Home » Posts tagged 'riot police'
Tag Archives: riot police
From Ferguson to Freedom, Part 1: Race, Repression and Resistance in America
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
11 December 2014
On 9 August 2014, a white cop murdered an unarmed black teen in a predominantly black neighborhood and black city dominated by white police with a history of violence toward poor, black communities, and in a city dominated by white power structures and with a long history of racism and segregation. More than three months later, that white cop was exonerated of any wrongdoing.
The cop, Darren Wilson, was not simply exonerated for the murder, but he was rewarded. The white cop who murdered 18-year-old Michael Brown was rewarded with a crowd-funded amount of more than $400,000 – as racists around the country sought to throw a few dollars in support of murdering unarmed black teens. On October 24, one month to the day before the verdict was announced, as Michael Brown’s family was still coming to terms with his murder, Darren Wilson got married to Barbara Spradling, also a member of the Ferguson Police Department. Since he murdered the unarmed 18-year-old Brown in August, Wilson had been rewarded with being on “paid administrative leave.” After the verdict was delivered, Wilson remained on paid leave. And as Wilson was rewarded for taking the life of an innocent boy, he announced that he and his wife were expecting a child of their own.
On August 10, a candlelight vigil for Michael Brown erupted into an urban rebellion (commonly called “riots”), as people expressed their anger and frustration of the systemic and institutionalized injustice, and were met with overwhelming police force. As the protests continued and further rebellions erupted, the police sent in the SWAT team, already having shot protesters with rubber bullets and engaged in chemical warfare shooting teargas at them. The police were even arresting reporters, from the Huffington Post and Washington Post, and journalists from Al-Jazeera were shot at with rubber bullets and then tear gassed. Protests continued, and police continued to shoot rubber bullets, use excessive amounts of tear gas, flash grenades and smoke bombs against demonstrators, which then had the effect of triggering the rebellions (or ‘riots’). Wearing military fatigues and riot gear, police deployed armored vehicles similar to those in Afghanistan and Iraq, aiming high-powered rifles at American citizens in a town of 20,000 people.
On August 16, a week after Michael Brown was murdered, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and implemented a curfew in Ferguson. The top cop in charge of Ferguson at the time, State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, stated that, “We won’t enforce [the curfew] with trucks, we won’t enforce it with tear gar.” The police then used trucks, smoke and tear gas against protesters to enforce the curfew, in what became the fiercest night of violence until that point. Another curfew was announced for the following night. Two hours before the curfew went into effect, police fired tear gas and flash grenades into assembled protesters in order “to disperse the crowd.”
The Governor then deployed the National Guard in Ferguson on August 18. Obama appealed for “calm.” More reporters were arrested. Three days later, the National Guard was removed from Ferguson. The following few days were relatively calm, though police continued to arrest people. The calm followed the convening of a grand jury to investigate Darren Wilson’s murder of Michael Brown. The US Attorney General Eric Holder even flew to Ferguson, and later commented than an FBI investigation into civil rights violations in Ferguson “will take some time.” Throughout this period, police in Ferguson and St. Louis continued to threaten protesters, aim weapons at them, and even murdered another man. The protests largely calmed down, and thousands attended the funeral of Michael Brown on August 25.
Smaller protests continued into September, and in late September the Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson decided to march in civilian clothes with a crowd of people demanding his resignation, hours after he released a “video apology” to the Brown family. In less than 30 seconds of Jackson joining the crowd, agitating many of those assembled, riot cops moved in to ‘protect’ him, prompting a confrontation with the protesters and declaring the protest an “unlawful assembly.” Protests continued for the following few days with police continuing to declare protests as unlawful, threatening to arrest people who stayed in one place for too long or who moved off the sidewalk and onto the street.
