Remember when many pundits suggested that America had become a color-blind Post-racial America after the election of Barack Obama in 2008? Yeah . . .
I watched the news coverage from Ferguson, Missouri last night. It reminded me of Mayor Daley’s police riot at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968. Spike Lee could use Ferguson as the setting of a sequel to his Do the Right Thing (1989).
I was struck by the disparity between two events this year.
First, the Bundy Ranch standoff between armed right-wing militias seeking a confrontation with the “tyrannical” federal “guvmint” come to enforce a lawful seizure order of the court for the cattle of a deadbeat rancher who does not recognize the federal government, the government to which he owes a $1 million dollars for grazing fees and court costs, because “freedom!” Not a single shot was fired, and not one person was arrested for their armed insurrection against law enforcement officers.
The conservative media entertainment complex portrayed these anti-government insurrectionists as “patriots.”
Second, Ferguson, Missouri, where an unarmed teenager, Michael Brown, was shot allegedly multiple times by a police officer for walking in the street. Ferguson has a history of racial tensions with the local police. Even before Michael Brown’s slaying in Ferguson, racial questions hung over police. Wednesday night was a peaceful protest of citizens exercising their First Amendment rights of freedom of speech, peaceable assembly, and to petition their local government for a redress of grievances. A militarized police force insisted that they could not. Nor could the media covering the protest exercise its First Amendment right to freedom of the press. The police opened fire with rubber bullets, tear gas, and flash grenades. And arrested members of the media.
The conservative media entertainment complex portrayed the Black citizens of Ferguson as “lynch mobs,” Laura Ingraham calls protestors in Ferguson “lynch mobs”, and Fox News Fearmongers About The New Black Panther Party. And Conservatives Attack Reporters For Being Arrested In Ferguson.
There are two Americas, and two alternate realities, as Bob Cesca writes. Two Americas: Ferguson, Missouri Versus the Bundy Ranch, Nevada:
As we noted before, we can’t help but to contrast law enforcement’s reaction to protesters in Ferguson, Missouri versus law enforcement’s reaction during the Bundy Ranch fiasco.
1) The Bundy Ranch: On one hand, a large group of armed white men marched in a line of battle while at least one civilian rifleman in a sniper’s perch trained his weapon at Bureau of Land Management officials. In reaction, the government didn’t fire a single round or canister of tear gas, and eventually retreated, conceding the disputed ground to the Bundy militias. It’s important to note that the protesters turned out in support of a man who refused to pay his taxes and grazed his cattle without paying the accompanying fees. This man, Cliven Bundy, and his supporters threatened secession and armed revolt against the United States goverment.
2) Ferguson, Missouri: On the other hand, unarmed African American protesters in Ferguson, enraged and grieving from the death of an (again) unarmed black man named Michael Brown who was shot in the back by a police officer, have been confronted for several days now by police in full military regalia. This time, the rifleman in the sniper’s perch is a police officer — his scope trained on the protesters.
In Ferguson, law enforcement is vastly overreacting in the face of peaceful protesters, while at the Bundy Ranch, law enforcement vastly underreacted in the face of armed secessionists and scofflaws.
What’s wrong with this picture? Better yet, what’s wrong with the following pictures?
LAW ENFORCEMENT IN FERGUSON, MISSOURI:
LAW ENFORCEMENT AT THE BUNDY RANCH:
When some of us talk about “two Americas,” this is illustrates it — exactly.
There is no excuse for police attempts to silence the media. Frank Pasquale writes at the Balkinization blog, The Assault on Journalism in Ferguson, Missouri:
The city of Ferguson, Missouri now looks like a war zone. Rapidly escalating responses to protest by a militarized police force have created dangerous conditions. About the only defense people have is some public attention to their plight. And now even that is being shut down by a series of intimidation tactics. Consider the following:
1) As the Washington Post states, its “reporter Wesley Lowery was detained by police on Wednesday while reporting on the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., following the fatal shooting of unarmed teen Michael Brown by police over the weekend.” Huffington Post reporter Ryan Reilly had his head slammed against glass as he attempted to report on police action.
2) U.S. Courts of Appeals have affirmed the right to record the police. The Justice Department has offered clear, recent guidance on the topic.
3) As the Post’s Executive Editor has observed, the information blackout has been so pervasive that we are not even allowed to know who is executing it:
[Lowery was] illegally instructed to stop taking video of officers. Then he followed officers’ instructions to leave a McDonald’s — and after contradictory instructions on how to exit, he was slammed against a soda machine and then handcuffed. That behavior was wholly unwarranted and an assault on the freedom of the press to cover the news. The physical risk to Wesley himself is obvious and outrageous. After being placed in a holding cell, he was released with no charges and no explanation. He was denied information about the names and badge numbers of those who arrested him.
This is consistent with other anti-transparency measures in the dispute.
4) Police brutality has been a pervasive problem. We can only start a public conversation on the magnitude of the problem if people have the unfettered right to record law enforcement practices.
5) Many people have reported that police in Ferguson told them to turn off cameras and recording devices. Police refused to answer basic questions. Even major media organizations were told to leave.
6) Police tear-gassed journalists from Al Jazeera and local TV crews.
7) Local leaders are not safe, either. Both an alderman and a state senator were detained and tear-gassed.
The United States has not exactly distinguished itself in its treatment of journalists. In 2012, it fell to 47th in Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index, well behind countries like Surinam, Mali, and Slovakia, largely due to police harassment of photographers and videographers at Occupy Wall Street protests. How far should it fall if police can basically decide unilaterally to make entire cities “no First Amendment zones”? How can the US warn other countries not to “take military action against protesters,” if it allows an out-of-control force like Ferguson’s to plot a media blackout? This is a policy of order-at-all-costs, even if it means “law enforcers” breaking the law with impunity.
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For now, all I can say is: we should be deeply worried about the broader campaign to create “urban battlespaces” in American cities. This is a dangerous amalgamation of police and military functions, thoughtlessly accelerated by the distribution of war-fighting equipment to local law enforcers around the country. Minimal standards of accountability require free access by the press.
This is not a color-blind post racial America. America is divided by race and two alternate realities, driven largely by the conservative media entertainment complex. How can we address these problems when people cannot even agree on reality?
Factoid: The Bonus Army was the subject of my long research paper for my political science degree.
The most interesting character involved was Retired Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler, who supported the Bonus Army. In 1933, he became involved in a conspiracy known as the Business Plot, a group of wealthy industrialists who plotted a military coup to overthrow Franklin D. Roosevelt, with Butler selected to lead a march of veterans to become dictator. (A special House of Representatives Committee confirmed only some of Butler’s congressional testimony).
Butler went on to write the book “War Is a Racket” (1935) in which he criticized the government of the United States in its foreign actions and wars, especially the American corporations and other imperialist motivations behind them. He was almost 20 years ahead of his time when President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned Americans against the military-industrial complex in his farewell address.
In the first Bonus March, in 1932, World War I vets, devastated by the Depression, marched on Washington for bonuses promised years later. Their peaceful protest of Veterans, was blasted by a paranoid right wing general, Douglas MacArthur, and Republican President Hoover, who were convinced their march was a Communist prelude to a coup. A year later and an election later, with FDR in the White House, the Bonus Marchers were back. FDR provided meals, and medical attention to the vets. And Eleanor went and walked around the encampment, eating lunch with the vets. One vet said, “Hoover sent the Army, and Roosevelt sent his wife.”