by Bill Onasch
The Ferguson Strip
As initial false starts toward cease fire sputtered in Gaza, we began to see scenes resembling the Israeli Defense Force at work in suburban St Louis. A Ferguson, MO police officer, whose identity remains undisclosed, shot and killed a young Black man, Michael Brown. There is no dispute about some essential facts–the victim was unarmed, was well liked and admired as a good student about to enter college, and had no arrest record. Multiple witnesses have said Michael Brown was holding his hands in the air–in a gesture of no resistance–when he was shot in cold blood.
Police killings of young Black men are not rare and seldom become national headlines. There was a recent incident in New York–captured on a cell phone video camera–where several cops wrestled an unarmed Black man to the ground, killing him with a “choke hold.” The crime of the dead man in this case had been selling loose cigarettes on the sidewalk for six bits a piece without a license. The response by City Hall in the Big Apple managed to confine outrage to mostly peaceful protests.
Michael Brown’s family retained the same civil rights lawyer that took the case of the New York victim. The NAACP, and the National [Black] Bar Association got involved as well as national figures such as Al Sharpton. All called for protests to remain peaceful.
But the forces of law and order in Ferguson offered no olive branch. Beefed up with reinforcements from the St Louis County Police, they showed up as if mobilizing for war–decked out with helmets, flak jackets and gas masks, armed with fully automatic assault rifles, accompanied by an armored truck. It turns out most of this was a government surplus gift of weapons and accessories left over from the Iraq war. When they ordered everyone to go home after dark this provoked a response that, whether intended or not, was certainly predictable–what the media of course called “riots.” Wednesday night another young Black man was shot and critically wounded by police. Some reporters were roughed up–by the cops, not the “rioters.”
Riots are not new either. In 1967, President Johnson appointed a National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, known as the Kerner Commission after its chair, Governor Otto Kerner of Illinois, to investigate uprisings in Los Angeles (Watts) in 1965; Chicago, 1966; and Newark 1967. (Kerner was later sent to prison on corruption charges, but that’s a different story.) Within a few weeks after they issued their findings in February, 1968 Martin Luther King was murdered. More “civil disorders” erupted in many cities–including one in Kansas City provoked by KC’s Finest firing tear gas in to a church where civic leaders had organized a dance to keep Black youth off the streets. More studies were soon called for. In 1992 the so-called Rodney King Riots, sparked by an acquittal of cops filmed brutally beating King, led to 53 deaths, 2,000 injuries, and many millions of dollars in property damage. The overwhelmed police had to be bailed out by the National Guard and Marines.
The Kerner Commission stated some obvious truths–“Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal”–though the “moving” modifier was certainly unneeded. Their proposal of stepping up spying on potential troublemakers was not universally approved, however. One concrete suggestion that did have some success was,
“Providing employment for the swelling Negro ghetto population will require …opening suburban residential areas to Negroes and encouraging them to move closer to industrial centers.”
It worked so well in Ferguson that the formerly nearly all white suburb is now 63 percent Black. Of course, the suburban industrial centers of the Commission’s time have mostly either simply closed or moved along with the whites.
Some in the media have shown that the dramatic population shift has not shown up in the local government structure of Ferguson. Blacks make up 92 percent of those arrested in a town where the Mayor, Police Chief, and all but one on the City Council are still all white. That is disturbing to be sure.
But overlooked is that today the President of the United States, and the Attorney General he appointed, are African-Americans. Every major city either has or had a Black Mayor–as is the case in Kansas City, and in bankrupt Detroit today. Putting a Black person in a power structure created and controlled by rich whites has not narrowed the racial divide. By many important measures, African-Americans are worse off today than at the time of the Kerner Commission.
Capitalism did not create anti-Black racism–that was done by the class based on chattel slavery to justify their crimes against humanity. The capitalist class in fact led a bloody civil war to eliminate slavery. But they find the remaining race divide still useful. Discrimination in employment and housing can enhance profits. Racism among workers diverts our class in to fighting among ourselves rather than uniting in our own interests. It is a disease more deadly to us than ebola.
