Wednesday, November 26, 2014

[Guest Post] The War for Protest


This week I'm pleased to feature a guest blog from Jonathan Porter, a writer and editor based in Chicago, Illinois. He's also my son. I'm proud of him and excited to share his work. Please visit and follow his blog at https://jonathanporter.squarespace.com/blog/


The War for Protest

Last night, en route to an early morning encore of The Daily Show, I watched a city burn and smolder, and knowing now how it all came to pass, I can only feel sadness. Sadness for a community and generation that mistakes peace for inaction. Sadness for a society so insulated and paranoid that militarizing local law enforcement is touted as progressive. And sad for a culture that champions its witch hunt of bigoted language but still succumbs to closeted, hegemonic paternalism when mired in racial controversy.

But above all, I grieve for Michael Brown's parents. For their loss, and their (so far) unattainable single wish: peace. Despite a string of non-violence pleas from Michael Brown Sr. and Lesley McSpadden as well as a steady media narrative that condemned any act of looting or violence as counter-productive and disrespectful, the Ferguson saga always seemed like a racial crucible destined to boil over. This has to at least be the thinking of St. Louis County Chief of Police, Jon Belmar, who, when asked to assess the preparedness of his agency, implied that no amount of preparation could contend with a community hell-bent on tearing itself apart.

No one will contend that the Ferguson protests have been 100% diplomatic, but unilaterally characterizing every protestor as an unreasonable anarchist is symptomatic of the apathy that continues to erode the deep rift between Ferguson's white-washed law enforcement and its predominantly black populace. Belmar expressed disappointment when the first fires were lit Monday night and the St. Louis County police have taken that one step further on Tuesday by prohibiting all forms of protest or assembly along West Florissant Avenue and near Ferguson police headquarters.

The Ferguson police contend that the forced dismissal of protestors is a necessary action needed to prevent further arrests, injuries and property damage, and unfortunately they're right. Despite possessing what I classify as the moral high ground, the majority of peaceful Ferguson protests have been undermined by sporadic shootings, looting, assaults, arson and death threats. Those that have wept for Michael Brown were emboldened tonight by spontaneous protests in more urbane, racial diverse and progressive metropolises like NYC, Philly and LA but the decisive battleground for racial equality remains in the heart of the nation.

The Ferguson protests have been bookended by disheartening violence and have raised real concerns about its core leadership despite coming off an atypically peaceful October, but one constant has rightfully attracted the ire of Ferguson's citizens and that is local law enforcement's unrelenting apologist campaign to absolve itself of any responsibility. This near four-month saga is the equivalent of absolutely irate person being sequestered by a steady stream of "I'm just doing my job." When I see reports from Ferguson, I see citizens having their right to assemble unabashedly stripped away from them under the guise of civil protection. When law enforcement starts disassociating the ideology behind public action, they become better at indiscriminately suppressing perceived threats but they also risk viewing their fellow man as a collection of hazards that need to be suppressed.

Honestly, I think we're past risking that. If you turn on the news, it looks like Missouri is being invaded by another country. There are manned armored vehicles patrolling assembly areas and police officers armed with military-grade weaponry. The reason: to bring peace to a public afraid of the police shooting them. The militarization of local law enforcement is an undeniable national trend and a surprising blemish on the already-well-tarnished Obama administration. This, the recent revelations of Edward Snowden and Project PRISM and the booming growth of the prison industry have bred even more distrust of law enforcement in America -- the place that gave the world this:

It's the responsibility of local law enforcement to ensure order but it's also their prerogative to facilitate a society befitting the needs of its people and, right now, the peaceful Ferguson protestors need to be demonstrative and exorcise their repressed dissatisfaction with those charged to serve and protect. I wasn't on Canfield Drive when Michael Brown was shot. I don't know if he reached for Darren Wilson's gun or if Brown charged him after initially fleeing. I don't know if twelve rounds was way too many or just enough. All I know is what I see, and that is an embattled public looking for justice and transparency from their law enforcement. On the opposite end, I see a police force that sees its heartbroken masses as lunatics looking to start a few fires and ransack some convenience stores. If those actions were all we saw, that would be one thing; but they're not. Ferguson's protest nucleus may not be able to completely curtail the anarchistic whims of those on the fringe but their leadership structure and message are clear. Across the nation, people are walking in unison, galvanized by their fear of law enforcement without restraint and fueled by prejudice. The grand irony though - and perhaps our nation's biggest failing tonight - is that they're marching everywhere, except in Ferguson. Reading Darren Wilson liken an already-twice-shot Michael Brown to something between Hulk Hogan and a feral animal, it's hard not to suspect Mr. Brown is dead because of deep-rooted racial fear, but it's our national prerogative to prevent this from being the dying ground of protest and new ideas. Ferguson police officials in the press spent their air time condemning the needless and irresponsible destruction of local small businesses. There's no need ruining the dreams and livelihoods of your fellow residents just because the law didn't break your way. While the burning of businesses is undue and reckless, they are just brick and mortar and no insurance company is going to risk the potential PR clusterfuck of harassing a small business owner from Ferguson, Missouri over a policy pay-out. Peoples livelihoods are being compromised but it's not because someone decided to lob a Molotov cocktail into a Nissan dealership. Not once has the Ferguson police department offered their sympathies or demonstrated their understanding following Officer Wilson's full exoneration. Not once have they offered to reveal their criminal apprehension and training protocol to the public, or offer to reform it. Instead, Ferguson PD has systemically restricted core civic rights and demonized the public for labeling their actions as anything less than heroic pragmatism. These people need to have their voices heard. Ferguson and St. Louis County police should leap at the opportunity to listen to the concerns of the protest's core leadership while continuing to arrest the citizens whom are actually vandalizing, assailing, stealing and incinerating. It's not a hard distinction to make. All it takes is a little empathy and discernment. Ferguson PD may be too entrenched in the protocols of ass coverage to ever see the light and, as a result, these protests could go on for weeks while the specter of police state becomes more firmly embedded in the American psyche.
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Here's to the safety of the peaceful Ferguson demonstrators and those that have lost loved ones to gun violence. Here's hoping Ferguson PD apprehends all truly violent and dangerous offenders. But mostly, here's to ideas and protest, not as tools of dissension, but as keys to sustained growth, prosperity and social harmony.