter also crafted the following reforms for all of St. Louis County:

…creation of a County-Wide Civilian Oversight Board, representing all stakeholders, with the powers to access all evidence in problem cases,  make substantive policy recommendations on police discipline, training and individual incidents; …demand the consolidation of all County departments; …and form a Truth & Reconciliation Commission vested with the power to grant reparations to police brutality victims.

The Truth & Reconciliation Commission is long overdue. Though the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has yet to report on any recent ‘necklacing’—the history of Dred Scott, lynchings and Jim Crow remain a painful legacy.

Munincipal Reforms …

…body cameras on all police as articulated by Drone Free St. Louis; …Signed consent forms or videos,  for any searches translated into multiple languages for the immigrant community; …mandatory provision of receipts after any encounter which include reason for the stop, officer name and badge number; …mandatory diversity of police force which reflects racial makeup of community.

Ferguson October…time of resistance….

Beginning the weekend of October 10th; the Don’t Shoot Coalition sponsored ‘Ferguson October.’ Part protest, part street party; the events began on Friday the 10th marching on the office of St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch in a rain soaked sea of umbrellas.

Later that week, protesters were arrested for smashing pumpkins in a symbolic act of civil disobedience.  The pumpkins were inscribed in marker with the words, ‘de-militarization’, ‘lies’, and ‘racism.’ Elizabeth Vega was arrested for ‘assault of a police officer’—with a pumpkin; though you can see in photos that the officer in question took the pumpkin out of her hands.  Her pumpkin had the word ‘racism’ written on it.

According to Vega;

“The cop took the ‘racism’ and protected it from being smashed,” she said, “and then charged me with assault of a police officer. You cannot make metaphors up like this.”   Source :  http://www.stlamerican.com/news/local_news/article_d2008298-58b5-11e4-9c8e-ef3c73afc223.html

Additional highlights included a rally by local clergy preaching against police brutality and racism.  The keynote speaker was Dr. Cornell West.  After youth leaders demanded to gain the stage, pleading with elder leaders to join them in the streets—Dr. West knew what he had to say—and it wasn’t an academic lecture.

West looked out and stated the obvious;

“It’s a beautiful thing to see people on fire for justice, but I didn’t come here to give a speech,” West said during a discussion on Sunday night. “I came here to go to jail.”   http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/13/cornel-west-arrested_n_5977870.html

The street theater from Ferguson October, included interrupting a symphony concert, hanging banners in the football stadium, and blocking streets with games of double dutch jump rope. It was a smart strategy by the youth. The kids know, street theater gets the media’s attention, and ongoing media coverage puts politicians on notice. Ferguson October will continue in the streets of St. Louis, in all its ‘street theater’ glory, until there is equal justice for all.

CONCLUSION

The slaying of Michael Brown and the resultant civil liberties crisis it triggered plays out in St. Louis as the world watches an army of militarized police face up against another army—of teens, elderly, clergy and neighbors.  While peaceable protesters have been summarily lumped together with various thugs and provocateurs; police demonstrate to the world a type of militaristic paranoia where any person—even an infant—could be the ‘enemy.’   Any sense of shame or humanity has been erased when they are ‘on duty.’

Police in Ferguson and St. Louis County heartlessly trampled a makeshift memorial where Mike Brown’s body had been left to rot in the street.  They allowed police dogs to urinate on the spot and later drove over the remaining flowers and teddy bears.  (Source:    http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/08/ferguson-st-louis-police-tactics-dogs-michael-brown)

We are far beyond the ‘community relations’ stage.

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