Fascist frenzy in Ferguson, Missouri
by Thomas Adcock
Copyright © 2014 – Thomas Adcock
NEW YORK,near America
Back in August of 1968, the late Mayor Richard J. Daley of Chicago turned a blind eye to what federal investigators ultimately termed a “police riot” in the streets outside the Democratic Party national convention of that year. Swarms of Mr. Daley’s meaty cops spent most of a sultry night bludgeoning hundreds of conscription-aged demonstrators expressing their opposition to the pointless war then raging in Vietnam, a war supported by many of the politicians and party delegates inside the convention hall.
The police savagery in Chicago, Illinois was broadcast on live television during primetime evening viewing hours, accompanied by a near-deafening chant from those the rampaging cops had not yet assaulted: “The whole world is watching! The whole world is watching! The whole world is watching!”
Jimmy Breslin of the New York Daily News wrote of that bloody August night in 1968, “The kids are right. The cops are pigs.”
Yesterday’s news has a way of coming back to bite us all over again, for now comes August of 2014 and the pigs of Ferguson, Missouri.
Now comes yet another episode of homicidal police violence: this year alone, black men have been shot to death or choked to death by white cops in New York, St. Louis, and Los Angeles (twice). The usual suspects will dismiss Ferguson as another white cop in fear for his life forced to gun down an unarmed black man. As the police officers of Ferguson would oink, “Nothing more to see here, folks. Let’s move it along.”
We have seen this movie before—through fingers laced over our eyes, so to speak. Many need the comfort of partial blindness against what they sense is too frightening to admit: fascism in action. Sickness is easier to ignore than to cure. A few of us will absorb the whole picture: the danger of cultural, financial, and political realities underlying the latest chaos gone live on television.
This time, chaos began shortly past noon on August 9 in Ferguson. Twenty-eight-year-old Officer Darren Wilson—currently on paid leave, and in hiding—fired six bullets into the right arm, torso, and skull of eighteen-year-old Michael Brown.
Most Americans will fail, again, to make a connection between the Brown slaying and hair-trigger fear of The Other—fear that is profitably stoked by hate radio stations, kluxers in high public office, and the right-wing propaganda of Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Television network.
Fear and violence are among the last gasps of empires exhausted by chronic illnesses. In today’s America, income disparity between the wealthy and the rest of us nears Medieval proportion, the egalitarian principles of the Constitution are fairy tales to many, the manufacturers of weaponry for mass murder have determined a national gun policy that benefits their collective bottom line—and a seditious, lily-white element of the U.S. Congress holds fierce animus toward the country’s first black president, thwarting the nation’s ability to conduct critical business and attend to social ills.
It is hard to write these things. Many say that apostate journalists write such things because we hate America. They are wrong—and were wrong when they said native son James Baldwin was a hater. Mr. Baldwin (1924-1987), a heroic novelist and poet, articulated the patriotism I share: “I love America more than any other country in this world,” he said. “And, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”
Here, then, something more by way of patriotic criticism: the militarization of municipal police departments. Thanks to a provision of the 1990 Defense Authorization Act, the federal government now supplies Podunks throughout the land with surplus armaments and paraphernalia amassed during Vietnam and all the pointless American wars that followed. Ferguson’s Finest—a crew of fifty white men and three black men in a city of twenty-one thousand, two-thirds of whom are African American—were quick to claim their share of leftover firepower.
