The Battle for Civil Rights in Ferguson Continues 50 Years Later

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Michael Brown, 18, walked to his grandmother’s neighborhood in Ferguson, Missouri, on Aug.9 when he was fatally shot by a police officer sparking outrage from people around the country and inciting clashes with the people of Ferguson and the “militarized” police with their armored vehicles, tear gas and rubber bullets. As Cate Matthews puts it, Photos From Ferguson And 1960s Protests Side By Side Make It Clear How Little Has Changed, the scene in Ferguson looks like the 1960s when such responses were far too common. Social media, however, has changed the way the world sees these action as internet users across the country have uploaded images of the police response to civil rights protests and photos from Ferguson that look eerily similar raising the question: How far have we really come? Sharon Cohen and Alan Scher Zagier, Police images fuel outrage in St. Louis and beyond, describe the images as reminiscent of a war zone with helmeted officers pointing weapons from armored trucks, flash grenades lighting the night sky and tear gas being launched into the crowds. The clashes between police and protestors in the St. Louis suburb has sparked heavy criticism and raised question about whether the tactics used were causing the same violence they aimed to prevent after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager. Thomas Nolan, a former Boston police officer and criminal justice professor at the State University of New York at Plattsburg, said: “It’s clear what is going on in Ferguson is a complete, hyper-exaggerated, hysterical response on the part of law enforcement. It’s clear that there is no one in charge and no one to corral the officers … and restrain them from engaging in an unprecedented show of brutal force against civilians. It’s horrifying and shameful and a disgrace.” On Thursday, Gov. Jay Nixon announced the Missouri State Highway Patrol were relieving the officers of Ferguson and taking over security in the suburb commenting “that we use force only when necessary, that we step back a little bit.” It was the fourth day of street protests spurred by the shooting of the 18 year old by a white police officer resulting in 60 people being arrested since last Sunday. On Thursday, Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson said the police are trying to balance the public’s rights to protests with public safety adding that: “If firebombs are being thrown, property gets destroyed, shots get fired … we have to respond to deadly force.” St. Louis County police spokesman Brian Schellman defended the actions of the police: “In talking to these guys, it is scary. They hear gunshots going off, and they don’t know where they’re coming from.” He also said coins, bricks and rocks also have been thrown at police. Two officers have been injured. One had an ankle broken by a thrown brick, according to authorities. President Obama, who is on vacation, said while “emotions are raw now,” there needs to be a “respect for public order and the right to peaceful public protests.” Attorney General Eric Holder said the use of military equipment by Ferguson police sent a “conflicting message.” Missouri officials have accepted the help of the Justice Department to control the crowds and help with public safety “without relying on unnecessarily extreme displays of force.” During a visit to Ferguson, Sen. Claire McCaskill said “the militarization of the response became more of a problem than the solution. It escalated the situation. … These people need to be allowed to exercise their rights, with safety and respect.” The events in Ferguson were part of a growing trend among police departments around the country, according to a American Civil Liberties Union reports in June that states police were overwhelmingly relying on SWAT raids for routine work like small amounts of drugs and serving warrants using assault rifles, battering rams and flash grenades. These raids also disproportionately affected minorities.

Late Friday, Jim Salter reports, Police, protestors clash again in Ferguson, police and 200 protestors clashed after another tense day in the suburb following a news conference in which officer Darren Wilson was names and Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson release alleged documents that state Brown stole a $48.99 box of cigars from the convenience store then strong armed a man on the way out. Just before midnight, a rowdy but mostly well behaved crowd broke into the same store and began looting it, according to Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson. Meanwhile, peaceful protestors blocked off the front of the store eventually to help protect it yelling at the aggressors to stop. Wilson, the officer named in the shooting, has been on paid administrative leave and St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch said it could be weeks before the investigation into the shooting wraps up. On Friday, St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley asked Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster to take over the case as he did not believe McCulloch could be objective. Koster said Missouri law does not allow unless he opts out and McCulloch spokesman Ed Magee said McCulloch will not surrender the case. Some disturbing news out of the St. Louis suburb comes in the form of increased gun sales, according to local gun shops, Hunter Stuart reports, Ferguson Unrest Is Causing Locals To Stock Up On Guns. The unrest in Ferguson is sending residents to the gun shop. Dorian Johnson, 22, who was with Brown when the shooting happened, explained to a local news outlet KSDK-TV that the officer shot Brown while he was running away and then shot him again after Brown put his hands in the air. Brown was two days away from attending college, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Since the shooting, dozens of arrest have been made and reports of gunfire around town including: “A 19-year-old was shot by police Wednesday after allegedly pointing a gun at an officer; the teen is in critical condition. A woman was shot in the head during an alleged drive-by shooting early Wednesday morning. Police have urged protesters to assemble only during daylight hours. Authorities even asked the Federal Aviation Administration to institute a no-fly zone over Ferguson after police helicopters were allegedly fired at.”

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon spoke to the media about the situation in Ferguson shortly after the Ferguson Police Department revealed the name of the officer who shot and killed unarmed black teen Michael Brown, according to Paige Lavender, Jay Nixon: ‘Nothing Should Deter Figuring Out How And Why Michael Brown Was Killed’. Nixon stated: “Nothing should deter figuring out how and why Michael Brown was killed.” Nixon said he thinks the decision to give Missouri State Highway Patrol control of the situation in Ferguson made a positive difference in the last 18 hours. Lavender reports before the media was addressed that Nixon released a statement on the Ferguson Police Departments’ release of Wilson’s name: “I’m pleased that the people of Ferguson and the region began to get some long-overdue information today, and I will continue to call for openness and transparency as the parallel investigations into this tragedy proceed to their necessary conclusions. For the sake of the family, the citizens of Ferguson, and the entire region, it is vital that the investigations into the shooting death of Michael Brown move forward in a thorough, open and transparent manner to ensure that trust is restored and justice is done.” No arrest were made on Thursday night, according to Capt. Ron Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol who also spoke at the press conference which was a welcomed relief from previous nights of police clashes with protestors in Ferguson.

While Nixon remains optimistic about the situation, Civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis of Georgia called on President Barack Obama to declare martial law in Ferguson, Missouri as police clashed with protestors after the killing of an unarmed black teenager Michael Brown last Saturday, Alex Lazar reports, Rep. John Lewis On Ferguson: ‘Declare Martial Law’. In a Thursday interview with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, Lewis said, “It is very sad and unbelievable. It’s unreal to see what the police is doing there. First of all, Ferguson, Missouri, is part of the United States of America. People have a right to protest. They have a right to dissent. They have a right to march in an orderly, peaceful, nonviolent fashion. And the press has a right to cover it.” Lewis, who marched in 1965 over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama and suffered a fractured skull by police, told Mitchell the situation reminds him of “the ’40s, the ’50s, the ’60s,” pointing to the lack of black officers on the St. Louis suburb’s police force. Lewis added that President Obama “should use the authority of his office to declare martial law. Federalize the Missouri National Guard to protect people as they protest. And people should come together. Reasonable elected officials, community leaders and address what is happening there.” He ended by saying: “If we fail to act, the fires of frustration and discontent will continue to burn, not only in Ferguson, Missouri, but all across America.”

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