'Bonded With a Common Goal': As Ferguson Recovers, Activists Look Forward
'We are on the human side. We hope you stand with us.'
Ferguson activists on Tuesday blocked a highway in St. Louis and interstate bridge as part of a continued series of protests after a grand jury announced on Monday they would not indict police officer Darren Wilson for the August 9 shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown.
"If we don't get it, shut it down!" sit-in protesters screamed as police advanced on them Tuesday afternoon.
Protesters updated the shutdown—as well as solidarity actions throughout the country—with the hashtag #Ferguson.
"This moment is a historic one," organizers with Ferguson Action, a coalition of local community groups, said in a call to action after the decision was announced. "Just like people have done throughout American history, we are making our voices heard, taking to the streets and using our first amendment rights to engage in strong actions of civil disobedience."
Lou Downey, co-founder of the Stop Mass Incarceration Network, told Common Dreams, "Bringing business as usual to a halt needs to continue and be built on. People need to stay in the streets. Don't go to work. Walk out of school or make stopping this genocidal program what your schooling is about. People in the neighborhoods where police routinely brutalize and murder need to make their anger felt [through] mass political resistance."
"Everyone has to take a side in this fight—Are you with the police who murder Black youth and the system that gives them a stamp of approval? Or are you with the people who are standing up and saying NO MORE to this shit?" Downey said in an email.
He added that organizers will be "mobilizing people for the day after Thanksgiving so it becomes 'Black Lives Matter' day instead of getting a jump on Christmas shopping."
Some protests will target a Walmart in the Ferguson area to call for justice for John Crawford, the black man killed in August by police in a Walmart in Ohio.
"And, yes, a grand jury let those killer cops walk free," Downey said.
At a press conference on Tuesday, the Brown family's attorney Benjamin Crump said the case exemplified the country's "broken" system of justice.
"We saw how completely unfair this process was," Crump said. "We object as publicly and loudly as we can on behalf of Michael Brown Jr.'s family that this process is broken. This process should be indicted."
Crump also blasted St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch, whose friendly relationship with police and racially fraught career made him a controversial—and highly contested—choice to handle the case. "We have a local prosecutor who was a symbiotic relationship with local police officers," Crump said. Referring to the thousands of pages of grand jury files released after McCulloch's announcement, Crump asked, "Where was [Wilson's] credibility ever challenged?"
He noted that Wilson's testimony in front of the grand jury contradicted his statements to detectives shortly after the fatal encounter with Brown. Wilson initially claimed that the unarmed teenager had punched him in the face 10 times, but when testifying to the grand jury, he said Brown only punched him twice
Anthony Gray, also an attorney for the Brown family, agreed, stating at the press conference, "We saw what was presented, but we didn't hear how it was presented... the cynicism, the sarcasm," he said. "Wilson indicted himself. Most of what he said didn't line up with the evidence."
Crump called for all police departments in the U.S. to require their officers to wear body cameras as a deterrent against racial profiling and brutality. "The legacy to Michael Brown should be... we strive to make a difference," Crump said. "All of America [should] join us in demanding change... for the lives of our children and the sake of our communities and especially for Michael Brown, Jr."
At least 61 arrests were made on Monday night in the Ferguson area. Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of ACLU of Missouri, said on Tuesday, "The grand jury's decision does not negate the fact that Michael Brown's tragic death is part of an alarming national trend of officers using excessive force against people of color, often during routine encounters. Yet in most cases, the officers and police departments are not held accountable."
Several Ferguson organizers, including Johnetta Elzie, DeRay McKesson, and Brittany Packnett, who have been on the ground in Ferguson since protests began in August, wrote in an open letter last week:
[A]s we march toward justice for all lives lost, we also potentially march into danger. While we stockpile signs, we are told that others, who are sworn to protect and serve us, instead mean us harm and are stockpiling guns. Already, heavy-handed police responses to peaceful protests make us justifiably worried about what is to come. Though we are peaceful, we fear for our safety. We fear for our lives."
But while we move toward the unknown, we cannot allow fear to dissolve our movement. We cannot wait for justice, since, too often, delay actually means denial. We must see a sustainable community-oriented shift in the policing of our neighborhoods. We must see the truthful reporting of our cause by responsible institutions. We cannot wait for another life to be lost, for more blood to be shed, for more lines of division to be drawn further and deeper across this city before we change course.
Also at the press conference, Rev. Al Sharpton recalled the early days of the Ferguson protests, when organizers first said that McCulloch would not bring the Brown family justice. "We said that night we had little to no faith in the grand jury," Sharpton said, adding that McCulloch's announcement Monday night "made it clear to everyone why we had little faith in a state prosecution... I've never seen a prosecutor call a press conference to discredit a victim."
"Have you ever heard a prosecutor call a press conference to tell press... the one who did the killing is not going to trial, but the victim is guilty of several crimes?" Sharpton asked. "That is a miscarriage and a misuse of the grand jury system."
"You have broken our hearts, but you have not broken our backs," he added, to loud applause. "We will continue to fight for a new level of... policing in this country. Michael Brown will not be remembered for the ashes of buildings burned in Ferguson. He will be remembered for new legislation and the upholding of law. If you're on Michael Brown's side, you walk with dignity to fight for what is right."
"This is about all of us being bonded with a common goal," Sharpton said, adding that activists and protesters around the country would stand with Brown's family "to the end. We may have lost one round, but the fight is not over."
The organizers' open letter ended with a similar call to action: "The night they sang a requiem for our fallen brother, our allies asked us which side we are on. We are on the human side. We hope you stand with us."