Around lunchtime on Saturday 9 August in the city of Ferguson, which is an overwhelmingly black suburb of St Louis, Missouri, two young black men are walking down a street when a police car pulls up. Here ends the reported events that all can agree on. From this point the accounts of what happened next are very different. We will deal first with the accounts of the non-police witnesses as, unlike the police account, they have not changed. Dorian Johnson, who was walking in the street with his friend, Michael Brown when the police car pulled up at the side of them, says that the officer shouted at them to get out of the way and tried to reach out and grab Michael, but he pulled away. A shot hit Michael in the arm, the officer jumped out of the car and kept firing even though Michael Brown had turned and raised his arms in surrender. The next thing Dorian was aware of was Michael dead on the floor, blood everywhere and an ambulance being there. This is corroborated by a resident, who also took pictures and released them on the internet. This second witness, Emanuel Freeman, says that the officer shot Michael twice from behind (once from in the car and once from outside) as he pulled away and a further five times after he turned and raised his hands.
The police version went that Michael Brown was stopped because he was a suspect in an unarmed robbery that had just occurred; that he attacked the police officer through the police car window trying to grab the pistol that was in the policeman’s holster on his right hip, which meant leaning right in through the open window; that the officer fired this gun to defend himself; and, when he got out of the car, assumed Michael was armed (why he would try to take the policeman’s gun if he was already armed is not explained) and so fired again to protect himself. Within hours of releasing this version the police admitted that it was wrong and confirmed that the officer did not know that Michael was a suspect in an unarmed robbery (presumably, they had, by this time, realised that such knowledge would also mean that the officer would have known that Michael was unarmed) and now they agreed with Dorian Johnson that the officer was shouting at them to get out of the way of his car.
The story of Brown being a suspect in a robbery continued (even though the St. Louis County Prosecutor’s office had confirmed he had no previous police record of any kind) as if it would be some kind of justification for the daylight murder of Michael Brown if he had been involved in an unarmed robbery. It was a character assassination following a very real execution by the police department.
The police force for this predominantly black area numbers 53 officers of whom 50 are white. This is a police department with a long record of racist violence including five years ago charging a black man with ‘property damage’ for bleeding on four of their uniforms while they were beating him!
In spite of saying quite early on after the shooting that they would name the officer concerned, it was not until 15 August, six days after the murder of Michael Brown, that this officer’s name, Darren Wilson, was finally released to the public. The local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, allegedly with ‘some’ associations with the police in Ferguson, was reported by USA Today and KSDK-TV to be collecting for Wilson as a ‘reward’. The initial police report had blandly said that Brown was “shot dead after a scuffle with officers that left one policeman with a swollen face.” The ‘scuffle’ is still being reported as consisting of Brown trying to take the police officer’s gun, but how that supposed ‘scuffle’ came about is not now mentioned very much.
Like many other police departments in poor, black and Hispanic areas, the one in Ferguson has signed up to a Pentagon programme to receive surplus military supplies, including automatic weapons and armoured vehicles, such Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles of the sort more usually seen in Afghanistan and Iraq.
When the news of this latest street execution of a young black man became public there were mass protests across at least 60 US cities and calls for justice from many corners, but in Ferguson, when people gathered to protest and marched on police headquarters, they were met with tear gas and plastic bullets. As the heavy hand of Ferguson Police Department came down hard on those who dared to question its ‘official’ version of events, people fought back with whatever was at hand and many protesters ended up in hospital or police cells (or indeed both)! Undeterred by the police ferocity, the people of Ferguson kept coming out onto the streets to protest and ask why another young unarmed black man with his hands clearly raised in the air had been shot down by police.
The people’s protests, the overt police violence and the people’s response to that organised violence carried on nightly, with hundreds of canisters of tear gas, stun and smoke grenades being used – on the press as well as the protesters. Curfews between midnight and 5.00am were introduced, but the protesters kept coming out and defying the violence and arrests and started fighting back with Molotov cocktails, street debris and clubs taken from fencing etc. Bourgeois America sat glued to its TVs watching a brief preview of the future that awaits every imperialist monster.
The answer that came from Governor Jay Nixon was more brutality, more gas, more plastic bullets (anyone with knowledge of the use of these vile weapons on the streets of occupied Northern Ireland will know just how deadly they are in spite of their almost ‘toy-like’ name), those army surplus armoured cars were brought onto the streets and used to charge through groups of demonstrators, and the National Guard was brought into Ferguson to pen in the thousands of residents and treat the people collectively as criminals. Uniformed groups armed with automatic rifles stood around on street corners glaring at the people of Ferguson as they went about their lives under their hateful gaze. This could be Derry in the 70s, freshly occupied Iraq or Palestine today. Advice on dealing with tear gas, tactics for fighting back and surviving this oppression came flooding into the people of Ferguson from Gaza and other places that have suffered from US imperialism and its puppets, which shows that struggles are starting to join up as more and more people realise that the oppression felt by so many across the world is mostly directed from one place.
Meanwhile the result of the private autopsy on Michael conducted on behalf of the Brown family was made public, revealing that he was shot at least six times, including twice in the head. The path of one bullet indicated that the 18-year-old was lowering his head in surrender when the fatal shot hit, according to Brown family attorney Daryl Parks who also told a news conference that the family’s autopsy showed one bullet hit Brown in the “very top of his head” and another “shattered his right eye.” The autopsy also revealed no signs of a struggle and no signs of gunshot residue on the body which would be expected if that first shot had been fired while the two men were locked in a tussle. However, the Brown family have had no access to Michael’s clothing at the time of writing this article.
Benjamin Crump, the attorney who represented the family of Trayvon Martin is also working as counsel for the Brown family as another cover up is widely expected, but, whatever the outcome of any investigations, enquiries and courtroom shenanigans, this incident has opened hundreds of thousands more pairs of eyes within the home of the most dangerous of the imperialist beasts and those are people who will not only see what imperialism is doing to them in future but also what it does to others in their name. Threads of solidarity, still weak but gaining in strength daily, are reaching out around the world between the many centres of resistance – sharing knowledge, sharing ideas and tactics and the ideology of communism is among those threads, ideas etc. In Ferguson we can see a revolutionary spark that must be fanned.
Incidents like the tragic murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson cannot but help open the eyes of the American working class, especially the black community, to the fact that, while professing adherence to democracy, human rights, the rule of law, etc., US imperialism is a lawless monster, engaged in never-ceasing murderous activity, not only abroad but at home too. There will never be any peace, justice, prosperity and freedom from destitution and misery as long as this monster continues to exist – a monster which can and must be overthrown.