Saturday, 13 September 2014 00:00

Ferguson Residents Are Still Angry, As Questions Remain and Protests Continue

Written by  Alice Speri | Vice News
One month after the killing of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, anger and frustration continues to grow in Ferguson, as calls for the arrest of Wilson and questions over the police response to weeks of protests remain unanswered.
Dozens of protesters went ahead with a planned highway shutdown on Interstate 70 on Wednesday afternoon, with many reporting an even greater police presence, as well as tense confrontations between protesters and police. The protest is ongoing, with protesters on the ground reporting some arrests were underway.

An earlier plan to shut down the highway had been postponed, following calls by community organizers and Brown's family.

On Tuesday night, the first public city council meeting in Ferguson since Brown's death quickly became a stage for residents to vent their anger and frustration with local officials.

At the meeting, officials pledged to increase diversity in the local police force — which, as was widely reported during the protests, has only three black officers in a majority black town — and presented plans for a civilian oversight of law enforcement.

But angry residents, hundreds of whom crammed in a local church for the meeting, met their proposals by raising their hands — the iconic gesture of the protests — and by calling for the resignation of Ferguson Mayor James Knowles and police chief Tom Jackson.

"I heard the mayor say Ferguson doesn't have a race problem," a local named Taurean Russell said, according to the Associated Press. "There must be two Fergusons."

"You've lost your authority to govern this community," St. Louis activist John Chasnoff remarked at the meeting. "You're going to have to step aside peacefully if this community is going to heal."

The city council proposed capping the amount of revenue the city can raise from tickets issued by police to no more than 15 percent of its budget. Last year, court fines and fees accounted for $2.6 million, or nearly one-fifth of the city's budget — a reality that is seen across municipalities in the St. Louis area, as the Washington Post reported in a recent in-depth investigation of how towns like Ferguson profit off the poverty of their residents.

One in four Ferguson residents lives below the federal poverty line, according to a Brookings study that calls the Missouri town "emblematic of growing suburban poverty" nationwide.

Nearly everyone VICE News spoke to while in Ferguson reported having had countless encounters with police. Many of them said that they were regularly stopped, harassed, fined, and detained over small offenses, such as minor traffic violations.

The proposal to cap the revenue that can be raised through court fines is meant to reverse the public perception that city officials are funding themselves on the backs of low-income residents, but it was not immediately clear how the city expects to make up the lost revenue — and at whose cost.

The response to Ferguson protesters has sparked a nationwide conversation about the militarization of police departments across the country.

At a Senate hearing on Tuesday, representatives for the Department of Homeland Security, one of the agencies providing military equipment to law enforcement, said that police departments are not allowed to use the gear for riot suppression, and could be forced to repay millions in grants if they are found to do so.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) called the display of force seen in Ferguson "thoroughly un-American," and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D- Mo.) said committee investigators had found that there were more mine-resistant armored vehicles in the hands of police departments than in the hands of the National Guard.

But while the country debated its law enforcement problem, many questions remain unanswered in Ferguson.

In an open letter to Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, Human Rights Watch called for a "comprehensive review" of law enforcement responses to the protests in Ferguson.

The watchdog was one of several rights groups to travel to Ferguson during and after protests that were met with a massive police mobilization, tear gas, rubber bullets, and sweeping arrests.

The group cited a number of police abuses during the protests, including one episode in which police pointed rifles at a local resident and 15-year-old daughter who were peacefully protesting in a parking lot with the owner's permission, and another in which peaceful protesters and a journalist were surrounded by armored police vehicles, told to disperse, and tear-gassed just seconds later.

Protesters and observers, including VICE News, witnessed countless similar episodes in the days following Brown's death. A handful of individual officers were disciplined for abuse, but HRW and other groups have called for systematic investigation into the law enforcement mobilization, during which it was not always clear who was in charge.

"We documented several apparent violations of the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, incidents of possible excessive use of force, as well as actions that raised concerns over accountability and transparency of law enforcement," HRW said in itsletter, citing the many police departments involved as part of the problem. "The failure to communicate and publicly designate a clear chain of command is problematic."

"An urgent state-level inquiry into abuses by the various law enforcement agencies in Ferguson is crucial," Maria McFarland, deputy US program director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement accompanying the letter. "Those who protested Michael Brown's killing, and the public at large, deserve clear answers regarding the roles of the various law enforcement agencies in Ferguson and where responsibility for the misuse of force lies."

Link to the original article from Vice News.

Read 711 times Last modified on Thursday, 23 October 2014 11:08

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