A space for democracy: The Ferguson riots

this is not a riot sign ferguson

It might seem incredible, even improbable, but as I write this article right now there’s a no-fly zone over an American town. It’s rarely stated in the mainstream media, it’s pretty much under the wraps. Maybe because the term ‘no-fly zone’ has been linked for the past few years with some of the world’s worst conflicts such as Libya, Syria and Ukraine. This might hit the point home for the regular Joe watching the news that a suburb by the name of Ferguson in Missouri is undergoing an occupation – there are no other words to describe it – worthy of a war zone.

The killing of African-American teenager Michael Brown sparked the massive uprising that has been omnipresent on our TV screens for the past few days. I feel that it’s important to state Michael’s name time and time again, even though by now it has become a household one, because unfortunately too many in the media are either quick to slander him or as quick to try and overlook the fact that an 18 year old African-American has, once again, died at the hands of law enforcement.

Michael BrownIt is important to remember Michael Brown and the exact facts of his story and his short-lived life because recently many within the mainstream media have been trying to drag his name and reputation through the dirt, trying somehow to use the petty crime of the shoplifting some candy and snacks to justify the police’s horrendous crime of killing an unarmed 18 year old pedestrian.

But one thing must be clear: Michael Browns and Trevon Martins, there are hundreds of them, hundreds of martyrs of police enforcement, thousands of victims of police violence and hundreds of thousands of law abiding ‘’citizens’’ whose rights and liberties are trampled by those who supposedly are there to ‘’serve and protect’’ them.

Michael Brown’s shooting isn’t an isolated case, far from it. While, for the sake of his memory, it’s important to remember the individual aspects of the case, it is also important to place this specific case within a broader framework to understand why and how this occurred and what were the underlying forces that instigated such a horrific outcome.

It is only within this broader framework that the details of the shooting, that some would want the general public to forget, become centerpieces to understanding the social and economic discrimination that is paramount. Omitted from much of the ‘reporting from the ground is the institutional racism and the systemic economic inequality which created the space, the breeding grounds for such police brutality.

It’s not a coincidence, unfortunately, that Michael Brown was an African-American youth. It’s not a coincidence that Michael Brown, being an African-American youth, lived in community where an important percentage of people live under the poverty line. It’s not coincidental that a poor African-American youth by the name of Michael Brown was shot seven times in the back, his only crime that he was born on the wrong side of the tracks in the wrong neighborhood.

To disconnect the events that occurred in Ferguson in the past week from a general understanding of the underlying, silently killing, economical violence is to rob the reaction of the inhabitants of Ferguson of any traction, of any righteousness. And to rob the Ferguson riots of any righteousness is to sterilize them, to disassociate them from their primordial political demand, which is equality. At the heart of the Ferguson riots is the struggle for democracy in America.

michael brown shoplifting cnnMany within the right-wing media would like us to believe that ‘’the mob’ – as they so dearly call them – that are looting and burning, confronting the police, were waiting for this moment like some sort of Christmas in July. Somehow in their twisted rhetoric, riots such as these are just occasions to provoke havoc which completely deplete any sympathy we should have for the cause. Although it is undeniable that the majority of Ferguson residences are profoundly shocked and angry at the killing of Michael Brown, seeing things from that sole vantage point doesn’t render justice to their cause, either.

At play here are two diametrically opposed forces, first of all the riots are not directed at the police forces (the individuals behind the riot gear) per say. When interviewed, local residents are very clear in their demands. They won’t be satisfied with just an end to the violence against their youth, they are demanding an end the economic equality which is the main enforcer of police brutality. The police are seen symbolically by the majority of the population of Ferguson as the defenders of status-quo, of a system that is overtly racist, a system that allows such brutality to perpetrated not only in a flash spark of violence like the death of Michael Brown, but on a regular basis.

Media outlets such as Fox News and Sun News here in Canada are right to a certain extent in their coverage of the events. Except they get it wrong when it comes to which side is fighting to uphold the laws and democratic aspirations of the American state and which is looting and burning. Those who have set Ferguson ablaze aren’t the people that live there, rather it’s the ultra-militarized police force that undergoes no checks or balances, that is completely above all of the laws and the constitution, that can violate with all impunity the rights and liberties of common American citizens.

one bullet hashtag
Image: @MediatedReality on Twitter

Fox News, Sun News and the KKK may applaud the ‘”patriot”actions of the brave police officer that shot an unarmed 18 year old seven times in the back, but the true patriots here, the true minutemen, are those that are resisting an occupying army and the unequal and profound corrupt system they enforce. Such a system is the main suspect in the death of Michael Brown, a system which usually doesn’t offer such gruesome spectacles, but does nonetheless kill on a regular basis, not with bullets of steel, but with bullets in the form of green dollar bills.

* Top image: The Daily Banter

 

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