Among the heavy-duty accoutrements in Ferguson, seen nightly on live television are these:
- APCs (armored personnel carriers) with 360-degree rooftop machine gun mounts
- MRAPs (mine-resistant ambush protection vehicles), each weighing seventeen street-crushing tons (15,422km)
- The LRAD cannon (long range acoustic device), which blasts high-decibel warnings that frequently result in hearing damage—used by the U.S. Navy to repel pirate attacks on the high seas
- Sniper rifles with .50-caliber ammunition magazines, enabling accurate kills from a firing distance of two miles (3,218.7 meters)
- Smith & Wesson tear gas canisters containing the irritant compound 2-Chloroacetophenone, used in spring 2011 by the security forces of Yemen against protestors—causing convulsions and muscle spasms
- Blinding flash-bang grenades, of the type that ignited fires in London during the 1980 siege of the Iranian Embassy
- AR-15 semiautomatic assault rifles, the modified U.S. Army machine guns popular with civilian mass murderers
Officers on “crowd control” duty in Ferguson dress up in Army surplus camouflage fatigues, combat boots, gas masks, and helmets with smoked glass visors. Though older and fatter, they are a striking reminder of American ground troops in Vietnam—or those parachuting into Iraq in March 2003 on the morning after the midnight blitzkrieg in Baghdad, known as “Shock and Awe.” They bear resemblance to certain notorious white occupiers of another black in another place. The sight of them shocked Danny Lyon, the legendary American photojournalist who recorded images of America’s civil rights struggles of the 1960s and police brutality in South Africa during the apartheid regime. After watching several nights of televised reportage from Ferguson, he told the New York Times, “It didn’t look like America. It looked like Soweto. It looked like soldiers. A soldier’s job isn’t to protect…[His] job is to kill people, and to be ready to die.”
Equivalent to Washington arming a town like Ferguson with the wardrobe and hardware of war would be Berlin providing the village constabulary of some Landbezirk with weaponry suitable for the Streitkräfte and Wehrverwaltung. Which is unconstitutional in Germany, for the moment.
At this moment in America, some call on Congress to abolish police militarization. These are the same voices that rose in righteous disgust in December 2012, when twenty children and six teachers were slaughtered in an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut—by a troubled young man armed with a legally-registered AR-15 semiautomatic.
In that moment past, Congress could have done the right thing by imposing much-needed regulations on gun sales. Instead, its members toed the fearmonger diktat of the disgraceful Wayne LaPierre, chief lobbyist for a disgraceful industry: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” In the moment to come, Congress is unlikely to do the right thing by disarming Ferguson and all other Podunks
As we plainly see, the guns of Ferguson are carried by bad guys with badges. Journalists whose job it is to reveal the bloody obvious are subjected to official intimidation. On August 19, for instance, a reporter and a uniformed bad guy brandishing a carbine engaged in a chesty standoff, available for view on YouTube.
“Oh my God—gun raised, gun raised!” shouts the frightened journalist, whose name shall not be used here. As the combat-ready Ferguson officer and his Army surplus carbine come nearer, the reporter shows his hands and says, “My hands are up, bro, my hands are up!”
The officer replies, “I’m going to fucking kill you! Get back! Get back!”
Someone in the crowd, incredulous, asks the officer, “You’re going to kill him?”
The dazed reporter turns to the crowd, seeking confirmation of what has happened in a frenzied few seconds. “Did he just threaten to kill me?” the reporter asks.
The reporter, among others, then asks the officer for his name.
The answer: “Go fuck yourself!”
The foregoing is no isolated incident, nor is Officer “Go Fuck Yourself” alone in his contempt for journalists—at least a half-dozen of whom have been arrested. Among them, three German reporters: Lukas Hermsmeier of Bild-Zeitung, Frank Herrmann of Der Standard, and Ansgar Graw of Die Welt.
On the evening of August 18, Mr. Hermsmeier’s hands were raised in the air as he shouted—in English—“Press! Press! Press!” No matter, Ferguson police fired on him with rubber bullets—which, by the way, can cause serious injury—and held him overnight in the county jail. While attempting to photograph a burned-out gasoline station, Messrs. Graw and Herrmann were handcuffed and detained for three hours.
It was Mr. Graw’s first arrest over a career that has taken him into conflict zones the world over. When he asked the officer who cuffed him for his name, the Ferguson cop refused this legal request with the answer, “My name is Donald Duck.” In a dispatch for Die Welt, Mr. Graw wrote:
I was in the civil war regions in Georgia, the Gaza strip…[I] illegally visited the Kaliningrad region when travel to the Soviet Union was still strictly prohibited for westerners, I’ve been in Iraq, Vietnam and in China. I’ve met Cuban dissidents. But to be arrested and yelled at and…rudely treated by police? For that, I had to travel to Ferguson in the United States of America.
