Michael Brown, was eighteen years old, on August 9, 2014, when he was shot and killed by a Police Officer in Ferguson, Missouri. It was 2:15 pm, August 9, 2014, when the Devil came to Ferguson Missouri, on a bright Saturday afternoon. Mike Mike, as he was called by his friends, was to start Vocational School that following Monday. According to witnesses, a policeman stopped him, shouted at him, and began shooting until he dropped. Ferguson Missouri is 70% African American, and the Police Department is 90% White. There are only three African Americans on the Ferguson Police Department. It was not until Friday, August 15th, that the Ferguson Police Department released the name of the Officer, who killed Mike Mike, his name is Darren Wilson. He is a six year veteran of the force, and a white Police Officer. As Mike Mikes' body lay in the street, the residences stood, put their hands up and said, "Hands Up Don't Shoot" Now, it has become rally cry heard around the world! Myself and Dionne Smith are activist in the San Francisco Bay Area, and traveled to Ferguson to stand with the community.
|Hands Up Don't Shoot! |
Eyewitness to killing of Michael Brown
Dionne Smith-Downs and I, are the founders of the Inter Council for Mother's of Murdered Children, here in the San Francisco Bay Area. My grandson, Kerry Baxter Junior was shot and killed on January 16, 2011. There was no investigation by the Police and in fact I was told that they did not even have to speak to me. After all, I was just the grandmother, and had no legal authority. My Grandson's investigation is non existent just as most of the murder investigations involving young black males. Dionne Smith-Downs son, James Rivera Junior was shot over 38 times by Stockton Police and San Joaquin County Sheriff's Deputy's a day before his 17th birthday on July 22, 2010. That killing was one that called for a response like the one Michael Browns death caused, but the silence was deafening. I met Dionne when we went to Stockton to participate in a March and Rally for her son James. We formed an alliance and support each others efforts to find justice for our murdered loved ones. Many of the murders in our community are done under the cover of darkness. The only witness is the Policemen, and theirs is the story that gets told. Knowing Dionne, it was not that surprising when she called and asked if I wanted to go to Ferguson Missouri.
|James Rivera Junior|
|Kerry Baxter Junior|
We arrived about 1:00 pm on Tuesday afternoon, and met with some of the folks from the New Black Panther Party, who showed us around. We were escorted to the community where Michael Brown was killed and noticed that the entrance was almost blocked off by Police in Military Gear. There is Memorial in on the center divider of where Michael Brown died. The people we spoke to showed us where his grandmother lived and that her window faced where his body lay. The Police would not allow her, or anyone else near his body, during the six hours his body lay on the ground. After six hours, they unceremoniously put his body in the back of a Police Van and drove off. So where was the Coroner's Office, and why did they not take possession of the body? They also told us that most of the witnesses to the shooting did not trust the Ferguson Police. We heard from others in the community who had stories of their loved ones being beaten and shot by police.
|Mike Mike (Michael Brown)|
|Memorial at apartment Complex in Ferguson Missouri where|
Mike Mike's body lay after being killed by Police Officer
|Officer Darren Wilson is named as |
the shooter of Michael Brown
Residents told of their electricity, cable, and water being shut off, by the authorities, after Mike Mike was killed. Why would the Police go to such length to isolate this Low Income Community? It seems more like Nazi Germany then a community here in a Democracy called America. The residents also spoke about the KKK driving through their community and trying to desecrate the memorial set up for Mike Mike. They have someone from the community keeping watch to make sure that no one touches the memorial. The KKK comes through in full view of the Police who are parked up the street. While we were there we heard shots in rapid succession, and were told to get down. Afterwards we were told that it was the KKK and no one was hurt. They stated that, "They Come Through Here Like That All the time." Meaning in Vans with a bunch of them hanging out of the window calling them the N Word and Monkeys. We left shortly after but my heart was still heavy for the people in that community.
