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The struggle continues: Seeking justice for Michael Brown

By Richard B. Muhammad and Ashahed M. Muhammad -Final Call Staffers- | Last updated: Sep 2, 2014 - 9:09:33 AM

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Demonstrators march through the streets in the Chinatown neighborhood of Washington, Aug. 23 during a protest against the shooting of unarmed Michael Brown, a Black 18-year-old killed by a White police officer in Ferguson, Mo. Photo: AP/World Wide photos

FERGUSON, Mo. (FinalCall.com) - Thousands gathered here in a mass mobilization for justice in the shooting death of 18-year-old Mike Brown. Participants say a powerful moment is emerging as a movement: a movement against police brutality, racial oppression and unjust taking of Black life.

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Michael Brown Jr.’s mother Lesley McSpadden and father Michael Brown Sr., marched and led chants of “Hands up! Don’t Shoot!”
During the spirited Saturday march and rally, there were repeated calls to “shut Ferguson down!” and vows to continue to fight for the arrest, prosecution and conviction of Darren Wilson, the White officer who killed the unarmed Black 18-year-old in early August.

The name Mike Brown has now punctuated chants, songs and signs across the country and overseas as outrage grew about his death and an occupying army response in this hamlet outside of St. Louis. People came out despite a threatened rain storm, stayed through drizzle and a downpour, offered tributes and prayers where the young man was gunned down and vowed to use every tool available—from the voting booth to boycotts to put pressure on the federal government and civil disobedience to force a recalcitrant state and county to mete out appropriate punishment.

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In this Feb. 11 image from video released by the City of Ferguson, Mo., officer Darren Wilson attends a city council meeting in Ferguson, Mo.

“Enough is enough!” declared Michael Brown, Sr., at a rally outside the Ferguson police station. He was next to Mike’s mother Lesley McSpadden as parents and family were flanked by a phalanx of the Fruit of Islam for protection and to simply keep order. The crowd organizers put at 10,000 people was cooperative and obedient as the family marched, shouted, and spoke.

Two days after that gathering, the father was again outside of the Ferguson Police Station with an announcement. A Labor Day civil disobedience act, clogging highways with a 4 minute and 30 second slowdown at 4:30 p.m. was postponed, he said.

The change was made to allow the new state director of safety, who is also a Black man, an opportunity to start work. Daniel Isom II became director of the Missouri Department of Public Safety effective Sept. 1. That same day Atty. Anthony Gray, a lawyer for the Brown family, the father and supporters announced the postponement. Zaki Baruti and Anthony Shahid of the Justice for Michael Brown Leadership Coalition supported the father’s decision. The decision came after a meeting between the father, leaders and law enforcement, including Capt. Ron Johnson, who is responsible for security in Ferguson, under a state of emergency imposed by the state.  Capt. Johnson is also a Black man.

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Photo: Warren Muhammad
Mr. Baruti repeated calls for officer Wilson’s firing and prosecution, and the resignation of the mayor and police chief of Ferguson. The governor needs to remove the county prosecutor who cannot be depended on to vigorously act on the Wilson case, the leadership coalition has said.

In addition, the federal government needs to intervene and the racial profiling, harassment of Black drivers must stop while money municipalities accrued through fines and tickets needs to be probed and audited, Mr. Baruti said.

A postponement only means something else is coming, he added.

Major civil disobedience is in the works if those in power do not act with justice, vowed Mr. Shahid, a street activist. Young people need jobs, a major hospital project controls billions that must be shared, he said. This is just a postponement, not an end, stressed the man often seen in photos wearing a police hat, chains, a rope around his neck while holding a whip and a stuffed dog.  All of these things are symbols of racial oppression and how Blacks are being “dogged” in America, he has explained.

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Photos: Cartan X Moseley
Prior to his appointment by Gov. Jay Nixon, Dr. Isom served as the E. Desmond Lee Professor of Policing and the Community “for the nationally recognized Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, a position he took after retiring as chief of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department in January 2013,” according to the governor’s office.

Marching all day long

Thousands gathered at “Ground Zero,” located at Canfield Drive and W. Florissant Avenue just a short distance from a burned out convenience store, which served as one flashpoint for protests and clashes in the days after Mike’s death. Activists and residents say the police response was heavy handed and repressive from the beginning—including tear gassing the mother the day after her son’s death while she participated in a candlelight vigil and march for her son.

Marchers walked, chanted and held signs Aug. 30 until arriving at the Canfield Green Apartment complex where the teenager was killed. Officer Wilson fired at least six shots into “Mike Mike,” including a kill shot to the head.

Their sadness was visible and emotion palpable among marchers. Some prayed. Others spent time in quiet reflection. Other groups were more animated, angry and vocal. “Fight back! Fight back! Fight back!” they chanted.

Under the protective arm of the Fruit of Islam, marchers remained orderly and disciplined. The crowd moved up W. Florissant Avenue, heading east toward the Ferguson Sports Complex in Forestwood Park, and the clouds opened. Despite the pouring rain, the march continued. Umbrellas popped up; rain gear was donned and temporary shelter was sought—but the demonstration continued. 

Some youth were particularly angered by the decision to take the rally to the park. The original end point of the march was said to be the Ferguson Police Department. After assurances that they would have a chance to speak, tensions eased. Youth passionately shared stories of police abuses, pride in the unity felt across gang affiliations and a galvanizing purpose. They declared their willingness to die for the emerging movement and in a battle with the oppressor.