However, over a dozen protesters who were assembled on the sidewalk were arrested outside the Ferguson Police Department in early October, after which they were fitted in orange jumpsuits, locked behind bars for several hours with higher bail amounts than usual, some as high as $2700. Their charges included “failure to comply with police, noise ordinance violations and resisting arrest,” when assembled peacefully – and legally – on a sidewalk. Among those arrested was a journalist. Ferguson Police Chief Jackson then handed his responsibility for “managing protests” to the St. Louis County police department. In early October, a St. Louis Symphony Orchestra performance was interrupted by protesters who sang a civil rights song, ‘Which Side Are You On?’
On 11 October, hundreds of people took to the streets for a weekend of protests what they called ‘Ferguson October’. Roughly 43 people were arrested for assembling outside the Ferguson Police Department, including professor and author Cornel West. A Missouri State Senator was also arrested during a protest several days later.
On 17 November, one week before the grand jury decision was to be announced, Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and authorized the National Guard to again be deployed in Ferguson. At the same time, the St. Louis County police chief Jon Belmar declared that police in Ferguson had not used rubber bullets or force against “peaceful protesters,” but against “criminal activity.” Days prior to the verdict, buildings were being barricaded around Ferguson in anticipation of “unrest.”
The Department of Homeland Security showed up in St. Louis prior to the verdict. As Homeland Security vehicles began to mass near Ferguson, a local Navy veteran was fired from his job and called a ‘terrorist’ after posting pictures of the vehicles on Facebook. Federal officials began arriving in Ferguson and St. Louis a few days before Governor Nixon declared his state of emergency. Despite announcements to “review” the transfer of military equipment to domestic police forces following the earlier social unrest in August, the Pentagon had continued to supply police forces in Missouri with “surplus military gear.”
Police forces in America have been increasingly militarized, starting with the ‘War on Drugs’ (aka: War OF Drugs) and rapidly expanded under the ‘War [on/of] Terror’. Across the country, police forces “have purchased military equipment, adopted military training, and sought to inculcate a ‘soldier’s mentality’ among their ranks,” noted The Atlantic in 2011. Since the 1960s, SWAT teams emerged in cities across the United States, marking the rise of the “warrior cop,” initially prompted by the urban rebellions of the 1960s in predominantly poor black communities. Since 2002, the Department of Homeland Security has handed out over $35 billion in grants to purchase military gear. The Pentagon has distributed more than $4.2 billion of equipment to local law enforcement agencies across the US.
These were the highly militarized police forces originally deployed against protesters in Ferguson in August of 2014, with armored vehicles, sound weapons, shotguns, M4 rifles, rubber bullets and tear gas. At the time, former Army officer and international policing operations analyst, Jason Fritz, was quoted in the Washington Post as saying, “You see the police are standing in line with bulletproof vests and rifles pointed at people’s chests… That’s not controlling the crowd, that’s intimidating them.” The New York Times referred to Ferguson as “a virtual war zone,” warning that if nothing is done to stop the national militarization of police forces by the Department of Homeland Security and the Pentagon, then “the future of law enforcement everywhere will look a lot like Ferguson.”
The verdict on November 24, giving Wilson the gift of freedom for depriving Michael Brown of his own freedom (and life) prompted quick reactions in the streets. Protests started in Ferguson, and quickly erupted into urban rebellion with cars and buildings torched and destroyed. Governor Nixon then deployed more National Guard troops in Ferguson, with more than 2,200 deployed in the town of 22,000 people. Protests spread the following day to 37 different states in over 130 demonstrations, with significant numbers and acts of social disobedience in New York, Boston, Washington D.C., Chicago, Minneapolis and Los Angeles. More than 170 U.S. cities experienced protests on the night of November 25, drawing thousands of people to the streets, “blocking bridges, tunnels and major highways.”
Obama declared that he did “not have any sympathy” with “those who think that what happened in Ferguson is an excuse for violence.” As protests spread, more than 400 people were arrested around the US. In Los Angeles, over 150 people were arrested. Reflecting on the lessons he drew from the rebellions on the night of November 24, St. Louis County police chief Jon Belmar said, “you can never have too many policemen.”
Protests not only spread across the United States, but internationally. Protests spread across cities in Canada, including Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary, and Montreal. Protests also spread to London, where thousands assembled outside the U.S. Embassy, drawing parallels to the case of Mark Duggan, a young black man whose murder by police in August of 2011 prompted the largest riots in recent British history.