|At the Ferguson Complex Myself (Left), Dionne (Center),|
and members of the New Black Panther Party
The Canfield Community is isolated and a lot of the support and demonstrations are taking place outside of where they live. That Community is traumatized and needs Mental Health and other kinds of assistance. Our next stop was at the Baptist Church, where Rev. Al Sharpton was speaking. By the time we arrived, it was getting dark, and folks were coming out. We saw hundreds of young people standing outside on the sidewalk with their hands up, saying, "Hands Up Don't Shoot". They were lining the street on Flourisant Road and Chambers, and we joined them. The Ferguson Police were across the street and joined by Clayton Police, and the County Sheriff's Department. They had tanks, teargas, AK-47's, Rubber Bullets, and were joined by Fire Engines, and Ambulances.
|This was how it looked after the police set off|
teargas at our peaceful demonstration. I am told it
was mustard gas
They stood with AK-47's pointed at us, for about an hour, before lobbing teargas at the young people who were lining the street. We were across the street, standing on the corner and saw them moving in on the protesters. They shot the Teargas and then gave an order to disburse as the air turned orange and our eyes and throat were burning. We left the area, as did the young people were being followed by a helicopter which shined a light on them for the Police to follow. We went further up the street to see what was going on but most of the crowd had dispersed. The next day we learned that there were arrest and some people were beaten by police. There were also people in the hospital from being hit with rubber bullets. Several people were unaccounted for and their families were seeking answers.
|Rally in Front of City Hall - Ferguson Missouri|
|Police stand across street from demonstrators|
in full riot gear
|Police and Law Sheriff Deputy's shooting teargas at demonstrators|
Michael Brown is the latest victim of Police shootings of Minority and, disproportionately, African American Males. If you ask what about black on black crime, I will tell you it is part and parcel of the racist system. Ask yourself where the guns are coming from? Where do the bullets come from? Where does the hopelessness and despair come from? It is like the battered wife being told if she would just be good her husband would stop abusing her. The problem is with the abuser not those who are the victims of the abuse.
The Police Department should reflect the community they serve and should be trained in diversity (even if they do not serve a deverse community). The Police and Sheriff's should not be training weapons from a Battle Field on Citizens of the United States of America. The Community must have a say in who is going to be policing them. Once an incidence of violence is reported that Officer should be pulled out of the field, drug tested, and evaluated. An independent review board who has Autonomy must be set up to deal with Rogue Police Departments and Officers. If they will not Police themselves then citizens should and must Police them.
|Police Response to a Peaceful demonstration|
|Welcome to America!|
Cease & Desist: It Ends Today! March and Rally in Support
Community of Ferguson Missouri
On Wednesday August 20th, 2014, a coalition of Women of Color led a March and Rally in Oakland California. The Action was held in Solidarity with the Community of Ferguson Missouri where Michael Brown was shot and killed. Nearly 1000 showed up to March & Rally against Police Actions aimed at People of Color all of the US. We received support from as far away as GAZA, Africa, and Ireland.
The Police showed up in riot gear and slowed the flow of our march by redirecting us. We arrived from four directions, and met up near the Police Station at 7th & Broadway. As we marched from Jack London drivers were honking their support. Once we met with the other groups and had a rally in front of the Police Station we marched to 14th & Broadway for a speak out. The mothers, including myself, spoke about our children who have been shot and killed in the Bay Areas, Idriss Stelly (San Francisco), James Rivera Junior (Stockton), Alan Blueford (Oakland), Kerry Baxter Junior (Oakland), Kenneth Harding Jr. (San Francisco), Lamar Broussard, Lee Weathersby III (brothers killed in Oakland), Oscar Grant (Oakland), Rahiem Brown (Oakland), Andy Lopez (Santa Rosa), Ernesto Duenez (Manteca), Luther Brown (Stockton), Alejandro Nieto (San Francisco), Mario Romero (Vallejo), to name a few of the many!
Here are some of the pictures from the March and Rally!
