Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Ferguson Legacy

The other day I listened to the Sam Harris podcast (he is a famous Atheist) who had struggled with what to say about the current unrest regarding George Floyd's death at the hands of cops.  Mr. Floyd is not the first nor the last and the deaths keep coming as it is already half the year and it is clear that law enforcement want to hit their annual count again this year despite it all.   I cannot stress enough if you have not reviewed the Washington Post/Guardian data base on annual deaths at the hands of police then you should. 

What seems to be of issue is the nature of the arrest and what led up to the conflict that ended up with the individuals arrest. Well we know that close to 90% of them are wellness checks when an individual calls law enforcement to aid with a mental health issue, either they or someone they have witnessed is acting strangely or seems suicidal and needs an intervention.  Just the kind of people you need in that are a couple of cops with guns and no mental health training what.so.ever. 

When Vanderbilt called the Police to do a "wellness" check on me after my rant four days earlier, actually on a Thursday and it was now Tuesday I found that bizarre given that if I was going to off myself wouldn't I and how would they know? They had no warrant and it was in fact four days with no calls to the Police about hearing gun shots from neighbors so again what the flying fuck. When I witnessed this last year in the Vanderbilt main floor reception with a man who was having a meltdown I found that odd that the Police were called to intervene.  He was leaving they tasered and arrested him for threatening to kill himself. All of this in a hospital with witnesses and in fact a staff that undoubtedly had some mental health experience somewhere in the building.  Okay then.

What had me worried when the Cops showed up at my door was that only two days earlier the local Police were called on a wellness check as a woman has parked her car by the Cumberland threatening to drive into the river and when she attempted to do just that the two Cops jumped in to "save her" and in turn one was killed by the current and drowned and irony she lived to be later charged with vehicular manslaughter and maybe even a DUI.  Okay then.

Here is what I think.. what the flying fuck were they thinking not calling for an EMT or Fire Department should anything go wrong as they are trained rescue teams.  (Again we have problems there as well as they are often called on many issues often relating to homeless issues that are not about fires and EMS and they in turn go right to Cops to arrest and prosecute the same)  Again follow the money when it comes to Criminal Justice. 

The numerous stories of individuals who have taken a mental health break only to be killed is significant. There was a period of time where the phrase "suicide by cop" was commonplace in the vernacular.  Funny their own website advocates that it can be handled without lethal force. But again what if proper medical mental health people been on the scene?  Again hindsight is 20 20 and we cannot see clearly here when it comes to lionizing the Police. The Cop who drowned was lauded for days in Nashville to the point I thought did a head of state die?  I will be honest I said the same regarding George Floyd not to diminish his death, a young man died a week before his death, another the same day, Breonna Taylor three weeks before, and since and even before then there have been more. This is America.  You would think that at this point Cops sitting around spraying Protestors and doing nothing to looters might have said, "We need to stop this shit." But nope. 

As I listened to Mr. Harris he cited a study about gun violence and the reasons Cops are trigger happy, a study that has been brought into question as again even the research and "investigations" into these shootings are plagued with bias and deception as that is the the thin blue line to protect one's own. Cops who have complained about other Officers and their behavior on duty have been met with resistance and often terminated, just ask this Officer.   So white folks are distressed but then again they are bored, hate Trump and this may be some fallback to the whole Covid lockdown so while I laud their efforts few seem to know history, do their homework and actually know real black and brown people, have never had a serious encounter with Police or the Justice system and yet guess what?  Without them this won't change.  

Again we will never know what transpired on the streets of Ferguson the day of Michael Brown's fatal encounter; however, I do know it was over cigarettes. The same with Eric Garner  and with George Floyd it appears that was what he purchased with the "counterfeit" $20 that led the clerk to call the Police.  Wow just wow, death over a criminal misdemeanor.   The same with Mr. Brooks a DUI. All of them were needless if not stupid and could have been handled better and that comes from training and education and building community support and connections.  Fuck that, this is how the money is made bitches! 

Nothing has changed’: Ferguson grapples with legacy in wake of Floyd protests

 The Washington Post)
By Annie Gowen
June 15, 2020

FERGUSON. Mo. — Kayla Reed marched on these streets for weeks after a white police officer fatally shot unarmed black teen Michael Brown Jr. nearly six years ago. When she returned in recent days to protest the death of George Floyd, the black man who died after Minneapolis officers held him down for nearly nine minutes, she had a painful sense of deja vu.

The same helicopters buzzed overhead, the same police officers clutched shields and batons, the same chants of "No justice, no peace" filled the air. When riot officers draped in heavy body armor lined up in front of the town's police department, Reed knew she had to leave. She couldn't bear to watch violence erupt again.

“It feels too familiar to me,” said Reed, 30, a well-known activist.

After Brown’s death galvanized the Black Lives Matter movement in this St. Louis suburb in 2014, protesters’ demands for policing reform made the city’s name synonymous with the cause of racial justice. Over the intervening years, Ferguson has seen some change.

Four of the six City Council members are black, compared to just one six years ago. A black police chief now leads a more racially diverse department, whose rank-and-file officers wear body cameras. The city — once accused of harassing its black residents with tickets and fines to fill its coffers — now collects far less in revenue this way than it once did.

And this month, voters made history by electing the city’s first black mayor.

Yet residents say that a deeply ingrained racism still exists in Ferguson, that black neighborhoods are still overpoliced, and that even with the more diverse leadership, remnants of the old guard remain.

They say the city has been slow to implement changes that are part of a U.S. Justice Department consent decree to change discriminatory practices, such as implementing an effective civilian review board and collecting data on police use of force. Much of the economic boost that streamed into the region after Brown’s death flowed toward the whiter, more affluent end of town, a Washington Post analysis in 2018 showed.

