Standing while black
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ftpftpThe Obama Administration, aided by the civil rights establishment, has shut down the uprising in Ferguson, MO. They accomplished this craven feat through two channels.

On the ground, they permitted the local police free reign to extinguish non-violent protest. The mechanism was very simple. The police cordoned off the area and certain locations within to inhibit mobility. They prevented people from assembling on a street they had blocked off, instead compelling them to keep moving. They raided a church that had served as an operational support to the demonstrators and confiscated supplies like milk, to treat victims of tear gas. They even raided the home of somebody making T-shirts sympathetic to the action. They would periodically send lines of thuggish county police to scatter groups of innocent people. They applied liberal, indiscriminate doses of tear gas, concussion grenades, and rubber bullets.

The inability to assemble is key. That’s how the authorities busted up the Occupy sites, once again to the indifference of the White House. The legal issue is explicated here.

The other channel was political. It was Rev Al Sharpton to the not-rescue, reportedly the Administration’s man on the ground. What is the opposite of agitator? There was a movie called “The Cooler” starring Bill Macy. As a casino employee, his gift was showing up at a table where a gambler was on a hot streak; his mystical powers would cause the winning streak to blow up in failure. Al was the cooler, taking control of the Brown family’s message, telling everyone what they should and shouldn’t be concerned about, failing to defend against the blatant denial of constitutional rights.

The civil rights groups failed in similar fashion. So did local African-American politicians. How do I know this? It’s very simple. None of them at any point said, people, we have a right to assemble. I’m going to stand in the goddamn street and challenge the police to arrest me. If you can stand getting arrested, why not come along? Nobody did that. It was the key to promoting continuing mobilization. Nobody did it. We did hear them talk about voter registration, and bully for them. There are parallels in the latter respect to the dissolution of the actions in the Wisconsin state capital a few years ago (in response to which Obama was also mute).

In the same vein, aside from initial comment that the police ought not to arrest journalists — subsequently ignored by police — the president and attorney-general limited their remarks to perverse digressions about wayward black youth and promises to investigate the shooting. (The capacity of Federal prosecutors to do anything about the shooting is quite limited.)

It is of course true that the Administration cannot command local police to do this or that. They cannot micro-manage local police. But they can issue remarks on lapses that I think could have had a powerful effect. It would have meant calling out bad actors. Perhaps — I’m not a lawyer, so this is speculative — they could have supported the ACLU suit to defend the right to assemble and freedom of the press. More was called for besides showing up and hugging the folks.

Then we have the media on site. One obnoxious narrative was the twinning of “violence” (meaning looting and throwing water bottles; as far as I could tell, the use of Molotov cocktails was much more limited) with peaceful protest. Of course, most of the violence was coming from the cops, and the priority should be defending basic rights of protesters. Notwithstanding that simple principle, we had the absurd adulation of good Captain Ron, beneficiary of softball interviews punctuating his direction of police violence and the arrest of journalists. Journalists against journalism, indeed.

I did see some signs of life on the Melissa Harris-Perry show and in Michael Eric Dyson’s column. They are both sensitive to the wayward black youth dodge, but not so much to the real-time demobilization tactics of the local authorities and the parallel indifference of the Administration.

A few types of distractions have become more clear in the wake of this event. One is that the demilitarization of the police, something for which I had a good word myself, is pretty superficial. You have a disenfranchised, impoverished community being preyed on by local elites and beat on by racist, not-even-professional cops. That they have tanks is beside the point. Michael Brown did not fall victim to a tank.

The other distraction is the default objections to violence and the obligation of the police to do something about it. There will always be anti-social elements at any agitated, mass gathering. The job of the police is to let people do what is legal and arrest people who do things that are illegal. This does not imply mass punishment in the form of tear gas assaults on undifferentiated crowds of people. Not letting people assemble is illegal. Pointing guns at people is illegal. Shoving them around for non-violent assembly is assault; it’s illegal. The police ran riot. They didn’t prevent disorder, they preserved disorder.

Unfair? Inaccurate? Feel free to weigh in.

P.S. See also Brittney Cooper in Salon and Glen Ford in Black Agenda Report.

 

 

 

The other bad shoot in St. Louis
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A fellow named Kajieme Powell was shot dead by police in St. Louis on August 20th. This case is not as egregious as what we know about the Michael Brown incident. It just speaks, at the very least, to the lack of professionalism in St. Louis law enforcement. Powell was not in his right mind and had a steak knife. It seems to me that police are sufficiently well-paid that two of them could have taken a chance on arresting Powell without killing him. As explained here, the initial police error that made the ensuing tragedy nearly inevitable was their failure to stop and get out of their cruiser a sufficient distance away, rather than put one of their own in immediate danger.

By contrast, see below the video of a confrontation in London between unarmed police and a black man swinging a machete. (It is not obvious from the video that Powell was set to use his knife, though he was advancing on one policeman.) The London police are patient enough to eliminate the threat without violence.