Jerilyn Blueford (in Red) and
Anita Wills (Holding Sign)
at Cease & Desist March and Rally
|Anita Wills & Mesha at Cease & Desist March and Rally|
|Cease & Desist March and Rally Oakland CA|
|Ferguson Missouri Staging Area|
Across from Ferguson Police Station
Tuesday, Aug 26, 2014 10:15 AM CDT
Al Sharpton does not have my ear: Why we need new black leadership now
Here's how the Rev's limitations were on display yesterday -- as he stood in a pulpit over Mike Brown’s casket
Racial politics in the U.S. is beholden to the space of black death. On Monday, Michael Brown’s family, friends and loved ones gathered to lay his body to rest, even though his unjust and untimely death leaves his community of Ferguson, Missouri, in a state of unrest.
Michael’s funeral, held in a local black Baptist Church, was reminiscent of so many familiar rituals of black cultural home-goings: raucous preaching, the call and response of the audience emboldening those in the pulpit to “make it plain,” and “tell it all,” while the truths being affirmed received “hearty amens.”
Black churches are a central part of the 20th century story of American racial politics. Dr. King was the consummate preacher, flanked by peers like Rev. Ralph Abernathy and Rev. Joseph Lowery, and protégés like Rev. Jesse Jackson. Last century, black churches were the locus of a kind of narrative authority in black communities – the way black preachers, mostly male, told our story to us in light of the story of Jesus Christ gave us hope, inspired change and helped us to make sense of black suffering, to believe that God had a grander purpose in the sure and steady sacrifice of black bodies, namely the fashioning of a better, more just America.
It is within that context, that of the black church and its relationship to black politics, that we have come over the last three decades to know the person of Rev. Al Sharpton.
In his sermonic remarks at Michael’s funeral yesterday, Sharpton tried to assume the mantle of black America’s spiritual leader, the one with the moral and rhetorical force to move us toward thinking of Mike’s death as the beginning of a movement, rather than merely a moment.
Al Sharpton, however, does not have the ear of this generation, and it is not his leadership that any of us who will live on the planet for the next half-century or so really needs. To be clear, I do not believe in the slaying of elders. Black cultural traditions hold within them a serious reverence for the authority and wisdom of elder people.
This is not about Sharpton’s age, but rather about how he has positioned himself in relationship to black politics. My issue with him resides squarely within the limitations of his moral and political vision for who and how black people get to be within the American body politic.
Those limitations emerged almost immediately in his sermonic remarks as he stood in a pulpit over Mike Brown’s casket. Unable to resist shaking a finger at “looters and rioters,” he told them “this is not about you. This is about justice.” Justice apparently is not about us. Taking a page from the standard conservative black preacher playbook, he goes on to rail against a black community that mistakenly thinks the “definition of blackness” is “about how low you could go.” Among these misguided black people, there is the apparent sense that “it ain’t black no more to be successful.” Thus he concludes, that “we have to clean up our community so we can clean up the United States of America.” We have to do this because, “nobody is going to help us if we don’t help ourselves.” Thus, we must quickly dispense with our penchant for “ghetto pity parties.”
To quote Philip Agnew of the Dream Defenders, when asked recently about the helpfulness of clergy to the work in Ferguson, some of the clergy have been “problematic.” Problematic is putting it mildly. Sharpton’s words should certainly put to rest those critics who suggest that black people are never outraged about “black-on-black crime” and the ills that plague black communities. These sermonic turns of phrase rise to the level of cliché when set against any number of sermons preached from black pulpits on Sunday mornings.
The idea that black communities can be saved through self-help is an idea that emerged during the immediate moment following Reconstruction, when Northerners and the federal government, weary of helping black people get on their feet after centuries of slavery and tired of being at odds with their white Southern brethren, abdicated all sense of responsibility to fledgling, newly freed black communities. In response to this massive depletion of government resources, black communities turned inward, touting a politics of respectability, hoping that if they merely “acted better” and “more fit,” the nation would accept them.
For nearly 140 years now, we have repeated this mantra of “self-help,” stopping only in limited instances to question whether in fact it is we who are the problem. But Sharpton’s remarks, his own call for us to finally deal with the problem of militarized and racist policing of black communities, suggests that we are not in fact the problem.
