Understanding the US’ violent response to indignation over Ferguson

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National Guard troops assist police in arresting demonstrators during a protest in front of the police station on November 25, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Protests erupted again across the US after the announcement of the grand jury's decision in the Michael Brown case. Brown, an 18-year-old black man, was killed by Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson police officer on August 9. Scott Olson/Getty Images/AFP

By: Roqayah Chamseddine

Published Thursday, November 27, 2014

Both liberal and conservative factions in the United States have largely interpreted the upheaval in Ferguson to be an anomaly, as though this small and discounted city on fire is a universe of rage existing without context, without association with the deliberately and customarily overlooked surrounding trauma affecting marginalized groups.

This distorted translation of events not only allows them to ignore the heinous, structural crimes against Black communities, but empowers them to such a degree that they prescribe what they argue should be the legitimate response – if their contentions allow any at all – to what is nothing less than unfettered police brutality and judicial discrimination.

On non-violence

Following every tremor in the nation we witness the liberal rise, after what can only be described as a scripted routine, to demand calm, and to call for a resolution that would incorporate “both sides,” as though institutionalized state violence, in the form of police brutality, is at all proportionate to resistance as carried out by the native. Those who in any way confront the authoritarian warfare state’s neoliberal social order, that which litters the earth with bullet-ridden Black bodies, are expeditiously met with violence, and the violence of the neoliberal state is merciless as its aim is not only to misrepresent resistance but to cripple it by whatever means are at its disposal – and those means are many. The bloody fruits of the ‘Manichean world,’ as described by Frantz Fanon, revolutionary, philosopher, and psychiatrist who was a member of the Front de Libération National (FLN) during the Algerian revolution, have segregated the native and confine and ravage the native’s identity so that they are categorized and viewed, fundamentally, as animals. Fanon writes in Black Skin, White Masks that the native becomes trapped by what he describes as being colonial vocabulary, which disrupts and devastates the native’s selfhood, and which is itself an act of violence. In The Wretched of the Earth Fanon writes that it is the right of the native "to wreck the colonial world," and that it is “precisely at the moment [the native] realizes his humanity that he begins to sharpen the weapons with which he will secure its victory”:

“The colonial world is a world cut in two. The dividing line, the frontiers are shown by barracks and police stations. In the colonies it is the policeman and the soldier who are the official, instituted go-betweens, the spokesmen of the settler and his rule of oppression. In capitalist societies the educational system, whether lay or clerical, the structure of moral reflexes handed down from father to son… all these aesthetic expressions of respect for the established order serve to create around the exploited person an atmosphere of submission and of inhibition which lightens the task of policing considerably.”

Fanon’s every multilayered description of colonialism is applicable today, especially in reference to the liberal bourgeoisie, who undoubtedly remain emissaries and “partisans of the colonial system,” benefiting from the colonial system. Despite the government only “[speaking] the language of pure force” the liberal introduces non-violence and the idea of compromise to the native, for the sole reason that resistance, which Fanon describes as being like “a hurricane,” threatens them as much as the system of colonialism, as they discover “that the masses may destroy everything.” This non-violence, Fanon writes, “signifies to the intellectual and economic elite of the colonized country that the bourgeoisie has the same interests as they and that it is therefore urgent and indispensable to come to terms for the public good. Non-violence is an attempt to settle the colonial problem around a green baize table…”

In 1966 at the University of California, Berkeley, Stokely Carmichael, civil rights activist and leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), gave his monumental Black Power speech wherein he echoed Frantz Fanon’s argument, that the colonial world is Manichean, “That most people in this country see things black and white.” This Manichean worldview produces white fear, where even the landscape in which Black people exist is intimidating to white supremacy and its adherents. Due to this apprehension white people send in the police, Carmichael argues, and so we find that “the first time a Black man jumps, that white man’s going to shoot him.” When it comes to non-violence Carmichael maintains that the tactic, as he sees it as a method rather than a principle, is only mentioned “when Black people move to defend themselves against white people”:

“Black people cut themselves every night in the ghetto – nobody talks about non-violence. White people beat up black people every day – nobody talks about non-violence. But as soon as Black people start to move, the double standard comes into being. You can’t defend yourself. You show me a Black man who advocates aggressive violence who would be able to live in this country… We must wage a psychological battle on the right for Black people to define themselves as they see fit, and organize themselves as they see fit.”

