One Minute of White Supremacy: The Ferguson Transcripts and the Murder of Michael Brown.

DECEMBER 3, 2014

by Nick Mirzeoff

Michael Brown

It took “less than a minute” (Grand Jury Hearings vol. V, p.272 [subsequent references by volume and page number]) according to (then) Officer Darren Wilson for him to kill Michael Brown. In that moment, the relations of force that the police—meaning the entire apparatus of social control—try to prevent us from seeing became starkly visible. Ferguson has become a symbol because it depicts the ongoing strength of white supremacy. A majority African-American city is ruled by a white minority, funded by fines and other charges levied on the majority by the police. Unsurprisingly, then, this system is enforced by casual violence that has now been found legal, even when it results in death. The grand jury’s refusal to indict makes this system visible.

As much as we are outraged by what happened, it is therefore vital to display carefully and methodically how unreasonable and illogical those proceedings were, which I do here in substantial detail: these are the kind of talking points we need to win over still more people. For Ferguson matters because white supremacy has become visible at the local and national level, not just to the “usual suspects,” but to a new coalition that connects Occupy veterans with African American networks and people entirely new to activism. It worries the dominant. Even the St. Louis Rams players who performed“Hands Up” at their game with Oakland were at once threatened by St. Louis police. Ferguson provides a means to “crack” white supremacy (Holloway 2010), to break its apparent naturalness and to see ways towards alternatives.

St. Louis Rams players do "Hands Up, Don't Shoot!"

We need to use the grand jury proceedings as a mirror to show them their own system and, by extension, themselves. The twenty-four volumes of their proceedings with supplementary photographs give us, as it were, a picture of whiteness as it actually goes about ordinary business.

After reviewing thousands of pages of grand jury materials, what happened in that minute was this in my view:

More here.

Who is Behind the Death Squads in Iraq?

Reports of the carnage in Iraq appear in The New York Times with appalling regularity, such as the December 2, 2013 report, headlined “Blast Kills at Least 12 Mourners At Funeral of Iraq Sunni Leader.” Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! (December 27, 2013) reported that The United Nations puts the 2013 death toll from such attacks at 8,000, the highest Iraqi death toll in war-related violence since 2008. Almost daily, dozens of Iraqis are being killed and many more wounded, mostly by car bombs.* The car bombs are detonated in markets, outside restaurants and cafes, at wakes and funeral processions like the one cited above; in other words, at places where crowds have gathered.

Someone is waging a war in Iraq. But, who? Who is carrying out this campaign of terror and death against Iraq’s civilian population? Who would have a reason to do that, to punish them so?

The New York Times writers always attribute these mass murders to Shia-Sunni rivalry, or occasionally, to Al Qaeda. However, it is not only Muslims who are the targets. For example, The Times reported that on Christmas Day, a car bomb planted in a parking lot outside a Christian church killed 26 people and wounded at least 38 others. (“Worshipers Are Targeted at a Christmas Service in Baghdad,” December 26, 2013) Sometimes, the reporter’s attribution of guilt is even accompanied by speculation as to the motives for the attacks, which are usually one of three: revenge, to “stoke sectarian violence,” or to discredit the government. Furthermore, the Times reports invariably identify the religious affiliation of the victims – Sunni or Shia – as if this is somehow explains the cause of the tragedy. Lately, the speculation has expanded to blame the war in Syria for the carnage in Iraq.

More here.

Whither Ukraine?

Whither Ukraine?

By Marilyn Vogt-Downey

February 26, 2014

It’s not just that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was a coward for fleeing in the dead of night from angry and rebellious Ukrainian nationalists in Western Ukraine to what (he hoped) would be a friendlier population in the Russian-speaking Eastern Ukraine. Of course, he probably was a coward to run away. However, a coup d’etat had been carried out against him, his government security forces were melting away, and roughnecks with weapons and shields were just outside his door.

But more important than his cowardice is the fact that he is a scoundrel.

