This is simply to refer folks to an excellent article about Ferguson by Robin D.G. Kelley I read on the Counterpunch website after it was posted by Imani Perry on Facebook.
Please consider a subscription to Counterpunch as well as checking out Kelley’s excellent books.
In musical circles, Kelley is most known for his biography of Thelonious Monk, which I have not read. I have read, however, his book Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression, which I highly recommend. As an elementary school teacher, I’m continually aware of how materials children are given to read about resistance in the African-American community are typically limited to the Civil Rights movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s, and usually to famous individuals such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. that have been canonized by mainstream US iconography. Hammer and Hoe goes outside the limits of that narrative not only in terms of time, but in terms of political ideology. Not only because they were Communists, but because it documents how they reshaped Communist ideology to suit their own purposes, rather than simply following the dictates of yet another political program that came from the Euro-American tradition.
I recently attended a talk given by a figure who post dates the politics of the King/Parks Civil Rights narrative, Eddie Conway of the Real News Network. Speaking to packed house at the Pinhook here in Durham, he deflected a question about Ferguson that focused on the details of the case and reminded us that the murder of Mike Brown was not the exception but rather the rule of a form of law that has played out ever since the slave ships landed in the colonies that became the United States. Others commentators on Ferguson have said that to claim that the justice system failed Mike Brown is to ignore that the rule of law in the United States has always been constructed to uphold and maintain white supremacy. Bruce Dixon of the Black Agenda Report has written about the 2nd amendment as an example of this history: “The “well-regulated militia” that the US Constitution’s second amendment refers to were slave patrols, land stealers and Indian killers, all quite necessary as the amendment’s language states “to the security of a free state” built with stolen labor upon stolen land. Unless and until we acknowledge that history, we cannot have an honest discussion about gun control.”
Kelley gives us a more recent historical context for what happened in Ferguson. Referring to President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder’s advice to trust the legal system, he writes that:
“As we waited, Cleveland cops took the life of Tanisha Anderson, a 37-year-old Black woman suffering from bipolar disorder. Police arrived at her home after family members called 911 to help her through a difficult crisis, but rather than treat her empathetically they did what they were trained to do when confronted with Black bodies in Black neighborhoods—they treated her like an enemy combatant. When she became agitated, one officer wrestled her to the ground and cuffed her while a second officer pinned her “face down on the ground with his knee pressed down heavily into the back for 6 to 7 minutes, until her body went completely limp.” She stopped breathing. They made no effort to administer CPR, telling the family and witnesses that she was sleeping. When the ambulance finally arrived twenty minutes later, she was dead.”
“As we waited, police in Ann Arbor, Michigan, killed a forty-year-old Black woman named Aura Rain Rosser. She was reportedly brandishing a kitchen knife when the cops showed up on a domestic violence call, although her boyfriend who made the initial report insisted that she was no threat to the officers. No matter; they opened fire anyway.”
“As we waited, a Chicago police officer fatally shot 19-year-old Roshad McIntosh. Despite the officer’s claims, several eyewitnesses reported that McIntosh was unarmed, on his knees with his hands up, begging the officer to hold his fire.”
“As we waited, police in Saratoga Springs, Utah, pumped six bullets into Darrien Hunt, a 22-year-old Black man dressed kind of like a ninja and carrying a replica Samurai sword. And police in Victorville, California, killed Dante Parker, a 36-year-old Black man and father of five. He had been stopped while riding his bike on suspicion of burglary. When he became “uncooperative,” the officers repeatedly used Tasers to try to subdue him. He died from his injuries.”
“As we waited, a twenty-eight-year-old Black man named Akai Gurley met a similar fate as he descended a stairwell in the Louis H. Pink Houses in East New York, Brooklyn. The police were on a typical reconnaissance mission through the housing project. Officer Peter Liang negotiated the darkened stairwell, gun drawn in one hand, flashlight in the other, prepared to take down any threat he encountered. According to liberal mayor Bill DeBlasio and police chief Bill Bratton, Mr. Gurley was collateral damage. Apologies abound. He left a two-year-old daughter.”
“As we waited, LAPD officers stopped 25-year-old Ezell Ford, a mentally challenged Black man, in his own South Los Angeles neighborhood and shot him to death. The LAPD stopped Omar Abrego, a 37-year-old father from Los Angeles, and beat him to death.”
“And as we waited and waited and waited, Darren Wilson got married, continued to earn a paycheck while on leave, and received over $400,000 worth of donations for his “defense.”
“You see, we’ve been waiting for dozens, hundreds, thousands of indictments and convictions.”
Professor Kelley goes on to add that mainstream discussions of Ferguson, such as a recent heated debate between Rudy Guiliani and Michael Dyson on “Meet The Press,” have “succeeded in foreclosing a deeper interrogation of how neoliberal policies (i.e., dismantling the welfare state; promoting capital flight; privatizing public schools, hospitals, housing, transit, and other public resources; investing in police and prisons,) are a form of state violence that produces scarcity, environmental and health hazards, poverty, and alternative (illegal) economies rooted in violence and subjugation.”
Kelley concludes by redirecting our attention to the activists and organizers that have not been waiting for the grand jury to bring about justice:
“The young organizers in Ferguson from Hands Up United, Lost Voices, Organization for Black Struggle, Don’t Shoot Coalition, Millennial Activists United, and the like, understand they are at war. Tef Poe, Tory Russell, Montague Simmons, Cheyenne Green, Ashley Yates, and many other young Black activists in the St. Louis area have not been waiting around for an indictment. Nor are they waiting for the much vaunted Federal probe, for they have no illusions about a federal government that provides military hardware to local police, builds prisons, kills tens of thousands by manned and unmanned planes without due process, and arms Israel in its illegal wars and occupation. They have been organizing. So have the young Chicago activists who founded We Charge Genocide and the Black Youth Project, and the Los Angeles-based youth who make up the Community Rights Campaign, and the hundreds of organizations across the country challenging everyday state violence and occupation. They remind us, not only that Black lives matter—that should be self-evident—but that resistance matters. It matters because we are still grappling with the consequences of settler colonialism, racial capitalism and patriarchy. It mattered in post-Katrina New Orleans, a key battleground in neoliberalism’s unrelenting war on working people, where Black organizers lead multiracial coalitions to resist the privatization of schools, hospitals, public transit, public housing, and dismantling public sector unions. The young people of Ferguson continue to struggle with ferocity, not just to get justice for Mike Brown or to end police misconduct but to dismantle racism once and for all, to bring down the Empire, to ultimately end war.”