Carmichael, similar to Fanon, discusses the language of oppression in Black Power, describing “a psychological struggle” surrounding “whether or not Black people have the right to use the words they want to use without white people giving their sanction,” concluding that despite this they will not wait “for white people to sanction Black Power” because, as he would later write in 1967, “those who have the right to define are the masters of the situation."

Ferguson, and beyond

The hurricane that Fanon described in The Wretched of the Earth established itself, not only in Ferguson, but across many parts of the United States as a direct result of the actions of an unfettered police state. And so, in an act of resistance, protesters in the small Missouri town, and beyond, have flooded the streets in response to the grand jury’s outlandish decision not to indict Darren Wilson, and the rage and trauma is palpable.

“My bones are tired. My soul is tired. After the jury decision I couldn’t stop crying and I wasn’t just crying for me, I’m crying for Mike Brown’s mother who stood there and let out that wail because she realized like the rest of us that no change is coming and the man who killed her baby was sleeping safe at night while she stood out there without him by her side,” Nikki, a Ferguson native who wishes to have her last name withheld for security reasons, told Al- Akhbar English soon after it was revealed that the grand jury would not be indicting Darren Wilson. This is the pain brought about by white supremacy’s clearing of Wilson in the monstrous shooting death of the young and unarmed Michael Brown.

Rebecca Pierce, a recent graduate of the University of California Santa Cruz where she studied Film and Digital Media, currently living in the Bay Area and working as a freelance filmmaker and independent journalist with a focus on police brutality in the US and Israel/Palestine, tells Al-Akhbar English that Ferguson motivated her to get involved with anti-mass incarceration and police brutality work in her own community:

“A lot of my grandmother's family lives in a several of the little towns around Ferguson. They used to live in a town called Kinloch, but like a lot of the Black community, were displaced through eminent domain and spread around the area.

I was actually in St. Louis County for a family reunion the weekend that Mike Brown was killed. My 12-year-old cousin was down the street when it happened. The next night I witnessed the massive police mobilization in Ferguson when my cousins and I went out to get food and found ourselves surrounded by police in all directions. Here is how I described it then: "The area, which like most of the county already had an intense police presence, was under full scale militarized police occupation. We saw cops in riot gear, some armed with assault rifles, blocking off traffic and speeding through the area in huge groups. I saw what seemed like dozens of STL county K9 units rushing towards where a vigil was being held. We heard rumors of people shooting at the police and witnessed what looked like massive police response to looting incidents at a local shopping center. Helicopters circled overhead, it looked like they were following people with spotlights. Since coming back I've gotten involved with some of the protests to stop Urban Shield, which is a massive police militarization training and expo that happens in the Bay Area every year. This year organizers were able to stop Urban Shield from coming back to Oakland, which is a big victory. I've also started reporting on some community organizing around police brutality cases in the Bay Area, which doesn't always get the attention it deserves. I think what is happening to Ferguson is really just a microcosm of what is happening across the nation, and really around the world. Over and over we are seeing that certain people's right to property valued over black and brown folks right to live. We see these massive crackdowns in response to the smallest unarmed community resistance. This is of course something that dates back to the birth of this nation, and I think it is something that every generation has to struggle with."

Pierce, who identifies as Black and Jewish, describes Ferguson as “fitting into a larger awakening of young people of color over the last few years, especially in regards to mass incarceration and police brutality.”:

I know for at least my own family this has been a major turning point. People who weren't politicized at all have been really radicalized from what they've seen and experienced. Even those not involved in the protests have seem the impact the police crackdown has had on their community. I'm not sure what comes next, but it is increasingly clear that inaction is no longer an option.

Pierce recently returned from the African Heritage Delegation to Palestine, with Interfaith Peace-Builders, shows the intersectionality between marginalized groups. Palestinians knew what was transpiring in Ferguson and extended their “solidarity with the Black struggle in the US”:

“Having spent time in both areas, the oppressions may have different roots, but the struggle is the same. I know my family in St Louis County was really moved by the advice and solidarity they were getting from West Bank protesters when all of this started, and they are looking for ways to return that solidarity. I think at times like these those connections are vital, not just between black people and Palestinians, but between all these different struggles that are going on right now. So much of our oppression relies on us being isolated from each other and feeling alone, so as far as I'm concerned these connections are themselves a form of resistance.”