Lead march organizer A. Akbar Muhammad of the Nation of Islam, as well as beloved community organizer and street activist Anthony Shahid, spoke of the importance of hearing the voices of the youth and addressing their concerns. Youth are the ones who feel the brunt of the militaristic approach of overzealous law enforcers in the cities of America, they said.

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Mr. Akbar Muhammad reminded the audience that the struggle would be long and commitment and strategy would be needed.

Members of the young group Lost Voices were the most vocal. They have camped out since Mike Brown was killed and have faced police clubs, tear gas and rubber bullets head on.

Speakers called for justice for all victims of police brutality and committed to taking the activism beyond the streets and forging strategies. Civil disobedience is one strategy and pressing for the leadership coalition’s demands is another.

Though some signs were soggy, and feet and clothing soaking wet, energy remained high.

Sixty-year-old Willie Edwards drove a bus from Washington, D.C., containing 54 students, staff members and administrators from Howard University. The students got off the bus with brightly colored red and blue t-shirts holding their signs calling for an end to racial profiling and injustice. Mr. Edwards said the students discussed what happened to Mr. Brown and what is happening across the country for hours during the trip.

“They’re getting involved and we had a nice little talk,” said Mr. Edwards. “I’m 60-years-old, and I was there with Martin Luther King Jr. I was on the March on Washington at 10-years-old, so I know how they feel. We need to keep on fighting.” 

Lesley McSpadden cut the rally short, saying, “I’m ready to go to the police department.” Immediately responding to her wishes, rally organizers and marchers took to the streets and walked from the park to the Ferguson Police Department. The huge crowd continued to chant. With an intense glare Michael Brown Sr., spoke to those gathering through a bullhorn. His words were halting, yet forceful.

“We need peace, and we need to get this justice and we need it right now! We need it now! Enough is enough! Enough is enough! Enough is enough!” he shouted. The crowd roared its approval.

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Despite the heat and rain showers, members of the Fruit of Islam maintained order and provided an atmosphere of security for protesters. Photo: Warren Muhammad
Action plans and clear demands

Zaki Baruti, of the Universal African Peoples Organization stressed that the groups involved in the Justice for Michael Brown Leadership Coalition are clear on their demands: They want Darren Wilson fired and prosecuted. They want the immediate removal of St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert P. McCulloch from the Michael Brown case, and the immediate resignation of Ferguson Mayor James Knowles and Police chief Thomas Jackson.

Protesters said it was no surprise hearing that the young man had been shot down by police. It is well known that Ferguson police officers harass Blacks and use too much force, they said. The same problem exists in nearby municipalities with small but overwhelming White police forces, they added. It was also no surprise when police rolled out the heavy military vehicles and gear to deal with protesters during a week of clashes resulting in multiple arrests and injuries.

“There is still a lot of frustration,” said Marcus Creighton, a prominent area activist and member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. “A lot of energy and anger is being focused into productive conversations about what we need to do. We need both a short term plan and long term plan which is definitely what we are talking about.”

With November elections approaching, and constant cases of Black men being shot down under suspicious circumstances by police, Mr. Creighton said its time this troubling trend ends. It will only cease when officers involved in shootings face real consequences for their actions, he said.

“We’re not surprised, because it happens over and over again. How many times have we had in recent years police officers kill Black men and nothing happens to them?” he said.

Since Mike Brown was killed, there have been other suspicious shootings, not only in St. Louis but also in other parts of the U.S., Mr. Creighton noted. He does not believe aggression police showed toward peaceful protesters was an aberration.

Prominent human rights activist Thenjiwe McHarris said the actions of the Ferguson police came as a revelation to some about hyper aggressive policing employed nationwide and globally. Brutality stifles dissent, silences critics and even the non-lethal weapons available to law enforcement officials are abused, she said.

“In one instance they Tasered a pregnant woman in her stomach. So they’re using all these different tools and techniques to subdue people, and in circumstances like Ferguson, they’re using lethal force weapons to kill them,” said Ms. McHarris. “The militarization of the police and police practicing in the U.S. is reflective of the military operations happening all over the world. Police officers are enforcers of the state, so when you have a state that has policies and practices that are inherently racist, violent, classist, sexist and homophobic, we’re going to have officers and law enforcement that’s going to want to maintain a status quo while simultaneously keeping order.”

Hassane Muhammad of Black Lawyers For Justice, a legal advocacy group led by Attorney Malik Shabazz, said protesters are still joining a lawsuit alleging civil rights violations, police brutality and seeking redress from the city of Ferguson and police. Five initial plaintiffs and a child are part of a lawsuit seeking $40 million in damages.

A grand jury has begun hearing evidence in the shooting case, and the U.S. Department of Justice started its own investigation into the circumstances surrounding the teen’s death.

Diane M. Lewis, a legal assistant and community outreach organizer shared a firsthand account of the heavy-handed tactics of the police.  There washigh disregard for Black people—guns in faces, the ‘N’ word being used by police officers, guns pointed in people’s faces—women.  They had no respect for women—for anybody,” said Ms. Lewis.

“I’ve seen and have had mishaps with police and when you speak up, nothing is ever done; it’s covered up, nobody gets anything done and I think that’s why the people are marching,” said Ms. Lewis. “We’re marching for justice.”

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