Copyright © 2014 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved
Crowd at Opening
Injustice Becomes Law
Fuck the Police
Not One More Life
Justice 4 the Black Community
R.I.P. Michael Brown
No Justice, No Peace
On the March 1
Stop Police Brutality
On the March 2
On the Courthouse Steps
Crowd Photographing the Speakers
Human Speaker Pedestal
Our Lives Matter
Peace through Revolution
Film the Police
White Solidarity with Black Power
No Justice …
Resistance Becomes a Duty
Emmett & Amadou …
I’m not going to write a sober, “objective” news story about the situation in Ferguson, Missouri or the demonstration I witnessed in downtown San Diego November 25 protesting the decision of the grand jury in Ferguson not to indict police officer Darren Wilson for the fatal shooting of unarmed 18-year-old Black man Michael Brown last August. Frankly, I was saddened but not surprised that Wilson wasn’t indicted. What would have been the point? Not long ago, a Florida jury acquitted George Zimmerman for killing Trayvon Martin after a reluctant district attorney was pressured into prosecuting — and Zimmerman wasn’t even a sworn police officer but a neighborhood watch wanna-be.
Six days before the protest I’d been at a meeting co-sponsored by Activist San Diego (ASD) and its community radio station, KNSJ 89.1 FM, on whether the police are just doing their jobs or going too far. The panel consisted of three retired law-enforcement officers — all white males — and three police critics. But it was ASD executive director and board member Martin Eder who summed up the perception that underlay the events in Ferguson, both Darren Wilson’s actions and the Black community’s response to them. African-Americans and other U.S. people of color, Eder said, see the police as an occupying force with “the ethic of controlling the streets and shooting first and asking questions later. Racialized justice has been the norm, not the exception.”
This perception on the part of law enforcement seems to rule the day whenever police officers and people of color confront each other. From New York City’s thankfully abandoned official “stop-and-frisk” policy that basically regarded every young man of color on the city’s streets as a criminal with the affirmative duty to prove he wasn’t (a reversal of the “presumption of innocence” on which our criminal justice system is supposedly based) to the myriad anecdotes about people being stopped for “driving while Black” or “driving while brown,” to the bizarre arrest of Harvard professor, PBS show host and Presidential friend Henry Louis Gates, Jr. for breaking into his own house, it’s clear there’s an institutional bias in U.S. law enforcement that regards that “protect and serve” stuff as reserved to white people. For people of color, the police don’t protect and serve: they contain and control.
And this institutional bias remains no matter how many people of color get appointed or elected to office. The U.S. can elect an African-American President, and the police perception of themselves as occupiers in the communities of color continues. San Diego appointed a Latino police chief, David Bejarano, and the number of officer-involved shootings in the communities of color actually went up. (He’s since been replaced by a white man, who in turn was replaced by a white woman.) The U.S. police seem stuck in this social role — with the approval of the older, whiter portion of the American population that actually votes — regardless of how many paper advances are made in civil rights and human rights for marginalized populations.
So I wasn’t surprised that Darren Wilson got to “walk” after killing a young Black man. Indeed, Wilson’s self-justification that Brown “looked like a demon” when he shot him is one of the most chilling aspects of the case. So is the defense offered by Wilson’s attorney that he was just following standard police procedures when he brought down and summarily executed Michael Brown for the “crime” of walking on the street instead of the sidewalk. Wilson probably was following standard police procedures — and that’s precisely the problem.
I also wasn’t surprised that what passes for a Left in San Diego County wasn’t able to mount a powerful, unified demonstration against the grand jury’s cop-loving cop-out. While protesters in other cities trooped out to the streets the night of Monday, November 24 — the day the grand jury’s decision was announced — leading to some unintentionally funny coverage in the mainstream media where hundreds of people were visible on the footage but the commentators solemnly informed us there were only “dozens” of participants — the San Diego organizers decided to wait until the following day. What’s more, they announced two separate demonstrations, one in City Heights and one downtown, while UCSD students staged a third, unannounced one and actually briefly blocked Interstate 5.
I chose to go to the downtown protest, partly because it was easier to get to and partly because it seemed likely to be more interesting. I didn’t see the protest flyer and I got there about 20 minutes late, so I’m not sure who all the organizers were, but the main impetus seemed to come from the African People’s Socialist Party and a white subsidiary organization called the Uhuru Solidarity Movement (“uhuru” means “freedom” in Swahili), along with the Raza Educators’ Association. The speakers from these groups were heavy on rhetoric attacking President Obama, calling for revolution and denouncing the calls from everyone from Obama to Michael Brown’s parents asking that the demonstrations stay “nonviolent.”
But it wasn’t the sort of event you go to for the speakers. What impressed me most about it was the irrepressible energy of the crowd, the way they were willing to march on the sidewalks in a helter-skelter route around several downtown blocks. At times it seemed even the march leaders didn’t know where the march was going to go next, which was a good thing. What’s more, I was pleased to be at a march where there was virtually no one there I actually knew — and goodness knows, it’s easy enough to be depressed by the small size of the San Diego Left and wonder if we’re all just the same 12 people at each demonstration. I was impressed by the commitment, the energy and the power of this crowd.
On November 25 there was not much more that needed to be said about the events in Ferguson — but there was a need to say it anyway, especially in an action dominated by people of color saying they’re fed up with being contained and controlled by the police (and the corporate-dominated economic and political system of which the police and the U.S. military are the enforcement arms). What was said by the people with the bullhorns and the P.A. was less important than the statement the crowd made simply by being there and saying, “Enough Is Enough.” It was a powerful, energetic evening, and I was proud to be there and be a part of it.