© 2014 by H.B. Koplowitz
Sometimes I wonder why oppressed people of color in America don’t identify more with Palestinians. Why aren’t they strapping bombs onto themselves to take out whitey? I wondered that again Wednesday night, watching on TV as police in Ferguson, Missouri, deployed tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets on a few hundred people protesting the fatal police shooting of an unarmed black youth who happened to be walking in the street. The police, decked out in camo, armored vehicles and semi-automatic rifles, looked like Israel Defense Forces taking on Palestinian teenagers with slingshots.
The mini-intifada began Saturday when Michael Brown, 18, was gunned down by a white police officer, Darren Wilson, 28, in the predominantly black community of Ferguson in St. Louis County. Initially, the police said Brown tried to grab a gun from the officer, who suffered a facial injury. But three eyewitnesses have said Wilson fired one shot from his car, possibly by accident or during a tussle, that Brown tried to run away but the officer got out of his car, gave chase and shot him in the back, and that after Brown was hit, he raised his hands and tried to surrender, but Wilson shot him at least six times, killing him.
The St. Louis County prosecutor, US Justice Department and FBI all opened investigations, but authorities initially wouldn’t reveal Wilson’s name. And when Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson finally did, six days later, he also stoked more anger among the protesters by releasing a security camera video indicating that minutes before Brown was killed, he robbed a nearby convenience store, taking $49 worth of cigarillos. As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch noted in an editorial two days after Brown was killed, whatever led up to him getting shot, he didn’t get due process of law before receiving the death penalty, while the police officer who killed him was getting “plenty of it.”
The night after “Big Mike” was killed, an angry mob converged on the shooting scene. Under the rationale of “no justice, no peace,” some threw rocks, started fires and looted businesses. As a gangbanger who participated in the 1992 Rodney King riots in Los Angeles once told me, looting may not be 40 acres and a mule, but it’s a start. Over the next three days, the looting stopped, but protesters began taunting the police by holding up their hands and shouting “don’t shoot.” Some threw projectiles, causing authorities to respond with tear gas.
In a tone-deaf declaration on Wednesday, Chief Jackson urged protesters to disperse before sundown, unintentionally harking back to “sundown towns” of the last century that barred Negroes from being on the street after dark. When some of the demonstrators failed to disperse by 9 p.m., police from various local jurisdictions, in full combat regalia and with heavy weaponry more suitable for battling ISIS or a drug cartel, went berserk, rousting protesters, reporters and even black elected officials who were observing. Authorities said some of the protesters tossed pipe bombs at the police, but the ensuing police riot was what is known in the Middle East as a disproportionate response, for which, like Israel, they were roundly criticized. In an act of solidarity, Palestinians in Gaza tweeted #Ferguson with advice on how to deal with tear gas. In a recent column, I questioned why the Palestinians don’t just “stay down” after getting thrashed by Israel. But watching the protesters in Ferguson get pushed around by the police made me want to join them and stand up for justice.
Earlier in the week, the Rev. Al Sharpton went to Ferguson to call for nonviolence, but truth be told, the media wouldn’t have shown up, and the underlying issues wouldn’t have been exposed, were it not for the riot and police overreaction. Octogenarian black comedian, activist and St. Louis native Dick Gregory showed up in Ferguson, where he told CNN, “thank God for the white press.” Now the media are questioning why a mostly black town is overseen by a mostly white police force, city council and school board, and reexamining such national issues as “driving while black,” the disproportionate number of blacks who are stopped, frisked, arrested, imprisoned and killed by cops (and each other), and the frightening militarization of local police departments, aided and abetted by federal Homeland Security funds and draconian drug forfeiture laws.
In toto, it amounts to what law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw called “weapons of black destruction.” In an interview on MSNBC, she dryly added that Ferguson marked “the end of post racialism.” It’s worth remembering that it wasn’t just Martin Luther King Jr. and civil disobedience that won blacks their rights. The Black Panthers and urban rioters were just as instrumental in getting whites to see the practical as well as ethical reasons for granting equality. Put another way, nobody ever heard of the Palestinians until they massacred the Israeli Olympic team.
On Thursday, President Barack Obama called for calm on both sides and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon replaced the local and county constabulary with the Missouri Highway Patrol, overseen by Capt. Ron Johnson, who is black and grew up in the Ferguson area. This time the cops wore police uniforms instead of riot gear and told the protesters they could stay all night if they wanted. The easing of security tactics gave the crowd a face-saving victory and transformed protesters from tense and combative to rowdy but festive. Many just partied in the street or took victory laps in their cars, honking and hanging out of windows. If only the Palestinians would respond that way if Israel lifted its blockade of Gaza. A shaky cease-fire is currently in effect in Gaza, and the same could be said of Ferguson. Now the hard work begins on negotiating a just and lasting peace.