One week after the grand jury decision on Darren Wilson prompted nation-wide and international protests, another grand jury decision – this time for one based in Staten Island – was reached regarding the choking death of an unarmed black man (Eric Garner) killed by a white cop. The entire murder was caught on film for all to see, and the officer, Daniel Pantaleo, had no charges laid against him. The verdict was in, and the killer cop was exonerated of any wrongdoing. The announcement prompted protests all across New York, with demonstrators repeating Eric Garner’s last words, “I can’t breathe.”
The protests continued in New York nightly, with several taking place elsewhere across the country, in a continuation from the spark that lit with Ferguson. The day after the New York verdict, an unarmed black man was shot dead by police in Phoenix, Arizona, sparking protests there. In Times Square, several thousand protesters confronted police chanting, ‘Who do you protect?’ Police responded by arresting 200 of those assembled.
The protests in New York were drawing upwards of 10,000 people, and in the first three days alone, the NYPD arrested over 300 demonstrators, with the Police Commissioner declaring that, “the city should be feeling quite proud of itself at this juncture,” because the police were “showing remarkable restraint.”
As with Ferguson, the results in New York sparked protests across the country, with people taking to the streets in Washington, D.C., Boston, Baltimore, San Francisco, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Atlanta and beyond, blocking bridges and traffic, engaging in ‘sit ins’ or ‘die ins’ in public places, transport hubs, universities and elsewhere. Protests that took place in Berkeley, California, quickly turned violent as police used excessive force, tear gas and batons. The police violence in turn sparked ‘riots’ (urban rebellion) in the streets. Clashes between police and protesters also took place in Seattle, with more peaceful demonstrations continuing in New York, Chicago and Miami.
The protests continued daily, with new groups, new cities and states participating, new sparks, new collective actions, civil disobedience, with every new day. Demonstrators took to the streets, department stores, highways and intersections, to Ivy League universities, basketball games, and train stations. In Chicago, protesters continued well into December, with roughly 200 demonstrators gathering outside of Obama’s family home.
President Obama was holding a series of meetings on the social unrest resulting from Ferguson. He was meeting with Cabinet and Congressional officials, law enforcement and civil rights leaders, and an “unusual” meeting was granted to a group of young black activists from around the country. They held a 45-minute meeting with the president in the Oval Office. They spoke honestly about the problems they see and solutions they advocate, with Obama offering encouragement, though he stressed that, “incremental changes were progress.”
One of the youth organizers present at the meeting, Phillip Agnew, wrote about his experience for an article in the Guardian. Agnew described the assembled group as “representatives from a community in active struggle against state sanctioned killing, violence and repression.” They were not “civil rights leaders,” “activists”, “spokespeople” or “respectable negroes,” they were from Missouri, Ohio, New York and Florida. Agnew wrote of the expectations of those assembled: “We all knew that the White House stood to benefit more from this meeting than we did. We knew that our movement families would fear the almighty co-opt and a political press photo-op. We have been underestimated at every juncture… But this was an invitation that you accept – period.”
The group of youth, as young as 20, with artists, activists, teachers, and organizers, told the president that they were not the “People’s Spokespeople,” and that they “had neither the power, positions, nor desires to stop the eruptions in the streets and that they would continue until a radical change happened in this country,” that they “had no faith in anything, church or state… that the country was on the brink and that nothing short of major capitulations at all levels of the government to the demands of the people could prevent it.” Obama listened, discussed and debated, promoted “gradualism” and “asked for our help.” Agnew commented that, “We did not budge,” walking out of the meeting “unbought and unbowed. We held no punches… no concessions, politicking or posturing. The movement got its meeting. Unrest earned this invite, and we can’t stop. If we don’t get what we came for, we will shut it down. President Obama knows that and we know it. No meeting can stop that.”