Confronting white supremacy

Patrisse Cullors, executive director of Dignity and Power Now, and co-founder of Black Lives Matter along with Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi, and co-organizer of the Black Life Matters ride to St. Louis, tells Al-Akhbar English that Black Lives Matter was created after the acquittal of George Zimmerman, and that it is “a call to action, a political project, and a network that centers Black resilience at the forefront.” Cullors, who is currently in Cuba, says that people in Cuba “stand with the protesters in Ferguson and stand with Black folks in the United States,” that they believe racism to be alive in well in America, and “that it is important for folks’ rights to be protected while they are fighting for such historic demands… Folks in St. Louis have stated time and time again, that the issues in Ferguson go beyond Ferguson, because racism exist throughout the entire country.”:

“We must indict America. The indictment of one officer will not get us out of the horrible mess this country is in. Now is the time for folks across the country and world to push back on the idea that law enforcement is synonymous to public safety. We need to create new and radical demands that push for true public safety: Housing, jobs, and access to healthy food.”

Before the grand jury’s decision was publicized many were awaiting a blow against their humanity, their selfhood, their Black identity. Writer William C. Anderson tweeted the following, in parts, on 22 November:

“There’s a feeling in many Black stomachs across the US currently. Many of us had this feeling passed down directly from slavery. It’s the anticipation of gross disappointment. It’s waiting to hear once again that you are considered subhuman. It’s the norm. You don’t get your hopes up because you realize the realities of Black life. Expecting the worse and still knowing you’ll feel bad.”

In an interview with Al-Akhbar English, Joshua Saleem, Peace Education Program Director at the American Friends Service Committee in St. Louis and who grew up in a municipality neighboring Ferguson, has worked in the Ferguson-Florissant school district providing conflict resolution workshops for freshmen and sophomores at McCluer High School for the past two years. Saleem has witnessed a dramatic shift in community consciousness following the death of Michael Brown:

“[His death] has sparked a movement to lift up the value of black life in the United States, particularly as it relates to the issue of policing in black communities. For years, small municipalities in North St. Louis County have profited of the oppression of the poor and people of color through racial profiling, traffic tickets, bench warrants, and court fines. The Mike Brown tragedy has exposed this unjust system and brought national attention to what is going on. I think before August 9, the majority of the community was unaware or felt powerless to do anything about it; now they feel empowered to advocate for change.
In addition to this, there has been an increase in the visibility of efforts to hold police accountable to the community. Local groups like the Organization for Black Struggle (OBS) and Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment (MORE) have been fighting for police accountability for years. Because of their long history on this issue they have been able to cast a vision for how things will be different coming out of Ferguson through their Quality Policing Initiative. I am hopeful that this initiative will move forward and create lasting change in Ferguson and beyond. We’ve seen some progress, with a number of municipalities having amnesty programs that cleared outstanding warrants for nonviolent traffic violations. The city of St. Louis is also no longer requiring applicants for city jobs to disclose felony convictions. These are low hanging fruit but progress nonetheless, and much more to be done.

Lastly, and probably most importantly, this tragedy has awakened a new generation of young activists and leaders. They have taken to the front lines of this fight because this issue impacts them most directly. In addition I’ve seen white allies dive into conversations about privilege that would never occurred had it not been for Mike Brown’s death. A generation who was raised to believe we live in a colorblind society is seeing that this is not the case.”

Saleem argues that the refusal to indict Darren Wilson has only hardened the underlying need for systemic change. “This is our work moving forward,” he says. “ How do we educate and organize our communities so that we can begin the work of undoing racism in our country. We must organize for two goals: 1. We organize to change the system through activism and advocacy and 2. We organize to build our own communities to be self-reliant and independent of an inherently unjust system.”

The resistance we see across the US, in all its manifestations, in response to the brutal neoliberal state’s repression and greater war against Black existence is not only justified, it is also a tactic that has long been used during liberation struggles so as to force colonialism to “loosen its hold.” Fanon writes that “the breaking down of colonial structures are the result of one of two causes: either of a violent struggle of the people in their own right, or of action on the part of surrounding colonized peoples which acts as a brake on the colonial regime in question.”

