Civil Liberties

10 Things You Need to Know About Ferguson

The latest developments from Ferguson.

Police fire tear gas at protesters on West Florissant Road in Ferguson, Missouri on August 17, 2014

Ten days after 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot to death by officer Darren Wilson, police and protestors continue to face off in the city of Ferguson. Last night's protests broke into chaos as riot police descended on the streets of the city in an attempt to disperse protestors. 
 
On Monday, Gov. Jay Nixon deployed the National Guard, allegedly without alerting the White House. The first Humvees have left the National Guard base, according to reports from the scene highlighted in the Guardian. 
 
As the tense situation on the ground quickly evolves, here are 10 things you should know:
 
1. National Guard trained in fighting protesters.
 
The Missouri National Guard troops being sent into Ferguson are military police, which, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), have studied the Occupy protests and demonstrations that followed George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the Trayvon Martin murder trial. These soldiers are now trained to deal with “crowd control measures, understanding protester tactics, incident management, and operating inside an area contaminated with chemical and biological hazards,” FEMA said, in a chillingly bland report on its website touting the anti-protester training that military police now receive.
 
"We serve as a force multiplier during a natural disaster or civil unrest,” a platoon leader and deputy sheriff who completed the training said. “We have experienced protest from the Occupy Movement and, most recently, from the Zimmerman trial. This training makes us all more proficient MP soldier[s] and helps us communicate more effectively with local law enforcement."
 
The photos on FEMA’s site show the military police practicing with protesters who are sitting down in the street and shows MPs cutting through plastic pipes that some protesters have used to chain themselves to each other. One can only imagine how military police, whose main training is designed for overseas war zones, will fare in Ferguson, where the underlying issues are institutional racism and police brutality.
 
2. Autopsy report: Why so many bullets?
 
It's not clear how many bullets were fired by Officer Darren Wilson, and whether he fired his gun while he was still in his car.
 
But according to a private autopsy report, Michael Brown was hit by six bullets. Four hit him on the right arm, and two hit him in the head. Some of the bullets created several entry points. 
 
According to the New York Times,  "One of the bullets shattered Mr. Brown’s right eye, traveled through his face, exited his jaw and re-entered his collarbone. The last two shots in the head would have stopped him in his tracks and were likely the last fired."  
 
Meanwhile, eye-witness Piaget Crenshaw  said a shot was fired wildly and hit a house, and that the bullet was removed by police shortly after Brown was shot.   
 
 
3. Iraq vet: cops have more weapons than soldiers.
 
The violent police crackdown in Ferguson has revealed the extent to which America's police departments have become militarized, with officers wielding military-grade weapons against protestors. 
 
Writing on Bill Moyers.com, Iraq veteran Rafael Noboa y Rivera points out that police officers actually have more weapons than soldiers: 
 
... here we are in August of 2014, 10 years after I got back from Iraq, and the police agencies that have patrolled the streets of Ferguson, Missouri – until they were relieved of duty on Thursday amid public outrage over their heavy-handed tactics — have the kind of armor and weaponry that my men and I would have envied in the performance of our duties in an actual combat zone.

Let me repeat that: the police in Ferguson have better armor and weaponry than my men and I did in the middle of a war. And Ferguson isn’t alone — police departments across the US are armed for war.

The gear and weaponry worn by police officers in Ferguson aren’t just clothing and tools. They’re meant to accomplish certain tasks, and they will elicit certain responses from the people who encounter them. When my men and I donned our helmets and body armor, and carried our weapons out on patrol, we were at war. Our gear wasn’t just protective, it was meant to be downright unwelcoming. That was the point — it’s combat gear, not a costume you wear to look “tactical.”

 
4. More journalists detained.
 
Despite the outcry following the arrests of journalists Ryan Reilly and Wesley Lowery, Ferguson police continue to hassle, threaten and detain reporters. On Sunday, three journalists were handcuffed and briefly held by Captain Ron Johnson, Talking Points Memo reports.
 
The Financial Times' Neil Munshi tweeted that he was cuffed and searched, later specifying that while he and the other two reporters were handcuffed, they were not arrested. 
 
Munshi tweeted, "It was tense, he seemed to realize it wasn't a great look, and had them release us after cuffing and searching - another cop was apologetic."
 
