Yesterday, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon enacted a pre-emptive 30-day state of emergency, anticipating violence following the decision on whether or not to indict officer Darren Wilson in the fatal August 9th shooting of Black teen Michael Brown.
Although there is as of yet no indication when the indictment will happen (or whether it will happen), Nixon has activated the National Guard for this state of emergency. And, though Mayor Francis Slay has stated they “do not want people to feel like they have to panic or be afraid,” the decision sounds woefully similar to the essential police state created during the mostly peaceful protests directly following the shooting.
At least one day after the death of Michael Brown, there were reports of looting and violence in Ferguson. However, the following weeks revealed that non-violent protesters were being falsely accused of throwing Molotov cocktails. The militarized police force responded with tear gas despite residents having been explicitly told that the midnight curfew would not be enforced with tear gas. The protests seem to have calmed down, if only to say that there have been little to no reports of violence, but the protesters are still making their presence known. A movement is certainly building in Missouri, where a four day peaceful protest called “Ferguson October” was staged on October 10th, followed by a day of action held on October 22nd. On the ground, people are coming out in droves to peacefully protest what many see as the epitome of American infrastructural racism. On Sunday, protestors laid down inside chalk drawings outlining their bodies to recognize 100 days since the death of Michael Brown, with one protestor stating, “We just wanted them to know that it doesn’t matter if the weather is bad, good, ugly. We’ll be out here because this means that much to us.” Considering all of the broken promises made during the initial response to the shooting, it’s no wonder protestors and residents alike might be panicked and afraid that their growing movement will be met with rubber bullets and tear gas if Darren Wilson is not indicted. This preemptive state of emergency not only highlights the distrust between the mostly-white leadership of Ferguson and the mostly-Black population, but serves to heighten the tension and potential for violence.
But there are many who want to make clear that these protests are not all about the indictment of Darren Wilson. The protests are about changing American politics and practices from the bottom-up. Not just electing Black and brown people to office, but eradicating the school-to-prison pipeline and creating real opportunities for systematically oppressed people. In a recent viral video taken from a PBS segment entitled After Ferguson, the executive director of Dream Defenders, Phillip Agnew perfectly encapsulates the collective frustrations and aspirations of Black and brown people fighting American systemic racism:
One of the last things that Dr. King said before he died was that he feared that he had brought us into a burning building.
And, so, if you’re getting people elected into a system that by its very nature was meant to cannibalize and kill communities, then you have only done half of the job. And so I think it’s a “yes, and.” We need people that look like us, but black officers — I have had interactions with black officers that were way worse than white officers.
And, so, it’s not a matter of just having a representative that’s on the city council or in the mayor’s office or on the police force that looks like you. They have got to come from the community, know the issues of the community, and then there’s folks in the community that have got to remind them every day that we pay your bills, and we’re watching every single day to ensure that the platform on which we elected you with is followed, and also defend you when those people that seek to calibrate the system and right the system as it’s been built seek to come at you for that office…
So I never mentioned black, white or people. I mentioned systems. And so the arrest of Darren Wilson, if it happens, and the conviction of Darren Wilson, if it happens, though the system and the history would tell us that it may not, will not alleviate the problems that are happening here and that are happening around the country.
While the indictment of Wilson is a powder keg issue that could incite riots, it is not the end-goal of these massive protests. With that said, one way to ensure that the protests will remain peaceful is to put away the military-grade weaponry and indict Darren Wilson: “No Justice, No Peace.”
Update: Ferguson is the current political “hot zone,” but systemic racism is ubiquitious across the US and tons of people are getting involved on a local level, showing support for the protesters of Ferguson, and drawing attention to local or state-specific issues. If you would like to locate a protest in your area, please check out the Ferguson National Response Network tumblr. If you are organizing your own protest, you can spread awareness by advertising the event through their submissions page.