 

Real libertarians step up
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I am no libertarian. I desire a ginormous welfare state, and I love me some trade unions. I stipulate that as preface to a comment on some of the grousing by some liberals on the alleged evanescence of the “libertarian moment.” The civil liberties catastrophe in Missouri was a chance for them to demonstrate their bona fides on liberty, and supposedly they blew it. As examples we hear cited the failure of politicians like Rand Paul and writers like — I can hardly bear to type this — Jonah Goldberg. Fellas, you just haven’t found real libertarians. You need to look harder. Try Radley Balko. Try Brian Doherty. I couldn’t bring myself to look at anything Goldberg may have excreted, but Paul did publish a pretty good column that I previously referenced. He might have said more, but he didn’t.

There is also an interesting packet of articles on the bizarre local public finances of Ferguson, again from libertarians like Alex Tabarrok and Anthony Fisher.

Meanwhile, what about the goddamn Democrats? Would anybody, oh maybe the president, have the temerity to comment on the disgraceful performance of the state and local authorities in Missouri? Please spare me the babble about studies, commissions, hearings, and investigations. Couldn’t anybody utter a simple word, calling out the authorities for their denial of basic rights when it counts, in real time? No?

This was at least as much a failure of liberalism as of libertarianism. It’s not so hard for conservatives to heckle Democratic office holders; they don’t need an intellectually honest reason. It’s a cheap date. Of course they do not apply the same standards to their own team.

What are the liberals’ standards? You need a bloodhound and a magnifying glass to find them, when it is Democratic officials whose performance is in question.

 

 

On the suspension of the Constitution
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This just drives me crazy. To add insult to injury, this whole debacle is under the jurisdiction of Democrats, though they are Missouri Democrats, for whatever that’s worth. Any political leader who fails to speak out is an utter failure, and as far as I can tell, very few have spoken out. Certainly not the President or his Attorney-General.

The ACLU went to Federal court asking for a restraining order on the police, in defense of the people’s right to assemble. It was denied. Defending the abrogation of civil liberties was the state attorney-general, one Chris Koster, another Democrat.

The liberal adulation received by Eric Holder for paying the residents of Ferguson the honor of his visit, is a total bafflement. This is a fellow who could not bring himself to say word one about the denial of elementary civil liberties.

An example is this atrocity of a statement, including:

We commend the actions of President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. and other elected officials for their strong stance against the senseless use of deadly force and the militarization of law enforcement in Ferguson, Missouri.”

This claptrap was actually cosigned by the ACLU and a flock of civil rights organizations. All evidently in the tank for Obama.

The emphasis on militarization in context is really a dodge. What has transpired in Ferguson is worse than militarization. It is the denial of basic rights. Freedom of the press. The right to assemble. Basic.

 

Agitators, inside and outside
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rosa parksThe outside agitator charge is one that has historically been invoked by authorities with bad arguments. Whatever misdeeds they have committed to provoke protest are indefensible, so they resort to canards. Usually the target is some sort of lefty agitation.

Any fool should know that an unimpeachable movement, for civil rights, was fueled by outside agitators, as well as inside ones. Civil rights workers came to the South from all over the U.S. to help register black people to vote. Union organizers often come into places they’ve never lived in before. So to suggest there is something inherently bad about outside agitators is usually reactionary bullcrap.

Of course it matters what sort of agitation is involved. Bad or unwise agitation is what it is, aside from its authors. When Al Sharpton was ranting about Korean grocers, that was inside agitation.

The other reactionary angle to outside agitator mongering is the implication that protest be confined to narrow subjects and goals. Politics is all about motivating big ideas by reference to specific incidents, among other things. So resistance to broadening protest is another form of reaction. I’m not on the ground in Ferguson, so I can’t say who is doing what to whom. All I can say is that justice for Michael Brown is a laudable objective, but it is not ambitious enough. What about the next Michael Brown? You know there will be one.

There are some visible outsiders in Ferguson who are very unlikely to make any sort of productive contribution. Making it easier for police to attack non-violent protesters by chucking shit, besides being cowardly, is a sure way to shut the whole thing down. On the other side, it’s possible that some local leaders would like to chill things out as much as possible, which means demobilize people. I don’t fault their intentions, but demobilization is not something to hope for.

There would be less downside to demobilization, which seems to be happening, in light of the evident lack of any organized action. If the only thing people are going to do is walk up and down the street saying justice for Michael Brown, they might as well go home. That message has been delivered. Absent any expansion of the protest, both thematically and politically, I’m not optimistic about the outcome.

 

Who’s the man?
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sharpton-jewishThe vacuum of organization on the ground in Ferguson remains apparent. What do I mean? We see no public organized face to the protest, just a set of rotating independent actors, some honorable, others not so much.