History will perhaps view present-day America through the lens of pre-Ferguson and post-Ferguson. The spark which lit the fire was the continuous murder of unarmed black men, women and children by mostly-white police. Police beating, oppressing, and murdering black people in the United States is far from a new phenomenon. It’s a practice which is, in many ways, as old as the country itself (or older, in fact). The fundamental change is this: pre-Ferguson, the murder of unarmed black men, women and children was considered ‘unworthy’ of national attention, it was not news, not an issue, largely continuing unknown and unacknowledged by white America. Post-Ferguson, when black Americans are murdered by police, it starts to make headlines, people start to pay attention, and people increasingly take to the streets in opposition.
Ferguson is not a wake-up call to black America, which has been well aware of the injustices and oppression their communities have faced daily, yearly, and over the course of decades and centuries. Ferguson is a wake-up call for white America, to look and learn from the lived experiences of black America, and to join with their brothers and sisters in active struggle against the system which has made Ferguson the status quo.
Pre-Ferguson, black lives did not matter. At least, they did not matter so far as the national consciousness was concerned. White America could proclaim itself a ‘post-racial society’, feeling good about themselves for voting for a black president, having black friends, and not saying ‘Nigger’. Ferguson has changed the frame through which America views itself, and is viewed by others. White America increasingly looks at the reality of black America and sees great injustice and inequality. The rest of the world looks into America and sees a deeply racist society, repressive and brutal, reflective of the perceptions of America’s actions around the world.
Pre-Ferguson, black America was kept out of sight, black communities were kept under control, and black lives did not matter. Post-Ferguson, black America has taken center stage, black communities are the front-lines of a national struggle for justice and equality, and now, Black Lives Matter.
From the Chilean Winter to the Maple Spring: Solidarity and the Student Movements in Chile and Quebec
From the Chilean Winter to the Maple Spring
Solidarity and the Student Movements in Chile and Quebec
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
Originally Published at: The Media Co-op
On the night of May 16, thousands of Montréal students and supporters took to the streets for the 23rd consecutive night of protests, this time spurred on by the Government of Québec’s announcement that it would legislate an end to the 14-week student strike which has gripped Quebec for the past three months. The government’s proposed bill would “impose strict conditions on students wanting to demonstrate against the planned tuition fee hikes,” which could “include stiff fines against anyone attempting to block entrances to the colleges and universities.” Québec Premier Jean Charest announced that the current school session will be postponed by the government, “We are suspending the session. We are not cancelling it … This will allow us to finish the session in August and September.” Students warned that they would challenge the law in court “if the legislation limits their right to demonstrate and to block classes if the majority of members of a school or student association votes to do so.”
Gabriel nadeau-Dubois, the 21-year old spokesperson for the largest student association, CLASSE, representing over half of the 160,000 striking students, stated that, “The bill that the government is proposing to table is an anti-union law, it is authoritarian, repressive and breaks the students’ right to strike… This is a government that prefers to hit on its youth, ridicule its youth rather than listen to them.” As thousands poured into the streets of Montréal to oppose the government’s plan, they were again met with riot police, and as violence broke out after what was a peaceful protest was declared “illegal” by the police, 122 protesters were arrested. Only a few of the 122 arrested protesters are being charged with assaulting officers, while the rest are being charged with taking part in an “illegal protest.” Riot police charged the crowd and broke the protest up into smaller units, which police then cornered and followed, using pepper spray and flash bang grenades, as well as beating students with batons.
Earlier on the same day of May 16, nearly 9,000 km away from Montréal, roughly 100,000 students and supporters took to the streets in Santiago, Chile, in the second major demonstration of the new year, bringing a resurgence to the student movement that began one year ago, in May of 2011, the students were mobilized by the Student Confederation of Chile (CONFECH), a confederation of all the student unions from public universities (as well as some private ones), and the oldest individual union, the Student Federation of the University of Chile (FECH). These usions collectively rallied the students against the most expensive educational system among the OECD nations, a largely privatized system of education brought in by Chile’s former military dictator, Augusto Pinochet, who came to power in 1973 with CIA support. Gabriel Boric, the 26-year old student leader of the FECH and spokesperson for CONFECH declared, “We are more than 100,000 people. We are giving again a clear sign to the government that the student movement, after a year, stands up on its feet and will not rest. We are still in the fight.” Boric added, “We will keep on being rebels, because the student movement is not going to settle for a few excesses having been corrected. We want to fix all of them.” The Chilean government has submitted three different proposals to the students in the past year, all of which did not satisfy the student movement as they were mere concessions which did not address the main issue of an unfair social, political, and economic system, demanding a free, quality public education system for all Chileans. Boric stated, “This government has been unable to respond to the students’ basic requests.”
