‘Revolutionary’ whites tried to incite unarmed crowd in Ferguson
By Richard B. Muhammad
Special to the NNPA from The Final Call
FERGUSON, Mo. — The National Guard has rolled in and out, but the pain and passion of people in the streets, in homes and in businesses remain and broken hearts still ache. Tear gas, rubber bullets, gas masks, gas canisters and armored trucks were deployed at night along Florissant Avenue, where demonstrators marched, sang, grieved, clapped, hugged and cried.
There was a new order before and after sundown Aug. 18, the day the Guard arrived, though security was still overseen by the Missouri State Highway Patrol. The new tactic was to keep everyone moving on the sidewalks and no cars were allowed to drive down the street.
“Hands up! Don’t shoot!” was the cry of parents and children. “No justice, no peace!” shouted demonstrators expressing anger and anguish over the killing of an unarmed Black teenager and what many saw an overreaction by law enforcement.
By about 10 p.m., a white man with a gray ponytail, who was part of a group of about four or five people wearing shirts with slogans about revolution, tried to rally people in the middle of the street. “We have the right to protest!” he shouted. “You can’t tell us how to protest!” The police put on gas masks. Then armored vehicles started to move forward, blocking the street, telling people to get out of the street.
Black activists, led by Anthony Shaheed, who had been working night after night to avoid violence, moved to defuse the situation as the crowd surged toward police officers. The men ejected the troublemakers.
“They came into our community like infiltrators, trying to rally our people to stand up against these heavily armed people. They were trying to get our babies killed. They saw a situation and tried to take advantage of our community,” said Shaheed, a longtime St. Louis activist and adviser to the family of Michael Brown, the 18-year-old gunned down by a Darren Wilson, a White Ferguson Police Department officer. “We had women out here. We stopped it, we told them you go somewhere else and do that.”
Another longtime activist, Zaki Baruti of the St. Louis-based Universal African Peoples Organization, also walked the streets just before the clash. Protestors young and old, male and female, Black and white, said the few late night looting incidents and confrontations with police were the exception, not the rule of conduct for demonstrators.
“There is nothing going on that merits this scene out of Bragam,” said CNN reporter Jake Tapper, referring to the war in Iraq. “This doesn’t make any sense.” He had cameras pan to show how far away protestors were from heavily armed police. The police are not facing a threat, he said.
The crowd applauded and raised their arms shouting, “Hands up, don’t shoot!” as the tension faded and officers retreated to their vehicles.
“We are not going to allow infiltrators to destroy this movement,” said Malik Shabazz. “We’re not going to see women get hurt. I am not going to see this end in a disaster tonight. We need more men to step up and keep the peace. These kids will listen to us,” Shabazz said during an interview with CNN.
Further down the street, barricades were erected and stun grenades, then tear gas was fired, the scene was near the burned out Quik Trip convenience store. CNN reported at 11:05 p.m. that someone had been shot. When the governor’s troops moved in Aug. 18, what had been ground zero for protests after officer Darrin Wilson’s fatal shooting of Michael Brown was no longer a place to congregate.
When the governor sent in the National Guard, he lifted the 12 midnight to 5 a.m. curfew.
“Women, babies, children screaming, yelling – and those smoke bombs were in these babies’ faces trying to flee from the smoke,” recalled local resident Paulette Wilkes, a mother of two sons and a St. Louis school teacher. “When the police antagonize them (youth) say they will die for the same streets they should have the right to walk up and down,” she said.“…You don’t just wake up today angry. Something has made you angry. That was when that police talked to you like you was a ‘boy,’ or like you was a child these are grown young men that should be talked to as such.”
A major reason for Wilkes and thousands at ground zero Sunday evening Aug. 17 was a positive church gathering at Greater Grace Church featuring Rev. Al Sharpton, Martin Luther King III, TV judge Greg Mathis, actress Keke Palmer and State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, who was put in charge of security by Gov. Jay Nixon.
Capt. Johnson, who is Black and grew up in the area, pulled back from the heavy military armored vehicles and heavy weapons. He engaged the community, answered questions from the media and ordinary people and eased tension.
Johnson expressed sympathy to parents Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown, Sr., who were at the Sunday service. “I’m sorry, I wear this uniform and I should say I am sorry,” he told the capacity crowd.
There was late night conflict the weekend of Aug. 15, 16, 17, a Friday, Saturday and Sunday night. There was sporadic looting but few arrests. The first night of the curfew most people left. Some 150 people broke the curfew with a White revolutionary group inciting the crowd. There were seven arrests.
But the policing was not without problems, said Shay Watts who watched an arrest of two young Black males around 9:30 p.m. on Aug. 18. Blacks have complained about Ferguson having only three Black officers, despite a 67 percent Black population.
Friction between Blacks and police has not been limited to the suburbs.
Holly Hodges stood across the street from Ferguson police headquarters with a huge portrait of her brother on one arm and Jade, her seven-year-old nephew, on the other. The 39-year-old St. Louis resident said her brother was shot and killed by police Jan. 8, 1996. A grand jury declined to file criminal charges against Officer Heriberto “Eddie” Sanchez, who resigned after the fatal shooting of Garland Carter.
Longtime St. Louis resident Abdul Akbar Muhammad of the Nation of Islam, Baruti of the Universal African Peoples Organization, Attorney Shabazz of Black Lawyers for Justice and other activists stood outside the Ferguson Police Department headquarters and called for a town hall meeting with youth and restraint from law enforcement and the National Guard.They also called for a five-day moratorium on night protests.
The activists called for major racial sensitivity retraining for officers and pointed out studies show Blacks are disproportionate victims of police stops, something Blacks bitterly complained of.
The Justice Deptment, the FBI and state officials are probing the crime. Attorney General Eric Holder would later visit Ferguson.
Results from a private autopsy were revealed at Greater St. Mark Family Church Aug. 18 by attorneys Ben Crump and nine days after the death of Michael Brown. That autopsy found the victim was shot at least six times and suffered two head wounds, according to Dr. Michael Baden, former New York City chief medical examiner, and forensic pathologist Shawn Parcells, who assisted with the private autopsy.
Brown’s right arm was grazed by a bullet, which could have meant his back was to the shooter, or his arm was swinging. Other wounds could have meant his hands were in a defensive position over his chest or face, said the men who conducted the autopsy.
The preliminary autopsy confirms witness accounts, Attorney Ben Crump told reporters. The police could have shared this early, instead of trying to smear the victim’s reputation by accusing him of a strong arm robbery, said lawyers for the Brown family.
The family had no confidence in what the county “was going to be put in the reports about the tragic execution of their child,” said Crump.
According to Dr. Baden, a bullet entered the victim’s skull, and signifies his head was forward when the kill shot struck him. He was also shot four times in the right arm but there was no gun-power residue on Mr. Brown’s body, so it was unlikely he was shot up close.
Jihad Hassan Muhammad and A.J. Salaam contributed to this report.