At minimum, somebody needs to call themselves a damn committee, meet, and publish a leaflet (I know, that’s old fashioned; maybe a web page) with some minimal demands. First and foremost is a demand for the right to assemble, as purportedly guaranteed but-not-really by nothing less than the Constitution. Jim Dalrymple II of BuzzFeed and @adamserwer described how this right was denied, in daylight, Wednesday morning. There had been no violence, no shadowy figures running around in the dark.

There is organization on the side of counter-insurgency. First and foremost is former FBI informer the most Reverend Al Sharpton. He can lead rallies calling for justice for Michael Brown and admonish others to stay within boundaries ostensibly set by the family, in whom he has sunk his vampiric fangs, but apparently he can’t bring himself to join the protesters in the street and defend their right to be there. There is also the talk about ‘outside agitators’ (never in reference to the Rev), which is another way of saying protest must not exceed certain political limits.

Then we have the cult of Officer Friendly, a.k.a. Captain Ron Johnson of the Missouri State Police. He babbles about ‘transparency’ in front of the television cameras, later directs the thug police to scream at people, shove them around, point their shotguns, arrest journalists, and the like. I’m not there on the ground, but I’m not so sure about the large fellows roaming around with shirts that say “Peacekeepers.”

There are some genuine out-of-town loonies in Ferguson. They are helpfully identified by their T-shirts. Older white dudes, invariably. I’m not giving them the respect of naming them, but I’ve seen them in action for forty years. Their game is to come out of a crowd of regular folks, do something to provoke police, then run back into the crowd. Or from within the crowd, provoke the police by throwing shit. The surest way to shut down the whole protest is to give police more excuses (though they can and will always invent some) to assault protesters and media.

The bottom line is that any political leader, including Sharpton, A-G Holder, and the president himself who fails to defend the elementary right to assemble is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

 

The late great Bill of Rights
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The good people of Ferguson, MO now enjoy the right to stroll, but not to assemble. They have the right to a free press, as long as the free press stays in the free press zone, properly roped off from places they might want to go, and activities they might want to film or photograph. Governor Nixon spoke of the police “providing First Amendment rights” on MSNBC. Governor, you don’t provide rights. You practice forbearance in the denial of rights. Oh and here’s good Captain Ron (scroll down), directing police to provide a bit less in the way of freedom of the press.

This is an old story to anyone who has tried to protest at one of the political conventions, Democratic and Republican, in cities run by liberal mayors as well as conservative ones. It’s familiar to the those who demonstrated against the International Monetary Fund, and more recently to the people at the Occupy encampments. We don’t even have to get started on privacy, the NSA, and all that jazz. Forget the Bill of Rights; it’s a dead letter.

No less than our erstwhile champion, President Barack Obama, went on television Monday afternoon and spoke of his Promise Keepers initiative, aimed at steering wayward black youth onto the straight and narrow. The relevance to the current uproar? You figure it out. Cops shoot black kid, we start talking about improving the conduct of black kids. As some furious Twitterers pointed out, if only there was a Federal program to counsel pathologically violent officers of the law to give up their wicked ways. Perhaps some good liberal will file a new bill.

 

Ferguson: the good, the bad, and the ugly
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"Ain't nobody going in this motherfucker, bro." (resident guarding beauty store)

“Ain’t nobody going in this motherfucker, bro.” (resident guarding beauty store)

Vox has a comprehensive collection of information, as of Saturday morning (when I started writing this post). For some really really deep background, read this. I’m afraid this isn’t over by a long shot, because given the lack of professionalism exhibited thus far (though hard cases might call it an excess of professionalism, either ironically or sincerely), I suspect the local and county police are doctoring evidence and the St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch is playing white resentment politics.

And where the fuck is the left in St. Louis? Hello? Bueller?? Oh, here they are. You go, peeps. And here’s a bail fund.

Some unwelcome bits of information have been confirmed.

Brown is the guy in the store hold-up pictures. He pushed the store clerk. This has been acknowledged by the attorney for Brown’s buddy. Obviously that does not justify his execution.

There was use of Molotov cocktails. Last night there was more looting, as well as residents acting to prevent looting.

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It should be understood that in any sort of popular uprising or mass protest, this sort of thing is going to happen. There is seldom any perfectly clean mobilization. What matters is how the good guys and gals comport themselves, in terms of organization: what sort of unified face do they present to the world.

I’ve been glued to MSNBC and the Internet and so far, I don’t see much organization, only spontaneous acts of virtue. We see individual elected officials getting interviewed, but no collective statement beyond a demand for justice, and at least going by what I’ve seen, no collective action. Like Rahm Emanuel said, a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.

There have been some stirrings in Washington, DC. There was a prescient bill introduced by Alan Grayson to curb the transfer of military equipment to state and local governments. It was overwhelmingly rejected, by Democrats as well as Republicans, including the African-American member who represents Ferguson. Oy. That was in June; perhaps some members of Congress will reconsider. There is also some talk of hearings. I suggested an agenda, usefully amended by commenters.

It’s not the beginning of the end, it’s the end of the beginning.