Sports Illustrated's Robert Klemko, also held by police, tweeted, "Entire goal was to document police action towards protesters. Johnson wouldn't let us enter a visibly secured area."
 
The Washington Post reports that faced with hazards normally associated with war zones, journalists have taken to wearing bullet proof vests and gas masks.
 
Mustafa Hussein was confronted by an officer while filming police. The cop allegedly pointed his gun and yelled, "Get down, get the fuck out of here and get that light off, or you're getting shot with this."
 
Over the weekend, Chris Hayes of MSNBC and the Huffington Post's Amanda Terkel also reported that police threatened to mace them. Hayes tweeted, "Riot cop to me just a few minutes ago: "Get back! Or next time you're gonna be the one maced."
 
5. Pro-police backlash.
 
When the world’s media comes to town, you can almost expect some contrarians to get an outsized slice of the headlines. And so it was as an almost all-white crowd assembled outside a local TV station, KSDK-TV, whose coverage has supported the Ferguson police. The rally in downtown St. Louis in Sunday sold t-shirts supporting Darren Wilson, the 28-year-old police office who shot and killed Michael Brown.
 
Those who bought the t-shirts did not cite the issue of institutional racism that is seen as prompting the growing protests. “He was doing his job,” Kaycee Reinisch, 57, told the Huffington Post. “This sounds wrong, but I don’t think the black community understands the system,” John Neshaw, a retired St. Louis county police officer, told The Guardian. “They’re screaming about why isn’t he arrested, why isn’t he in jail? Well, without the investigation being done, you can’t go and apply for a warrant.” The only black member of the crowd was Martin Baker, a former GOP congressional candidate, told The Guardian that people “were too quick to play the race card.”
 
But others at the pro-police rally freely made racist statements. Damon Anderson predicted that Ferguson, where 50 out of 53 police officers are white, will “now be forced” to hire black officers. “Let the black officers see how difficult it is to try and deal with the black criminals on the beat they are patrolling,” he told the Guardian. Like many in this crowd, he assumes there are no motives behind the unrest.    
 
6. Unsurprisingly, Fox delivers awful coverage.
 
As Raw Story notes, Fox News held a panel on Brown's shooting Monday that was made up of all white men, including disgraced former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, who was indicted for conspiracymail fraudwire fraud, and lying to the Internal Revenue Service was another participant in the panel. Kerik was sentenced to 4 years in jail after pleading guilty to eight charges, according to the New York Times. 
 
So that's Fox's go-to expert. 
 
Expert number 2 was Bo Dietl, who showed his brilliant analytic skills  by saying that Brown was shot in the head because “bullets go that way.” In a series of non-sequiturs, Deitl went on to add, “We have a thing called due process,”  “What’s happening in Chicago? All our young black kids are being shot? Where is the outrage in Chicago? Where’s Jesse Jackson? Where’s Al Sharpton in Chicago? We got kids killed every day, black on black crime.”  Dietl is a former NY City Detective, but is mainly known as a big mouth commentator on Fox News.
 
7. The role of Twitter.
 
For the most part, Twitter has been an accurate, up-to-date resource for anyone wanting to understand what is happening in #Ferguson. The small town earned hashtag status soon after Michael Brown was killed last week. Photos of his slain body circulated around social media for hours before journalists began reporting the story. It even served as something of a human rights monitor for reporters who were met by confrontational members of law enforcement. 
 
The New York Times' David Carr explained the role played by Twitter:
For people in the news business, Twitter was initially viewed as one more way to promote and distribute content. But as the world has become an ever more complicated place — a collision of Ebola, war in Iraq, crisis in Ukraine and more — Twitter has become an early warning service for news organizations, a way to see into stories even when they don’t have significant reporting assets on the ground. And in a situation hostile to traditional reporting, the crowdsourced, phone-enabled network of information that Twitter provides has proved invaluable.

Police officials in Ferguson made it clear that they had no interest in accommodating news coverage. Officers in riot gear tear-gassed a crew from Al Jazeera working on a stand-up far from the action, then walked over and laid their equipment on the ground after they fled. Two reporters, Wesley Lowery of The Washington Post and Ryan Reilly of The Huffington Postwere arrested at a McDonald’s, perhaps for the crime of lurking with intent to order a cheeseburger. Antonio French, a Democratic alderman from St. Louis who had been documenting the protests and the security response nonstop on Twitter, was arrestedas well.
 
