The police occupation of the Black community of Ferguson, Mo., is just as intense now as it was in the aftermath of the murder of Michael Brown last August. The Ferguson police arrested 20-year-old Jeffrey Williams for shooting two police officers on March 12. The officers were at the front of police headquarters during a demonstration celebrating Chief Thomas Jackson’s resignation.
As the crowd thinned out, shots rang out, fired from afar and hitting two officers. Although police representatives claimed the officers were lucky to be alive, both were treated and released from the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries hours after the shooting.
Police immediately sought to connect the shooting to the anti-racist demonstrations. Ferguson organizers reject the association between their work and the incident.
Mass protests, civil disobedience and rebellions have taken place in Ferguson and other U.S. cities since Aug. 9 when a white police officer, Darren Wilson, shot 18-year-old African-American Michael Brown. Despite a St. Louis County grand jury investigation and federal government probe, Wilson has not been charged with a crime. He resigned from the police department.
Chief Jackson stepped down in the wake of a scathing Department of Justice report that documented systematic racial profiling and collusion targeting the majority African-American population in Ferguson and other St. Louis County suburbs. Activists have demanded the removal of Jackson and Ferguson’s mayor.
St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch claimed that Williams told authorities he was firing at someone else with whom he had a dispute and was not aiming at the officers. “We’re not sure we completely buy that part of it,” McCulloch retorted, saying his office believed others were in a vehicle with the suspect. (USAToday, March 15)
Williams was indicted on two counts of first-degree assault and three other counts of armed criminal action. McCulloch’s office says the investigation is incomplete.
Police raids after shootings
Ferguson residents say the police conducted heavy-handed raids searching for the suspect. Photographs of SWAT teams breaking into homes were publicized throughout the media.
The March 13 British Guardian reported police misconduct during an unjustified raid on a Ferguson house. Police pulled three people out and questioned them; they were later released.
This article reports, “Lamont Underwood, Iresha Turner and Martez Little said they were the trio seen handcuffed by St Louis County officers and taken from a house on Dade Avenue as part of the early-morning swoop by heavily armed police. Turner said that she and her six-year-old son had the red laser sights of police rifles trained on their chests as they emerged into their garden under orders from the officers, who arrived in military-style vehicles.”
Underwood told the Guardian that he told the police they were at the demonstration, but did not know who shot the officers. He felt disrespected by the Ferguson police who stormed his home and took its three residents into custody.
Iresha Turner told the Guardian she was lying in bed at 3 a.m., and there was a sudden banging at the door. The police said, “We know you’re in there, come out.” She saw six or seven police. “They had a tank-style vehicle, a truck and a helicopter. … We were forced outside.” I saw “a red dot on my chest. I said I surrender … please don’t shoot me. I said I’m not the shooter. I’m not involved. They said we were acting shady, but I said what would you do if 15 police were outside your door with guns.”
Despite the DOJ’s failure to indict anyone for killing Michael Brown or for other atrocities committed by the Ferguson or other regional police and national guard forces deployed in the area since August, Attorney General Eric Holder condemned the shooting of the two police personnel. At a press conference Holder said the DOJ’s and FBI’s “full range of investigative resources” would be mobilized to apprehend shooting suspects. (Huffington Post, March 12)
Holder claims that Ferguson was on the verge of improving police-community relations and that the officers’ shooting “turned his stomach.” The Obama administration never used such words of condemnation about Michael Brown’s killing or the brutal police or national guard tactics in attempts to quell the demonstrations and rebellions.
Recall the mayor
Mayor James Knowles is the target of a recall campaign, says the Organization for Black Struggle, an area activist group at the center of demonstrations against police violence. Knowles emphasizes that he will not resign despite departures of police officers, civil servants, a municipal judge, the police chief and the city manager.
Five Ferguson residents submitted an affidavit demanding Knowles’ removal, saying, “We cannot describe how disgusted we are with you. We now ask that you vacate the office.” (afp.com, March 15)
Ferguson is a majority African-American suburb dominated by a white municipal government and police force. African Americans are discriminated against through racial profiling by police, which is then reinforced by the courts.
Some local leaders are seeking the three City Council seats up for election. Some believe the best route to reforms is by electing officials to local governmental positions.
The March 13 Wall Street Journal reported a meeting in Ferguson where candidates and community leaders discussed running campaigns for the City Council, which has only one African-American member.
“Let’s show the world what change can and will look like,” stressed Wesley Bell, an African-American municipal judge seeking a City Council position. “If there’s no confidence between the community and law enforcement, there’s no justice.”
The article continues, “The candidates and many in the audience said real change can happen with the city council — not out on the streets. They said such institutional change can heal the city, breaking down the racial barriers that have festered here for years but which only rose to the surface last summer.”
It was the mass demonstrations and rebellions that swept St. Louis County and other cities that brought world attention to racism and national oppression in the U.S. There are historical lessons from cities that have elected African-American mayors and other local, state and congressional representatives in the last five decades: Until the structural problems of unemployment, poverty, police violence directed at oppressed communities, corporate impunity and predatory lending are overthrown, there is little hope for fundamental change that could enhance living standards and foster stability.