Today in the United States many will be grieving for buildings burned and windows broken, while the bourgeoisie will cry out “calm!” and hurriedly search for Martin Luther King Jr. quotes to guilt Black protesters into supporting their deadly liberal pacifism – one which requires that they allow the police institution to destroy every ounce of life that exists in their schools, that attempts to flourish in their neighborhoods, that breathes defiantly in the streets. Fanon argues in much of his work that the violence of the native is reactive, while the violence of the authoritarian warfare state, or the colonizer, is constant, as it is dedicated to destroying native life. Regardless of the tactics chosen, the only way to survive is to struggle, to disrupt the system, and squeeze the very life out of the institutions that torment Black communities because, as Fanon explains, “When the native is tortured, when his wife is killed or raped, he complains to no one. The oppressor's government can set up commissions of inquiry and of information daily if it wants to," such as the Ferguson grand jury, but "in the eyes of the native, these commissions do not exist.”

Roqayah Chamseddine is a Sydney based Lebanese-American journalist and commentator. She tweets @roqchams and writes 'Letters From the Underground.'

Comments

I thought that this article was ridiculous and a revolutionary fantasy...until I saw the comments. Man, they make the author seem rational.
PS- People are always hoping, praying for a revolutionary act that will be greased by the blood of the poor so that they can live out their crazed fantasies. They prayed for it in the 1960s and 70s. Same thing in LA in 1992. Same thing in other cities ever since. Ditto Occupy.
Here is the truth: the rioters are outsider and local ne'er do wells who are looking for an excuse to be violent and/or loot and/or have a really cool Twitter feed.
That you loop in a self-hating Jewish girl and West Bankers giving advice to Ferguson (?) is just icing on the cake.
Why not mention the ISIS guys trying to recruit? or the Black Panthers arrested for trying to blow up the St Louis Arch? Or why not protest the slave markets of Iraq and Syria? Or everyday crime in America?
Because it does not fit your narrative.

What a load of BS. Always try distortion and include non conected issues
there is a worderful HILARIOUS article by Harris Brio: How To Become a Media Expert
By Harris Brio
Or How To Become a Zionist Historian
You would do well to research & inform yourself before ranying
ISIS is JISI + I-cia-IS and yes get rid of your cancerous cia
slave markets of Iraq + Syria - YES GET THE COW BOYS + jonnie bugger boys
but than what will your parasitic zionised mafiosi feed off
"it doesn't fit the narrative" - STEALING the phrase from rt.com
tut, tut, tut, how low you have fallen
and how well you show thieving barbaric dumb jerk self

Having fun at the Klan meetings are you Barry?

Where'd you go to law school, Barry? Have you considered suring them for mal-practice?
Your optimism is based, I suggest, on two fallacies. You think the Jewish Zionist (as opposed to Christian Zionist) bloc in the US is in an unassailable position politically. After all, Maine's George Mitchell told a public gathering here about three years ago that this bloc had never been stronger in Congress. But blocs are people and people go where their whims take them. Nothing is permanent in politics.
But your second fallacy is what's going to hurt you. That Zionist power in the US--support for the racist genocidal imperialist state-let in Palestine--is sitting on a foundation of WASP racism. Where else, right? If you're into anti-Semitism, one Semite is as good as another, right, and all you need is a pretext.
Oh, look, those Jews tricked us into murdering four million Arabs and central Asians at a cost per head of a million dollars and now our economy is in tatters, the whole world has lost its fear of us, the king of Saudi Arabia is playing games with our oil ...
What are the chances of such a backlash in the US and northwestern Europe? I'd say the majority of self-identifying Jews in the US have already decided to go undercover on mideast politics.
So this Ferguson case presents a challenge. Apparently the US police murder business is now well-established. Standards can be cited which sound eminently reasonable but which are apparently (per an article in The Nation by a lawyer) never observed, are "gaped at" as the term "abeyance" suggests. Even this lawyer did not seem too aroused about that.
So what happens when people lose faith in the criminal justice system? What does a lynch mob think it's doing as far as procedural law is concerned? It's filling in for defects in "the system".
Did you note the very small play the killing of the four rabbis in Israel got in the US? Or the steadily dwindling furor over the shot Congresswoman?
Now is the time for all right-thinking Zionists to come out for civil rights by condemning racism as the antithesis of rule of law. Start by redefining Israel as a democratic state in its Basic Laws. Trying to have your cake and eat it, too, is the essence of lying. What did you say, that Jewish girl who is lying to herself?