He could have easily calmed the rebellion in Independence Square in Ukraine’s capital Kiev early on if he had simply told the crowds the truth about what the Association Agreement with the European Union would mean to their lives and futures, which is one reason he apparently refused to sign it.  His refusal to sign this Agreement on November 21, 2013 has been called the “spark” that led to the current crisis and his overthrow. However, if, for example, he had summarized the terms of only one part of it–the Agreement’s “Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area”–and explained what it would mean to the Ukrainian people, he would have severely dampened enthusiasm for this  Agreement. This Free Trade section alone–removing tariff barriers and export duties–would convert Ukraine into one big “free trade zone,” where the anti-environment, anti-labor, and pro-business laws would prevail.

This is what “European integration” and “joining” the glamorized “West” would really mean to Ukraine’s massive working-class population of 46 million. It would create the economic devastation of the type that NAFTA has created in Mexico.

“You want a free,  independent Ukraine?” Yanukovych could have asked, were he a man of integrity. “Well, so do I! That is why I cannot–in good conscience–sign this Agreement.”

THAT is what an honest leader would have said back in November 2013, or even before that. It is not complicated. Then he could have gone on to outline what the pending IMF “financial aid package” would do to further worsen their lives.  The last but one paragraph of  The February 23 The New York Times report on Yanukovych’s flight and its aftermath summarized very well what the “EU option” will mean.

More here.

Egypt: Revolution and Counterrevolution in the Age of Social Media

Revolution versus the Counterrevolution in the Age of Social Media

By Marilyn Vogt-Downey

December 3, 2014

On Saturday, November 30, 2014, an Egyptian judge dropped all charges against former Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak.  Mubarak, with US government military and political support, had presided over nearly three decades of martial law and repression. His overthrow and arrest in 2011 had been considered a major achievements of the “Arab Spring” in Egypt, a mass upsurge that began on January 25, 2011 and led to Mubarak’s overthrow on February 11, 2011. Mubarak, along with others also released on Saturday, had been subsequently tried and convicted of a number of corruption and criminal charges.

One activist told a US reporter that Mubarak’s release is “closing the fate of the January 25, 2011 ‘revolution.’”  Another man, whose son was one of the hundreds of protesters murdered by Mubarak’s police during the uprising,  put it this way: ”Mubarak’s regime is still in place. The January Revolution is over.” (1)

Mubarak’s release came at a time when the US-backed military government has put in place a police regime so draconian that it was confident it could “suppress any backlash.”  That turned out to be true. Even to speak out in the courtroom against this ruling of the judge in the military-controlled court would have meant a year in prison. The few who dared to protest Mubarak’s release faced an overwhelming police presence; at least one protester was killed and 85 were arrested.

What was behind  2001 “January 25 Revolution” in Egypt and what went wrong? To answer these questions, one needs to know about the US government’s international cyberdissident offensive and how it worked in Egypt. An indispensable source of information about all this is a recent study by Linda Herrera called Revolution in the Age of Social Media: The Egyptian Popular Insurrection and the Internet.  (2) An amazing power has been unleashed on the world’s people. And we alone can stop it.

What can “one man” do?

Revolutionary organizations probably exist almost everywhere in some form throughout the world. The problem is that they tend to be small, or small relative to other political parties.  Meanwhile,  the need for revolutionary organizations has never been greater. Every day the need expands, as do opportunities for them to do their work. Masses of people are disillusioned with the capitalist system but don’t see a way to a better, socialist transformation. It has only been recently that the very word “capitalism” has even crept back into the popular vocabulary–to finally replace abstract euphemisms such as “corporate control,” “the free market,” etc. Private ownership of the means of production is the cause of the problem. And workers control over the means of production is the solution. But, how can we move toward that vital socialist transformation when the revolutionary parties are so small and relatively isolated?

