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I was the founding chairman and national organizer of the Black Panther Party. Our first organizing tactic was to legally observe the police in our Oakland and Berkeley Black communities. During those hard core late 1960s racist, fascist times, we took a big chance with our lives patrolling the police. It was a time of rampant vicious police brutality and murder of Black people by police that was 10 times worse than today.
It’s kind of fitting that police officers Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo, murderers of Mike Brown in Missouri and Eric Garner in New York, were cleared of criminal wrongdoing in the last several weeks. The eruption of protest, activism and organizing in response to the (bad) decisions of legal bodies to not hold these officers accountable for their crimes has occurred at a time of special significance for the legacy of the Black Panther Party.
Wait. Patience. Stay Calm. We’ve been waiting for dozens, hundreds, thousands of indictments and convictions. Every death hurts. Every exonerated cop, security guard or vigilante enrages. The grand jury’s decision doesn’t surprise most Black people because we are not waiting for an indictment. We are waiting for justice – or more precisely, struggling for justice. The young people of Ferguson continue to struggle with ferocity.
I was born and raised in Missouri, so hopefully I can shed some light on how Ferguson, a little Missouri suburb of 21,000 people, became the focus of the nation, and even the world. I am getting the stench that they’re about to pull the pin on another grenade to throw that community into upheaval, so first let’s take a hard look at what they’ve been through and why. First of all, when we think of racism, we tend to think of Mississippi and Alabama due to the events of the ‘60s. However, Missouri was one of the bloodiest states during the Civil War because it was so divided – and it is still that divided today, as we’ve seen in Ferguson.
A broad coalition of activists and local organizations are calling again for Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson to resign after a new round of police attacks on peaceful protestors last night. Over 200 activists have been arrested in conjunction with protests calling for justice for Mike Brown. Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed Mike Brown, still walks free.
I am haunted by the words of Lesley McSpadden immediately following the shooting death of her son, Michael Brown: “Do you know how hard it was for me to get him to stay in school and graduate? You know how many Black men graduate? Not many. Because you bring them down to this type of level, where they feel like they don’t got nothing to live for anyway.”
Police officers in Ferguson, whose sole duty is to protect and serve, are seen using dogs, tear gas and now military grade weapons to suppress any peaceful protest and public outcry. This really hits home to those who can relate to being targets of police brutality, where in essence police departments have become judge, jury and executioner, getting away with murder time and time again.
On Aug. 9, 2014, 18-year-old Michael Brown and a friend were walking down a street in their own community when they were confronted by an officer for “walking while Black.” Ever since Black people have been in this country, we have been subjected to a perpetual state of structural oppression and exploitation, including genocidal killings purposefully committed by law enforcement to instill terror in the Black community. And in most cases, because of “who we are,” when confronted with such injustices, we have marched, boycotted, protested, rioted and rebelled.
Since the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown by Ferguson police in Missouri last weekend, the people of Ferguson have been subjected to a military-style crackdown by a squadron of local police departments dressed like combat soldiers. This has prompted residents to liken the conditions on the ground in Ferguson to the Israeli military occupation of Palestine. And who can blame them?
A local NAACP chapter has called for a federal investigation into the death of a Black teenager who was shot by police in a St. Louis suburb on Saturday, Aug. 9. Eighteen-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed Saturday afternoon near his grandmother’s house by a Ferguson police officer. St. Louis County police have not given a reason for the shooting, which happened in a predominantly Black suburb a few miles north of downtown St. Louis. After the shooting, a confrontation between police and hundreds of neighborhood residents lasted several hours, with shouts of “kill the police.”