Some understandably balk at the suggestion that Twitter is an official news source, but one thing is clear: Twitter can document news that sometimes even the news producers aren't able to cover.
 
8. Michael Brown and Eric Garner: victims of aggressive policing and character assassination.
 
The Rev. Al Sharpton believes Michael Brown and Eric Garner have two things in common besides their race: both died as a result of over-aggressive policing and both were victims of character assassination in the aftermath of their deaths. Sharpton blasted police in Ferguson, Mo., from his National Action Network headquarters, in Harlem, N.Y., for releasing video of Brown that appears to show him shoving a store clerk, according to Newsday.

"To come out with that tape," Sharpton said, "is to assassinate his character after you've already taken his life. It's the epitome of an insult to people of this country."

He said the move is very similar to the actions of the NYPD, who released Garner's criminal record, which mostly consisted of petty crimes. And to add insult to injury, Pat Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said Garner did not die from a chokehold, despite video clearly showing the opposite, and a coroner's report to the contrary.

Garner died in July after a police officer arrested him for selling loose cigarettes. Officer Daniel Pantaleo, one of the cops who helped to take Garner down, applied the chokehold, which was recorded on a cellphone. Garner is heard saying, "I can't breathe" as the officer continues applying the illegal chokehold. Garner's death was ruled a homicide. Officer Pantaleo has not been charged in Garner's death.

Rev. Sharpton said Brown's family will join Garner's family Aug. 23 at a rally on Staten Island, in New York City.

9. The New Yorker Magazine says there's a larger movement growing from Ferguson.
 
While the New Yorker is not usually the greatest barometer for social change, writer Jelani Cobb detailed the ways in which a movement is being born in Ferguson. As Cobb writes: 
 
In the eight days since Michael Brown, an eighteen-year-old, was killed by a police officer named Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, what began as an impromptu vigil evolved into a sustained protest; it is now beginning to look like a movement. The local QuikTrip, a gas station and convenience store that was looted and burned on the second night of the protests, has now been repurposed as the epicenter for gatherings and the exchange of information. The front of the lot bears an improvised graffiti sign identifying the area as the “QT People’s Park.” With the exception of a few stretches, such asThursday afternoon, when it was veiled in clouds of tear gas, protesters have been a constant presence in the lot. On Sunday afternoon the area was populated by members of local churches, black fraternity and sorority groups, Amnesty International, the Outcast Motorcycle Club, and twenty or so white supporters from the surrounding area. On the north side of the station, a group of volunteers with a mobile grill served free hot dogs and water, and a man stood on a crate, handing out bright yellow T-shirts with the logo of the National Action Network, the group led by Al Sharpton.
 
10. Amnesty International calls for investigation into police tactics.
 
The behavior of the police in Ferguson—in recent days; not just surrounding Michael Brown’s killing—has lead to more calls for independent investigations, showing that institutional problems that contributed in his death are deep-seated and not going away. Amnesty International has called for an investigation into the police tactics used in recent clashes with protesters. Their demand came after sending a 12-person team to train protesters in non-violent organizing and seeing the police’s overly harsh responses.
 
“We’ve issued reports on, for example, Israel and the Occupied Territories, how tear gas is supposed to be administered—never in an indiscriminate way where children and the elderly could be subject to very harmful effects, even death, from tear gas,” Amnesty International USA executive director Steven W. Hawkins told Democracy Now. “So, we sent down observers to be on the ground. We have been thwarted in our efforts to be able to go out on curfew with the police, which would be a clear standard in these circumstances, as well as the opportunity for the press to be able to be in the space.”
 
Other calls for independent investigations also show how entrenched police attitudes are, especially to protect officers by smearing the victims of police brutality. The ACLU of Missouri initally called on local police to release more information about the shooting—including videos. When Ferguson police began to selectively release details, they said that Brown was a robbery suspect—smearing him. Monday’s police reports that he had traces of marijuana in his blood continue this pattern.
 
“The Ferguson police’s disclosures seem more like spin control than objective investigation,” the ACLU said, demanding that the U.S. Justice Department take over. The FBI later announced it would do so. While some Missouri police officials have made efforts to de-escalate tensions, such as Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson repeatedly talking with protesters, it’s clear that the mindset driving the local police is resisting change and accountability every step of the way.