His remarks did not meet a contradiction they did not embrace. While demanding that Mike Brown’s death be a turning point for the nation, Sharpton also suggested that the real turning point needed to be first within black communities. That kind of argument is deeply dishonest, and places Sharpton adjacent to more robust traditions of prophetic leadership in the black church that have called the nation to account for failing to meet its stated democratic ideals.
If the U.S. would “clean up its act,” this would necessarily mean a real commitment to due process, protection of voting rights, a livable wage, the dissolution of the prison industrial complex, funding of good public education at both K-12 and college levels, a serious commitment to affirmative action, food security and full reproductive justice for all women. Those are the kinds of conditions under which black communities, and all communities, could thrive. That kind of commitment to the ideals of democracy would require us, as my friend activist Marlon Peterson did recently, to “ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what your country can undo for you.”
These young people, some more militant than others, some whose understandable nihilism and “don’t give a f___” attitudes show up as militancy, are looking for leaders with the courage to tell the truth.
The inconvenient truth is that the continued machinations of racism and its devastating and traumatizing impact upon communities of color will be the undoing of our country. Sharpton stuck to safe truths, convenient ones, about the problem of militarized policing, particularly in black communities. Sharpton chose not to be a prophetic voice for the people of Ferguson but rather to do the work that the Obama administration sent him to do. That work entailed the placating of the people by ostensibly affirming their sense of injustice, while disaffirming their right to a kind of righteous rage in the face of such injustice. If the nation does not believe in and protect its people, we should not be surprised when the people no longer believe the idea of the nation itself. Absent strong federal intervention, this is exactly what should and will happen.
A recent New York Times poll found that 20 percent of African-Americans disapprove of Obama’s anemic response to the crisis in Ferguson. That disapproval rating is incredibly high when you consider that the president’s approval rating in black communities usually hovers at or above 90 percent. While Eric Holder’s presence and the Department of Justice’s civil rights investigation are welcome, a visit from the president would be, too. Nobody is trying to hear excuses about the separation of powers. The civil rights that African-Americans have enjoyed for fleeting moments across the centuries are a direct result of strong federal action, often in the face of obstructionists wagging fingers about the infringement upon “states’ rights.”
The kind of anemic truth-telling in which Sharpton trafficked will also be the undoing of mainstream black churches. Their heavily male leadership, their refusal to blend real political critique with substantive theology, and the investment of black male preachers in being both figureheads of the movement and friends of those with political power rather than fighters for real change run the risk of rendering the black church an institution increasingly irrelevant to 21st century political change.
The optics of the heavily black male preachers and preachers-by-proxy including Sharpton, T.D. Jakes and Martin Luther King III, who showed up and had a front row seat at the funeral, suggest that this is exactly the kind of outdated model that we are being asked to invest in again. Jesse Jackson, who had been the subject of vitriol early last week, sat a few rows back in the audience, clearly dethroned from a place of either honor or leadership or relevance.
It is easy in times like these to suggest that there is a crisis in black leadership, to pathologize black people further by suggesting that we do not have the political acumen to figure out the right direction in which to head. But as I speak to activists on the ground and prepare to ride this weekend to Ferguson with people from across the country, I believe we should give the emerging leadership credit for, at the very least, knowing what kind of leaders they do not want.
They are not invested in leaders who emerge from churches using Christian theology to placate them, to “pray over them and send them home at the end of each night” as Philip Agnew noted. Churches, like Greater St. Mark’s Church, that act as gathering spaces and treatment spaces for organizers and tear gas victims, seem to be acceptable. But “the church” as the arbiter of the narrative of this moment and any emerging movement has been abandoned as the leadership model for this generation.
This generation of people has grown up with the dethroned gods of Generation X and the failures of political courage that have marked the Hip-Hop Generation. The most faith they have, hubristic though it may turn out to be, is in themselves to be agents of change. But they will not invest in a nation-state project that hands them black presidents alongside dead unarmed black boys in the street. These are irreconcilable contradictions. And these are non-conciliatory times.