Those who trash and loot stores are not driven by mindless violence or petty theft. It is a desperate form of protest against unacceptable conditions in the only way they see open to them. We have no right to denounce them without offering a viable alternative. The alternative that we have to offer in the short-term is our solidarity in the fight for racial and class justice.
There were solidarity rallies hastily pulled together in a number of cities yesterday, including hundreds at the Plaza Fountain in Kansas City. And, in the face of the outcry against police excesses, the Governor replaced the local cops with the state Highway Patrol, with a Black officer who lives in the area in charge. This gesture toward justice was rewarded with peace.
This was an important victory–but an episodic one. A revival of an ongoing mass movement on the scale of the civil rights movement of the Fifties-Sixties, supported by the labor movement, is required for more substantial victories to close the gap of the race divide.
* The tar-sands are not the only environmental danger to the waters of western Canada. AFP reported last week, “A state of emergency was declared Wednesday in parts of westernmost Canada after effluent from a gold and copper mine tailings pond spilled into Rocky Mountains waterways. Spill estimates doubled since Monday when an earthen dam breach at the Mount Polley Mine sent waste water and mining debris from the pond into nearby pristine rivers and lakes. Up to 10 million cubic metres of water and 4.5 million cubic metres of fine sand are estimated to have poured into Polley Lake, Hazeltine Creek and Quesnel Lake, said officials.”
* And in the other NAFTA partner AP says, “A [Mexican] civil defense official says that about 10 million gallons of mining acid leaked into a river that supplies water to tens of thousands of people. Carlos Arias, director of civil defense for the northern state of Sonora, said that the sulfuric acid spill last Thursday was detected by residents downstream the next day, and that the mine operators had not immediately notified state authorities. He attributed the problem at the Buenavista mine in Cananea, Sonora, to defects in newly built retaining ponds that hold the overflow of acids used to leach metal out of crushed rock. The operator of the mine, the Grupo Mexico, did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.”
* Plans to expand the tourist streetcar line presently being built in downtown Kansas City suffered a big–and hopefully fatal–blow at the polls. The project was strictly a development scheme with little transit value. Kansas City voters rejected by a 60-40 margin a Transit Development Tax District that could have levied new sales and property taxes to benefit those who have friends in City Hall. That category doesn’t include transit riders or workers. Also statewide, Missouri voters nixed a proposal to impose a new sales tax to pay for road and bridge work instead of boosting the traditional funding sources from fees for trucks and fuel tax. These results make clear there is no sentiment for more regressive sales tax.
* From a Live Science story, “The steady melt of glacial ice around the world is largely due to man-made factors, such as greenhouse-gas emissions and aerosols, a new study finds. Humans have caused roughly a quarter of the globe’s glacial loss between 1851 and 2010, and about 69 percent of glacial melting between 1991 and 2010, the study suggests.”
* A Labor Notes story says, “On July 16, thousands of railroaders abruptly learned their union officers had held secret negotiations with BNSF, one of the country’s biggest freight carriers, and reached a deal to allow single-person train crews: a safety disaster. Ballots on the tentative agreement went out in early August, and are due back in early September. If the vote goes up, huge freight trains could rumble through towns across the western U.S. with just an engineer onboard, no conductor. This would be a first on a major railway, and a foot in the door for the whole industry. BNSF is owned by Warren Buffett, one of the world’s richest people.”
Somebody Doesn’t Like Us
A contributing factor to this WIR being late is the time I’ve had to spend responding to hacking attacks on the kclabor.org site. The attempts to gain control appear to have centered on our WordPress application that we use for the WIR. Since there would be no financial incentive for this criminal behavior I can only assume it is politically motivated.
So far, our firewalls and other security measures have defeated dozens of attacks and they have been further strengthened. There was never any danger of them gaining access to our mailing lists which are kept completely separate. Reader online financial contributions go through PayPal–about as secure as you can get.
My main objective is to track down the originating source of this criminal mischief so they can be put out of business.
That’s all for this week.
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