Can we somehow implement the BDS into the Internet and cut off the signals of the occupying Zionists? Or at least isolate them so they can only connect with each other and perhaps the American evangelicals?

your's the 2nd article on the same subject with the same analysis

Divide et impera - be it race, religion, social status, .....
those hedious criminality have only one agenda -RAPE/STEAL/SUBJUGATE
at all levels - national, international, global

leave thee with the finale of the article

Ferguson and the False Promise of “Revolution”
by nsnbc

Tony Cartalucci (LD)
"The alternative media itself is proof of what power people have when they stop depending on others, stop demanding others to do their jobs properly, and instead take up the responsibility themselves. Expanding this paradigm shift to other aspects of our daily lives, from agriculture to energy, to education, will be key to true and enduring change.
Ferguson teaches us that real change in the mind of many is still far off. America isn't on the edge of revolution. A hamster wheel endlessly spinning has no "edge." Those picking sides and bickering over the events in Ferguson are playing into an elementary strategy of divide and conquer. We are divided, Wall Street has conquered."
----------------------------------------------
the fools in Lebanon would learn a lot by applying the above simple wisdom especially those calling for the nefracious vile evil ideology of STL

We can understand from this analysis why the West is redoubling its efforts to conquer China. China is the only nation which ever threw off, entirely, Western colonization.
The West does not conquer for profit, but for religious motives. Manichaeanism is the belief that Good and Evil are actual entities in the universe which are equal in power, so that justice need not come out on top. I don't know if the person the philosophy is named after saw it that way. It describes today the idea that "right makes right", that there is no such thing as justice, and that life is futile and so, why not go out in a blaze of glory?
A past Pope described the US as having a "culture of death". If you look at the past five hundred years of northwestern European history, you can see why. On the one hand, the US was a purpose-built continuation of Western culture with its death-wish, its fascination with Asia, its racism, and its hatred of rational discussion. On the other, while the wages of sin have become due and in part paid by the original world-dominators of northwestern Europe, they have steadily mounted up in the US and the Western Hemisphere (north and south America) because, like a plague in a new continent, there were no natural defenses. And so this pathology in culture has been able to purify itself into staunch steadfast murder-suicide ideology.

"... past Popes + present popes aka Godman" may mouth many things but it is their actions that speak LOUDER
they roll out RED (perhaps it is to do something with the blood drenched war criminals/butchers) carpets for the sick perverted heinous war criminals butchers of Muslims

they NEVER condemn the christian war criminals

As the Frankish invasions of Syria and Egypt (the "Crusades") and the Zionist attack on Palestine have showed us, religious motives for colonization are often just a mask for land and resource domination.
The "Manichaeanism" referred to is Fanon's direct usage, which he explains in the first chapter "Les Damnes de la Terre."
I urge you to read some postcolonial literature such as Fanon, Said, Achebe, and Spivak before making the generalizations you make. Your statement sounds like a parody of nineteenth-century white philosophers. Cultures and nations do not act as singular entities like you imply.

Exactly, it's a mask. I think this article is impressive in that even those who haven't read Fanon are able to understand his philosophy.

I meant to say, "might makes right". Empires are not worth the expense. They are means of national suicide. A group acts like an individual in what it considers legal actions, especially via democratic institutions. This is market-rationality, yet it need not be prudent. A group can vote to commit suicide.
The fundamental Western flaw is the view of intelligence you and Jamal share, that it is some special property of the few, the elect. Intelligence is seeing what is there. All people are equally intelligent in this respect, assuming they have eyes to see with. So democracy as a legal form merely formalizes what is always true everywhere. The government must meet the people's needs. If a tyrant decides to starve her population, by spending all her time and the state's money skiing in Switzerland, it is the same result as if she practices genocide on them. Consultation and care make efficient administration. Failing to consult and care is the administrative evil, as Lebanon demonstrates so well. Its one small bow to Western pressure, the awarding of half of Parliament to the dwindling Christian minority, gives us the spectacle of the Shia majority ruling in fact, via Hezbullah, and doing a good job at it, while the Lebanese legal institutions and the West regard Hezbullah as evil and Lebanon as otherwise healthy: while it dies on its throne.
What does a Westerner say when change is needed? She says, "Go read this book." What does a non-Westerner, non-suicidal, non-solipsistic person say? She says, "Look at what is around you."
The scope for change is very narrow with the West continuing its attempt to conquer Asia. But the West is exhausting itself in this venture. "The moving party has the burden of proof," and the West is proving my first claim, that empires are never cost-effective. People don't like strangers telling them what to do.

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