In the first days of protests and journalist round-ups in Ferguson, the eighty-fifth meeting of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination was called to order in Geneva, Switzerland. Ron Davis, the father of an African American teenager killed in Florida in November 2012 by a middle-aged white hot-head who objected to loud music the boy played on a car radio, was there. Also there was Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, a seventeen-year-old black youth armed with a bottle of soda and a bag of Skittles candy when he was fatally shot in Sanford, Florida, in 2012, by a wife-beating white wannabe cop named George Zimmerman.
The killer of young Jordan Davis was released from custody following a criminal mistrial. George Zimmerman was acquitted.
Mr. Davis, supported by the U.S. Human Rights Network, spoke of the “criminalization of race” in America before the U.N. body in Geneva, forcing a response from the official U.S. delegation. The official response: the matter will be studied.
“These things that shouldn’t have happened eat at you,” Mr. Davis told a reporter for Al Jazeera. “The people doing these transgressions are getting away with it.”
In Ferguson, the divisive getting-away-with-it phase is underway. It began with what some locals call the “niggerization” of Michael Brown. Supporters of his killer cop have seen to publicizing irrelevancies that would never be aired at trial, assuming that Officer Darren Wilson will ever be tried. A short time prior to his being gunned down, Mr. Brown apparently shoplifted a packet of cigarillos. Traces of marijuana were found in his blood system at the time of death, according to an autopsy report. To my knowledge, neither offense is punishable by execution.
On the political front, District Attorney Robert McCulloch refuses, at this writing, to accede to a petition circulated by State Senator Jamilah Nasheed that demands his recusal from prosecuting Officer Wilson. “To be blunt,” Ms. Nasheed stated in her petition, “the African American community has no confidence that your office can carry out an impartial investigation and prosecution.”
Among the senator’s objections was Mr. McCulloch’s failure to lodge charges against Missouri police officers who killed two unarmed black men in 2000, despite an investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in St. Louis that found the officers lied about their conduct on the night they pumped twenty shots into the victims’ car.
At this writing, Mr. McCulloch has refused to back off the Michael Brown case. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has refused to order a special prosecutor in the case against Officer Wilson, should he ever be arrested and charged.
Ferguson’s white mayor, James Knowles III, declared on national television that there is “no racial divide” in his majority black town, adding “That is the perspective of all residents in our city, absolutely.” His white predecessor as mayor, Brian Fletcher, told the Boston Herald, “I challenge people to give me a name of another teen who has been shot here” apart from Michael Brown.
Mr. Fletcher has point of no consequence. If he were to speak of race in place of age, he need only look back to the early morning hours of September 20, 2009, a time when he held office as mayor of Ferguson. On that date, a fifty-two-year-old black welder named Henry Davis was arrested on an outstanding warrant that later proved to be for a man of the same surname—though a different middle name and Social Security number.
When Henry Davis complained about being ordered to sleep on the cement floor of a holding cell at Ferguson police headquarters, he was cuffed and beaten and charged with spilling blood on the uniforms of the officers who beat him. District Attorney McCulloch solved the incident by dropping charges of “property damage” against Mr. Davis, and declining to prosecute the assaulting officers.
“I want you to look at what’s going on in Ferguson—in downtown America, OK?” said CNN Television’s Jake Tapper the other night as he stood in the midst of an evening demonstration. Reflecting on the indiscriminate use of military hardware to push back against citizens demanding the arrest of Darren Wilson, he continued, “These are police…dressed for combat.”
Apart from the usual out-of-town agents provocateurs, and resident oafs exploiting the situation by looting shops, demonstrations have been rather peaceful in Ferguson. Mr. Tapper referenced a notorious American military torture chamber in Afghanistan, when he described where he stood: “There is nothing going on…that merits this scene out of Bagram. Nothing! So, if people wonder why the people of Ferguson are so upset, this is part of the reason. What is this? This doesn’t make any sense!”
Mr. Tapper has peered past the fog of tear gas, it would seem. He has asked the right question. But do not expect CNN to provide the painful answer. Soon enough, Mr. Tapper will return to the fold of acceptable corporate journalism. His fraternity is already abuzz with a shopworn meme: a “healing process” is just the ticket for a torn-up town. Which is mainstream media code for “Nothing more to see here, folks. Let’s move it along.”
— Thomas Adcock is America correspondent for CulturMag