The U.S. Department of Justice announced on Sept. 3 that it will conduct a civil rights investigation beginning Sept. 4 into the Ferguson, Mo., police department in the wake of the Aug. 9 police murder of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown. As he held his hands up to surrender, Brown was shot at least six times and killed by Darren Wilson, a white cop.
A full-scale uprising began on Aug. 10 and lasted for more than a week to protest Brown’s killing and the militarized police occupation of Ferguson. Fueling the flames of the uprising was that it took almost a week for the police to reveal Wilson’s name and photo to the public.
A secretive grand jury of nine white and three Black people is now meeting to determine whether Wilson will be charged with Brown’s murder.
At a news conference, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder stated that based on eyewitness reports he received during his Aug. 20 one-day trip to Ferguson: “These anecdotal accounts underscored the history of mistrust of law enforcement in Ferguson that has received a good deal of attention. As a result of this history of mistrust of law enforcement — and following an extensive review of documented allegations and other available data — we have determined that there is cause for the Justice Department to open an investigation to determine whether Ferguson police officials have engaged in a pattern or practice of violations of the U.S. Constitution or federal law.” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Sept. 5)
Holder explained that the probe will also include other St. Louis County police departments’ patterns of traffic stops, searches and arrests and use of force against the local population.
Holder emphasized that the investigation of St. Louis County police departments, especially in Ferguson, had nothing to do with Brown’s murder or its investigation into Darren Wilson or the grand jury deliberations. This is a total fabrication. What happened to Brown is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the systemic epidemic of police brutality.
Brown’s death an outgrowth of racist repression
The national and international attention the Brown shooting received, followed by the uprising, led to the media’s revealing that Ferguson, a city that is 67-percent African American, is occupied by a police department that is overwhelmingly white. Out of the 53 police officers, only three are African-American. It has also come to light that the current Ferguson police chief, Thomas Jackson, is a sympathizer of the Confederacy — the antebellum slave states.
Before Holder’s announcement was made, individual federal lawsuits had already been filed in several cases of horrific police brutality, including the dismissal of a cop who pointed his gun at protesters during the uprising, the hog-tying of a 12-year-old youth in front of his mailbox, the pistol whipping of children and the stun-gun death of a man with a mental disability.
The federal government is also conducting a separate investigation to determine whether Darren Wilson violated the civil rights of Michael Brown.
The same day that Holder arrived in Ferguson, St. Louis police fatally shot a mentally disabled Black man, Kajieme Powell, firing nine times. Powell’s death was captured on video and broadcast on the Internet. No police officers have been charged with this blatant and unjustifiable execution.
As early as last January, the Missouri State NAACP filed a civil rights complaint against the south St. Louis County Police Department for racially profiling hundreds of mainly Black people — especially in or around local stores — since 2010.
In an Aug. 12 St. Louis Post-Dispatch article, “Police stops in Ferguson: What are the numbers?” it was revealed that 86 percent of traffic stops by the police targeted Black people. Yet Black people make up less than two-thirds of the driving-age population in north St. Louis County.
The newly formed “Don’t Shoot Coalition,” comprised of local community groups and activists, demanded during a Sept. 3 press conference that St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert P. McCulloch be removed from leading the grand jury investigation into the Michael Brown case due to his history of pro-police bias. A number of McCullough’s family members, including his father, were or are currently police officers. The coalition is demanding that a special prosecutor replace McCullough, a move which Gov. Jay Nixon opposes. (handsupunited.org)
If it had not been for the heroic and justified youth uprising in Ferguson, Michael Brown would have become just another statistic like so many other Black and Brown youth who are treated as less than human by the repressive state. This rebellion forced the Justice Department to investigate the fascistic-like practices of the St. Louis County police departments. Holder’s visit to Ferguson was the first time that a U.S. attorney general has visited an area following a rebellion there against the police.
The “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” and “We are all Michael Brown” slogans that still continue on a daily basis in Ferguson and elsewhere express this reality: Many Black youth are saying that any one of them could wind up like Mike Brown, shot by the police.
The demand for justice is far from over in Ferguson — and the 1% and their puppets in Washington, D.C., know it all too well. Their biggest fear is of one, two, three and many more Ferguson rebellions erupting throughout the country. They know that many cities, large and small, are sitting on top of a simmering powder keg known as police occupation, coupled with an intensified economic crisis of no jobs and growing mass incarceration.
The writer was part of a delegation that visited Ferguson from Aug. 21 through Aug. 25.