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"Hands up!" sign displayed at a Ferguson protest. (Photo: Jamelle Bouie/flickr/cc)

"Hands up!" sign displayed at a Ferguson protest. (Photo:  Jamelle Bouie/flickr/cc)

In Ferguson, DOJ Probe Only Confirms What Community Has Long Known

'What the DOJ has memorialized on paper, we will memorialize in action.' —Tory Russell, Hands Up United

Sarah Lazare

A Department of Justice probe into the now-notorious Ferguson Police Department confirmed Wednesday what residents of this majority-black city in Missouri have long charged: racism is endemic throughout the local "justice" system—manifesting in everything from traffic stops to predatory court fines to physical attacks.

Now, the activists whose sustained protests put Ferguson in the global spotlight are responding to the revelations with observations of their own. They say the abuses documented in the DOJ's 102-page review are not new information to municipal residents; they are not unique to Ferguson; and, ultimately, they constitute a call-to-action.

"What the DOJ has memorialized on paper, we will memorialize in action," said Tory Russell, cofounder of Hands Up United, which was formed shortly after the August fatal shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson.

Russell continued in a public statement:

Ferguson is just a symptom of an international problem, one that is fueled by social, economic, and racial inequality, by a lack of access to education, resources, employment, and one that wont go away until we take an introspective look at ourselves as a nation and as a global community facing daily flashpoints between the privileged and the repressed. 

"Ferguson is a microcosm of how marginalized communities interact with the state, but also a spark that inevitably stokes that flames of justice in the hearts and minds of people of all creeds peppered throughout this country." —Tory Russell, Hands Up UnitedThe DOJ, is an organ in these systems of inequality.  The same CS gas that police used to disperse our assemblies in Ferguson, is the same CS gas, manufactured here in the US with support from US taxpayers, that is used to disperse assemblies in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.  For those of us on the receiving end of this gas our struggles are intertwined. 

Moreover, our socio-economic systems appear to thrive in (or at the very least, understand) the chaos of flashpoints between the haves and have-nots.  What is harder, for everyone to understand to and address, is how to challenge the predicate series of systemic injustices that fuel and fertilize these flashpoints.

Ferguson is a microcosm of how marginalized communities interact with the state, but also a spark that inevitably stokes that flames of justice in the hearts and minds of people of all creeds peppered throughout this country.

Additionally included in the press statement were remarks by Tef Poe, also a cofounder of Hands Up United, who said:

While we should not diminish the significance of the DOJ’s findings, and the prospect of subsequent attempts to reform policing in Ferguson and St. Louis, we also need to remain cognizant to the fact that Ferguson is but a microcosm of repressive and violent community-police interactions nation-wide. 

Today the DOJ’s report has validated that traffic stops in Ferguson disproportionately target people of color and Ferguson courts have become sources of revenue – straying away from their purpose of protecting our communities. We who live this, every day, having been slapped with exhaustive series of tickets, or bench warrants, for our minor infractions, or due to simple mistakes, already knew this.

"This is not news for those of us who have felt a baton in our back or a boot on our neck— moreover, the incidents Ferguson Police choose not to document are perhaps the most frightening and hardest for us to forget." —Tef Poe, Hands Up UnitedIn incident reports filed by Ferguson Police, detailed in the DOJ report, nearly all of the situations wherein police used force were against people of color. This is not news for those of us who have felt a baton in our back or a boot on our neck— moreover, the incidents Ferguson Police choose not to document are perhaps the most frightening and hardest for us to forget.

To see what we have been saying and living for decades validated by the Department of Justice is not insignificant, but these problems are like a cancer—whether the symptoms spread through a body or a whole community, they cannot be addressed piecemeal. To isolate and exemplify Ferguson, is to infatuate over the finger while the organs of our State and the soul of our Country continue to metastasize.

To begin to address this cancer we must first begin by viewing it as such.  This cancer is one that saturates everything—like smoke lingering on your clothes after a night out—and it is not reserved for a specific demographic.  This smoke lingers on our clothes inasmuch as it lingers on Darren Wilson’s blood stained uniform —the only difference is that we’re ready to change that. ”

Organizers with Millennial Activists United, a youth-led, grassroots coalition in the St. Louis area, put it succinctly:

The DOJ's release of the report, which coincided with its announcement that it will not prosecute Wilson for shooting Brown, prompted protests on Wednesday against racial disparities. Numerous eye witnesses say that police arrested those who gathered to demonstrate, sparking renewed outrage among local organizers, including the network Ferguson Action:

Raven Rakia pointed out in The Nation on Thursday that police practices in Ferguson, and local resistance, have nation-wide implications.

"The flames of Ferguson following Michael Brown’s death captured the country’s attention, and brought the Justice Department to town," wrote Rakia. "But what of all the other small and big cities across the United States engaging in the same practices? If we are to look towards Ferguson as a lesson, changes may come only following a sustained grassroots movement from those directly affected."


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