The protests of May 16, 2012 turned violent with clashes between students and riot police, leading to the arrest of 70 students in Santiago. This was the second major student demonstration of this year, following roughly 40 demonstrations across the country in 2011. The riot police responded to the student protest with tear gas and water cannons. On March 15, Santiago was host to the first major student demonstration of the year in which several thousand students took to the streets, and clashes erupted with riot police, leading to 50 arrests. Incidentally, on March 15 in Montréal, students and others took part in a protest against police brutality which ended in violence and the arrest of over 200 protesters.
The Chilean government has consistently attempted to both repress – through state violence – and undermine – through minor legislative concessions – the student movement which has identified the necessity of change in the social, political, and economic system itself. Despite a year of protests, the former student leader of FECH, 24-year old Camilla Vallejo, who led the student movement until she was replaced by Boric in student elections in November of 2011, commented on the student movement: “In concrete terms, you could say we have accomplished little or nothing… But in broad strokes, the student movement has made a break in Chilean society. There’s a before and after 2011, and we’re talking about issues that were taboo in Chile for the first time.”
On May 14, Québec’s Education Minister Line Beauchamp resigned, stating, “I am resigning because I no longer believe I’m part of the solution.” This followed revelations that Line Beauchamp attended a Liberal Party fundraiser at which she accepted donations from a known Montréal mafioso. Québec has been embroiled for years in a controversy over the corrupt construction industry, which is heavily controlled by the Mafia and gets massively over-valued public contracts from city and provincial governments. Beauchamp has not been the only such casuality in Premier Jean Charest’s cabinet. Back in September of 2011, Jean Charest’s Deputy Premier, Nathalie Normandeau, who was also Québec’s Natural Resources Minister, resigned amid controversy. She too, has been implicated in corruption scandals related to the Mafia.
Roughly a month after the student protests began in Chile, the Education Minister Joaquin Lavin resigned in July of 2011. He was replaced with Felipe Bulnes, who in turn resigned in December of 2011, in the midst of the persistent student movement. Bulnes had attempted to calm student protests by granting increased access to credit and “improved supervision of universities.” Bulnes was then replaced with Harald Beyer. Just as Bulnes resigned, following revelations that he had strong ties to a private university in Santiago (and thus, a personal interest in defending the privatized education system), the Agriculture Minister Jose Antonio Galilea also resigned. In late March of 2012, Chile’s Energy Minister Rodrigo Alvarez resigned following two months of protests in the southern region of Aysen over increased fuel prices.
As Quebec’s Natural Resources Minister (until her resignation in September 2011), Nathalie Normandeau was responsible for introducing ‘Plan Nord’ (Northern Plan), an $80 billion economic development program to exploit the resources of northern Québec through public and private investments. The Plan includes invesments in mining, forestry, transportation, and gas, and is drawing interest from multinational corporations around the world. Plan Nord was announced by Normandeau and Premier Jean Charest in May of 2011, at which Charest stated, “On the political level, this is one of the best moments of my life.” He added, “This is one of the reasons I got involved in politics.” Tha Plan envisions 11 new mining projects in the next few years, with billions being spent by the government on developing infrastructure and roads for transportation. The mining industry applauded Charest, but incited concern from environmental groups and First Nations representatives. In April of 2012, a group of First Nations Innu women walked from the North to Montreal to protest against Plan Nord, arriving in the city for the meeting to promote Plan Nord on April 20-21. On April 20, First Nations women gathered to protest the meeting, and were joined by student protesters outside the Palais des congrès in downtown Montreal. The protesters were met with riot police, sound grenades, tear gas, and batons, and roughly 90 protesters were arrested.
