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Justice for Mike Brown in the Long Shadow of Dred Scott

“The foot soldiers, the young people, we have not packed up our bags.  We have not been home.  We’re not going to go home.  This is not a fly-by-night moment, this is not a “made-for-TV” revolution.  This is real people, standing up to a real problem, and saying, ‘we ain’t takin’ it no more.’”

Tef Poe

“…We get arrested, and we get maced, and we get tear-gassed, and we get rubber-bulleted, and yet, I’ve been arrested 3 times, I have spent more time in jail than Darren Wilson and it’s ridiculous.  We are sick of it.  We are sick of it.  We are tired, and we want St. Louis to know, in front of this arch, that we aren’t going anywhere until you stop killing us.  You will stop killing us!”

– Alexis Templeton of Millennial Activists United, speaking at the October 11th rally

[I write this based on my observations as someone travelling to Saint Louis/Ferguson for the first time this week.]

Not just “which side are you on?,” but where and how do you stand?

As people gathered into the nestled three-story buildings that make up the Canfield Green Apartments, on the evening of October 11th – after several thousand people marched and rallied in downtown St. Louis earlier that day – the narrow, winding streets were clogged with people, surrounding Mike Brown’s vigil.  With a little bit of ad-hoc coordination from the young men who live there, ‘protest tourists’ like myself stepped to the side, as Canfield residents drove home or went out for the night.  This is a metaphor for what must happen if this movement is to grow into the national, and locally organic, movement that must develop, that will develop, that is developing as we speak.

Communities perpetually occupied by the police (in the language of police themselves) need people to stand with them, and to stand to the side when asked –  to support them, to back them up in this struggle.  This is a war.  The police call it a war – a War on Drugs, or a War on Gangs, or a War on Crime.  Daily events suggest it is a war on young Black men who are just trying to walk down the street.  The statistics demonstrate that this is quite clearly a war.  The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement has calculated that every 28 hours a Black person is killed in the US by police, security guards or vigilantes.  This rate is increasing.  Last year only 13% of those killed by police had fired a weapon either before or after the police arrived. KillingTrayvons1

Over the last two months, Ferguson has been the front lines of the response to this daily onslaught.  No matter what tactics people are comfortable with or not, no matter what background or education or skills supporters might bring to this struggle, this is a war.  Mike Brown was a casualty, and the people of this area physically fought back in response.  We are talking about Ferguson on a national level over two months after the killing of Mike Brown – we are talking about the killing of Mike Brown at all, in the first place – because of the young men and women of Canfield, Ferguson and Saint Louis putting their lives on the line night after night in direct conflict with the police.  As I looked at the line of candles where Mike Brown’s body had laid in the middle of the street, I realized this was the literal front line.  Whether in a somber tone of remembrance and grief, or in a rebellious tone in word and deed, when on the front line, you go where you are told to go.  And if you can’t step up (in whatever supportive way you can), you should step off.

Dred Scott, Mike Brown & the Ongoing Struggle Against the Racial State

“We are fighting for the dignity and power for those of us who have been directly impacted by the heinous acts of police and sheriffs departments, not just on the streets, but inside lock-up facilities as well….  Saint Louis, Ferguson, y’all are winning.  Every protest, every march, every tweet, every live-stream you send out, we slowly chip away at the tired, old, racist system.  Keep rising, y’all.”

– Patrisse Cullors of Dignity and Power Now (Los Angeles), speaking at the October 11th rally

Earlier that day, at the rally that followed the march in downtown Saint Louis, Montague Simmons, from the Organization for Black Struggle, addressed those gathered at the footsteps of the Courthouse where the Dred Scott case was decided in 1857:

“Your participation [in this weekend of protest] was consecrated by blood sacrifice, that goes back generations.  The building behind you was the place that… Dred Scott’s life was ruled worth 3/5ths of a human being.  Police terror existed well before slavery ended.  They didn’t value Black lives then, they don’t value Black lives now…. If this moment is gonna be all that it can be, we got to make the cost of Black life too high for them to take it.”

This moment raises question endemic to all movements – questions of politics, demands, tactics, goals.  Whatever tensions might sit below the surface they were not significantly evident this weekend – not at Saturday night’s vigil, and not earlier in the day.  Labor, religious groups, student groups, supporters of all ages and races came out this weekend, from across the country, to support this struggle.  Even though a lot of people who drove to events this weekend still had Obama bumper stickers on their car, and while some people periodically tried, unsuccessfully, to raise chants about how Bob Avakian was going to lead the revolution, these politics honestly seemed fringe.  This weekend was not about the false prophets of either the Democratic Party or the Revolutionary Communist Party.  It also did not strike me as a cooptive move on the part of the various non-profits and Left organizations that endorsed the weekend’s events.  It was about Mike Brown.  It also became about VonDerrit Myers.  It was about Alan Blueford and Ramarley Graham.  It was about Oscar Grant.  It was about Amadou Diallo, and Sean Bell, and Eric Garner.  It was about all the lives whose names didn’t make national headlines, but who have been unjustly taken, who are missing from the lives of the people who loved them, who are waiting for justice.

This weekend was also very much about the ghost of Dred Scott, and the articulation and re-articulation of what has been a legacy of tired, duplicitous American definitions of justice.  I might be overly hopeful, but I think that the weight of all of this grief fuels the indistinguishable anger that flares, then embers, then flares again – a fire that was not dampened this weekend, but gently stoked.  As a Saint Louis Grand Jury mulls what seems to be an obvious case of police murder – Ferguson, Saint Louis, and the rest of the nation, wait for a strong wind to blow in and hopefully bring real justice for Mike Brown, and for us all.

Mike King is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at SUNY-Oneonta.  King is a contributor to Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence. He is currently working on getting his first book published, entitled When Repression is Not Enough: The Policing and Social Control of Occupy Oakland.  He can be reached at mikeking0101(at)gmail.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mike King is an Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at Bridgewater State University.  His work has recently been featured in Race & Class and the edited volume Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence.  His book (tentatively titled) When Riot Cops are Not Enough: The Repression of Occupy Oakland will be published by Rutgers University Press in 2016.  He can be reached at mikeking0101 (at) gmail.com.

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