More  here

The Making of Ferguson: Public Policies at the Root of its Troubles

By Richard Rothstein


  • Executive summary
  • How Ferguson Became Ferguson
  • Federal, state, and local policy segregated Ferguson and St. Louis
  • Examining the distinct public policies that have enforced segregation
  • Public labor market policy contributing to segregation
  • In conclusion: Understanding segregation’s causes suggests remedies
  • Endnotes
  • References

Executive summary

In August 2014, a Ferguson, Missouri, policeman shot and killed an unarmed black teenager. Michael Brown’s death and the resulting protests and racial tension brought considerable attention to that town. Observers who had not been looking closely at our evolving demographic patterns were surprised to see ghetto conditions we had come to associate with inner cities now duplicated in a formerly white suburban community: racially segregated neighborhoods with high poverty and unemployment, poor student achievement in overwhelmingly black schools, oppressive policing, abandoned homes, and community powerlessness.

Media accounts of how Ferguson became Ferguson have typically explained that when African Americans moved to this suburb (and others like it), “white flight” followed, abandoning the town to African Americans who were trying to escape poor schools in the city. The conventional explanation adds that African Americans moved to a few places like Ferguson, not the suburbs generally, because prejudiced real estate agents steered black homebuyers away from other white suburbs. And in any event, those other suburbs were able to preserve their almost entirely white, upper-middle-class environments by enacting zoning rules that required only expensive single family homes, the thinking goes.

No doubt, private prejudice and suburbanites’ desire for homogenous affluent environments contributed to segregation in St. Louis and other metropolitan areas. But these explanations are too partial, and too conveniently excuse public policy from responsibility. A more powerful cause of metropolitan segregation in St. Louis and nationwide has been the explicit intents of federal, state, and local governments to create racially segregated metropolises.

Many of these explicitly segregationist governmental actions ended in the late 20thcentury but continue to determine today’s racial segregation patterns. In St. Louis these governmental policies included zoning rules that classified white neighborhoods as residential and black neighborhoods as commercial or industrial; segregated public housing projects that replaced integrated low-income areas; federal subsidies for suburban development conditioned on African American exclusion; federal and local requirements for, and enforcement of, property deeds and neighborhood agreements that prohibited resale of white-owned property to, or occupancy by, African Americans; tax favoritism for private institutions that practiced segregation; municipal boundary lines designed to separate black neighborhoods from white ones and to deny necessary services to the former; real estate, insurance, and banking regulators who tolerated and sometimes required racial segregation; and urban renewal plans whose purpose was to shift black populations from central cities like St. Louis to inner-ring suburbs like Ferguson.  Governmental actions in support of a segregated labor market supplemented these racial housing policies and prevented most African Americans from acquiring the economic strength to move to middle-class communities, even if they had been permitted to do so.

White flight certainly existed, and racial prejudice was certainly behind it, but not racial prejudice alone. Government policies turned black neighborhoods into overcrowded slums and white families came to associate African Americans with slum characteristics. White homeowners then fled when African Americans moved nearby, fearing their new neighbors would bring slum conditions with them.

That government, not mere private prejudice, was responsible for segregating greater St. Louis was once conventional informed opinion. A federal appeals court declared 40 years ago that segregated housing in the St. Louis metropolitan area was … in large measure the result of deliberate racial discrimination in the housing market by the real estate industry and by agencies of the federal, state, and local governments.” Similar observations accurately describe every other large metropolitan area. This history, however, has now largely been forgotten. (covered up!)

When we blame private prejudice, suburban snobbishness, and black poverty for contemporary segregation, we not only whitewash our own history but avoid considering whether new policies might instead promote an integrated community. The federal government’s response to the Ferguson “Troubles” has been to treat the town as an isolated embarrassment, not a reflection of the nation in which it is embedded. The Department of Justice is investigating the killing of teenager Michael Brown and the practices of the Ferguson police department, but aside from the president’s concern that perhaps we have militarized all police forces too much, no broader inferences from the events of August 2014 are being drawn by policymakers.

The conditions that created Ferguson cannot be addressed without remedying a century of public policies that segregated our metropolitan landscape. Remedies are unlikely if we fail to recognize these policies and how their effects have endured.

More here.