Back in May of 2011, just as the Québec government was announcing its plans for Plan Nord, the Chilean government announced the approval of the HidroAysen project, to be Chile’s largest power generator, drawing protests from hundreds of people. The project “involves five dams and a 1,900 kilometer (1,180 mile) transmission line to feed the central grid that supplies Santiago and surrounding cities as well as copper mines owned by Codelco and Anglo American Plc.” The project provoked increased anger from residents of the region, as well as conservationists and other activists. Opponents of the project filed legal injunctions and an appeals court suspended the HidroAysen project in June of 2011. It was at this time that the student movement in Chile began to emerge rapidly. In October, a local appeals court rejected the seven lawsuits aginst the project and gave the green light to resume work. In December, a legal appeal against the project was taken to Chile’s Supreme Court. In April of 2012, the Supreme Court rejected the seven appeals against the project. This sparked major protests over the court’s decision, met with riot police repression. The increased demand for energy comes from the rapidly growing Chilean mining industry, of which Canadian mining companies are the largest foreign investment source.
Protests erupted in the southern Chilean region of Aysen in February of 2012, where the cost of living is significantly higher than in the north (due to the remoteness of the Patagonian region) and thus, the costs of fuel, food, health care and education were greater than elsewhere. Protesters fought almost nightly battles with riot police, even setting up barricades and throwing rocks at police, who used water cannons and tear gas on the protesters. One protester even lost an eye during the confrontations, reportedly by being shot by the police. Supporters took to the streets in Santiago in solidairty with those struggling in Aysen, also clashing with police. In March, the protesters lifted roadblocks to hold negotiations with the government and the more than thirty social organizations participating in the protests. It was after the negotiations that Energy Minister Alvarez resigned, stating that he was excluded from the talks. In late March, the government announced plans to create better conditions in the Aysen region.
In April of 2012, Chile was experiencing protests against a thermoelectric plant and mining, largely participated in by Chileans of indigenous descent, and students took back to the streets in Santiago in the tens of thousands. Across Quebec, students escalated protests throughout the month of April, and united indigenous, environmental and student activists in protest against Plan Nord. On April 25, tens of thousands of Chilean students took to the streets in Santiago, protesting the government’s education “reform” proposal, which was grossly inadequate. On the very same day, April 25, roughly 5,000 student protesters in Montreal demonstrated against the government’s cancellation of negotiations with the student leaders. Earlier in that same month, Chilean President Pinera and Canadian Prime Minister Harper met in Chile to expand the free trade agreement between the two countries. The student movements were not up for discussion.
In Chile, the student movement and its wider social development with environmental, labour, and other activist groups has been referred to as the “Chilean Winter.” In Quebec, the student movement, with its wider social development with labour, environmental, and other activist organizations, has been referred to as the ‘Maple Spring.” Both movements, while maintaining their own specifics, are ultimately mobilized around a struggle against neoliberalism, against austerity, and against a social, political, and economic system which has ruled the world for the few and at the expense of the many.
For both of these movements to move forward, it is important to not only promote informal acts and statements of solidarity between the two movements, but to begin establishing direct and indirect ties between the movements: establishing connections between the student associations, coordinating days of major protest actions, protesting mining companies that exploit both the North of Quebec and the South of Chile, creating student-run news outlets which share information between each other, undertake student-activist exchanges between the two countries; but first and foremost, it is important to educate the students in Quebec about what is taking place in Chile, and the students in Chile about what is taking place in Quebec. That is the basis for all other forms of cooperation.
So from the Chilean Winter to the Maple Spring
Solidarity, solidarité, solidaridad!
Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, writing on a number of social, political, economic, and historical issues. He is also Project Manager of The People’s Book Project. He also hosts a weekly podcast show, “Empire, Power, and People,” on BoilingFrogsPost.com.