Chris Phillips, an activist and filmmaker who once lived in Brown’s apartment complex, said that many Ferguson residents still have anxiety-fueled dealings with local police, and they’ve been airing their grievances at local Floyd protests.

“You still see the same police presence. Nothing has changed as far as that goes. It’s night-and-day different from white, middle-class neighborhoods,” Phillips said. “You’ll see police every quarter to the half-mile patrolling, and people getting stopped. This is basically traumatizing for people, an African American person seeing a cop in their rearview window. That anxiety doesn’t go away.”

Then on June 6, another video surfaced from a neighboring town that showed a white officer ramming an unarmed black suspect with his car, then beating him as he lay in the street. The officer was fired on Wednesday.

Veteran protesters in Ferguson see this latest incident of local police brutality as evidence that systemic racism in the region — one of the most racially segregated in the country — is endemic, and that true change remains elusive.

Nationally, officers have continued to shoot and kill nearly 1,000 people a year since 2014, a Washington Post database shows, and are on track to do so again even during the pandemic. They’ve been filmed using excessive force at rallies across America — and across the street from the White House.

“I think in some ways it’s really inspiring to see so many people out, and black folks understand this moment will have the same legacy of the Ferguson uprising,” Reed said. “But there is a piece of it that’s difficult to process — so much time has passed since Mike Brown was killed and so little has been done.”

The tear gas from the Floyd protests had barely cleared the air and business owners were still boarding up broken windows when the city went to the polls on June 2 and elected Ella Jones the first black mayor of this former sundown town of 21,000 residents.

Jones, 65, a former Mary Kay cosmetics saleswoman and pastor, said she was inspired to enter politics after Brown’s death, winning a seat on the council in 2015. She earlier ran for mayor in 2017, trying to unseat the controversial former town leader who had defended Ferguson police after Brown’s death — and lost.

But she has never been part of the city’s protest movement, and as a consequence, some have viewed her with suspicion.

“We’re going to wait and see what she does,” Phillips said. “If you were to categorize how protesters feel about Ella, it’s almost keeping both eyes open and not put this blinded trust in her.”

Jones said that after Brown’s death, she believed the best thing she could do was knock on the door of City Hall. As a City Council member, she held events to showcase vacant homes to new buyers and helped clean up businesses damaged in the last round of riots.

“Once you protest, what’s the next step?” she said. “So, I ran for council, and that was my way of saying Ferguson needs to change.”

Jones’s primary goal is to complete the mandates of the 2016 consent agreement, including improved training, increased civilian oversight and expanded diversity. The city has contracted a firm to collect data on use of force complaints and other actions, she said.

The consent decree was put in place after the protests, when the Justice Department found that the police department had routinely violated the rights of black citizens in traffic stops, unlawfully ticketed them, made arrests without probable case and used excessive force.

Income from tickets and fines has dropped from nearly $2 million the year Brown was killed to $344,711 last year, state data shows.

But some activists remain worried that Jones may not be strong or progressive enough to heal the still-fractured city.

Katurah Topps, a policy counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and a St. Louis native, argued in a recent editorial in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that Ferguson’s leadership has resisted progress, and that the “very power structures that preyed on their most vulnerable residents remain intact today.”

For example, Jeffrey Blume, the finance director who was in charge when Ferguson wrongly ticketed and fined black residents millions of dollars, is now the interim city manager. Jones had opposed his appointment. Phillips called Jones’s opposition to Blume’s appointment a rare instance in which she went against the status quo.

“She had opportunities to be more progressive in her approach and to vote on issues that were in the better interest in the city, and she did not take all of those opportunities,” Phillips said.

On June 6, a grainy home security video posted on a local news website showed a white officer from a neighboring town allegedly ramming an unarmed suspect with his car, then beating him. The officers had responded to a report of gunshots, authorities said, but neither the suspect nor his companions had a weapon.

Ferguson veterans found themselves mobilizing again, finding the latest incident to be proof that, as Reed put it, “police reform is just as fragmented as the political landscape.” Nearby police departments in the St. Louis area have shown little interest in implementing reforms that the Justice Department ordered in Ferguson, she said.

Veteran protester Cheyenne Green was 21 years old in 2014 when she joined the crowd that gathered around Brown’s body as it lay in the street for more than four hours.

She says she didn’t even know what an activist was back then. Now she’s a 27-year-old veteran protester and political consultant.

Green joined about 200 other protesters Wednesday in front of the Florissant Police Department headquarters as they wielded bullhorns and led the crowd in now-familiar chants. At one point, leaders asked the crowd to raise a middle finger to the officers standing nearby.

Green sees part of her role now to educate the new ones coming out — white, black, Latino — about the cause.

They’d received good news that day, she said. The officer, Detective Joshua Smith, had been fired. Police Chief Tim Fagan had told reporters earlier in the day he had been moved by the protesters demonstrating outside the station.

“I hear those cries. We are listening to the voices of the people,” Fagan said, noting that the video showed Smith had probably committed “numerous policy violations” during the stop when the suspect was mowed down.

Green grabbed a bullhorn.

“This isn’t no kumbaya,” she said. “We understand the officer was fired, but was he arrested or convicted?”

“No!” the crowd hollered back.

“Is that right to you guys?” she asked.


Green had some words for the younger people in their group, many of whom were in middle school when Michael Brown was shot and had been to their first protests in recent days.

“As we’re occupying, we’re going to have conversation, something you can take back home to your families,” she told the younger protesters. “This is only the beginning.”

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