This is a scene from Ferguson, Missouri, last night, where residents were protesting, for the fourth night, the police killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown:
A protester takes shelter from the tear gas exploding around him on Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014.
Photo By David Carson for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Original here.
I spent all night tweeting updates about the protests and police actions in Ferguson; you can read my timeline here.
But here is a summary: Many residents of Ferguson showed up to peacefully assemble last night, as the police continue to withhold the name of the officer who shot and killed Michael Brown. They are asking for accountability and justice, and they want police killings of black people to stop. These are hardly unreasonable things for which to ask. And yet the police continue to avoid even taking the most basic first step toward accountability by naming Brown's killer.
So people showed up to demonstrate. And the police showed up with armored vehicles and assault weapons, decked out in camo and body armor. Last night, I heard an Iraq veteran say that he was wearing less protective gear when he went to war. The police do not look like police; they look like soldiers. They look like the military.
Tensions were high throughout the early evening, as police pushed people back and ordered them around, while blaring over a loud speaker that their Constitutional right to peaceably assemble was not being violated.
Police ordered people out of a McDonald's, including two reporters: Wesley Lowery, a reporter for The Washington Post, who is a black man, and Ryan Reilly of The Huffington Post, who is a white man. When Lowery and Reilly didn't move quickly enough, according to police, they were assaulted and arrested. Lowery was slammed into a soda fountain and told he was resisting, even as he cooperated and told the officers he was not resisting. Reilly had his head slammed into a glass window by an officer who then sarcastically apologized. Both of the men were wearing their press credentials. Their arrests were illegal.
When Matt Pearce, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, called the Ferguson police chief about Lowery's and Reilly's arrests, the chief responded, "Oh, god." He also told Pearce that the arresting officers were "probably somebody who didn't know better."
Consider that for a moment: Officers who don't know the law, armed with deadly weaponry, rubber bullets, tear gas, and armored vehicles, policing the streets during a protest. If they don't know the law, what are they even fucking doing? You can't enforce the law if you're just making it up as you go along.
Lowery and Reilly were later released without charges or paperwork. They were not allowed to talk to a senior officer, nor were they given the names or badge numbers of the officers who arrested and assaulted them.
Elected St. Louis 21st Ward Alderman Antonio French, who is a black man, was also arrested, and only released this morning.
Meanwhile, as soon as the sun went down on the protestors, who were singing and chanting peaceably, the police asserted that someone threw a petrol bomb at them, though that was not evident from the live feed, and police began to launch tear gas, smoke bombs, and stun grenades at the protesters, ordering them off the streets. There were some reports that rubber (or wooden) bullets were fired again last night.
"Protesters linking arms, anticipating an advance of police line westward along W Florissant."
This is not a "war zone." It does not "look like a third-world country." It is not some new turning point in America; the only thing that is new about it is the terrifying level of militarization of police forces, but as I noted in comments the other day, the state has long used black communities to test the limits of militarism and surveillance.
"Can you imagine what would have happened without the internet watching?" "Sure. It's called the last 240 years of American History."Which is exactly right. This isn't happening for the first time. It's just that a lot of not-black people are seeing it for the first time. Part of the reason the police are harassing and arresting reporters.
The police acting in Ferguson are totally out of control, and they are being extremely provocative. If the town wanted to set a curfew, they could set a curfew, but instead they're telling people it's okay to protest, then corralling and chasing them (while referring to them as "animals") with assault rifles pointed at them, and looking for any excuse to start launching tear gas and firing rubber bullets.
Meanwhile, the Missouri governor, the senators, the President are all totally AWOL. That sort of sustained, comprehensive absence, and lack of urgency, isn't by accident; it's by design. No one can seriously defend this on the basis of maintaining public safety. This is a colossal affront to public safety.
The people of Ferguson asked for justice, after a cop killed an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown. And instead they have gotten an overwhelming show of militarized force from the police, who have no hesitation about causing further harm.
This is not a war zone in another country. This is a town with a majority black population in the heartland of the United States.