The past couple of days I’ve been keeping up with the protests in Ferguson, MO, following the death of 18 year old Michael Brown on August 9th. Sitting in my apartment two nights ago watching a live feed of people running away from police through a suburb while the police threw tear gas at them and into people’s front yards is one of the most surreal experiences I’ve had in the past few years. The last time I was locked onto twitter like that and completely lost track of time was when the Boston marathon bomber was running through a neighborhood was that directly adjacent to my own.
So here is a compilation of some resources that I think do a particularly good job of explaining and contextualizing what is going on in Ferguson. On top of this being an important current event, I think there are a lot of issues here that are relevant to various areas of philosophical research. But really, these events deserve attention on their own.
When I include my own commentary and judgment, I try to restrict myself to what direct testimony and documentation have claimed and to keep in mind the available counter evidence. But this compilation is not not ‘objective’ in that knee-jerk “well both sides did stuff wrong” way. Yes, some protesters were violent and there was opportunistic looting. But those actions are political and moral peanuts compared to what the police have done. Uneven power dynamics matter. Who escalated the violence and distrust matters. The different obligations that each side has to the other matters. Saying, “well both sides have been violent,” without factoring in the historical and political context of that violence is intellectually and morally lazy.
The entries below with asterisks are the ones I recommend if you don’t have a lot of time.
The info here isn’t exhaustive, and I don’t provide much concerning today’s events. Other aspects that you might want to look up on your own include: comparison with the Occupy movement (in terms of police response), comparison with the Bundy Ranch events, how Palestinians tweeted messages of support for Ferguson and included tips for how to deal with tear gas, the witness accounts given by Dorian Johnson and Tiffany Marshall, more on how journalists were treated and had a hard time accessing protests, and analysis of the police chief’s press conference today where he finally identified the officer who shot Brown (Darren Wilson) and claimed that Brown was a robbery suspect. Brown’s family has things to say about that press conference.
Summary and timeline of events:
**If you want to read just one comprehensive overview of events in Ferguson, I recommend this article by Vox. It’s a pretty lengthy article. It includes a timeline, punctuated with pictures and vine videos (very short) from twitter. It pretty clearly distinguishes between rumors and what we know for sure. It includes explanation of events from today, and briefly discusses at the end some of the context for why events in Ferguson have played out as they have.
There is a google maps that has pinned many important events and locations. When you click on the link just find the cluster of symbols around St. Louis, and zoom into that area. If you click on a symbol on the map, or on its listing on the left side of the screen, it will highlight the location and give you information about the event. You’ll easily be able to identify Florissant Ave (where Brown was killed) because it’s where most of the symbols are clustered.
This post on reddit is a live feed of users reporting events from Ferguson. It is long. I mean, LONG. But if you want to see the nitty gritty of what was going on minute by minute, this is the place to go. Also you can check out #Ferguson on Twitter.
Context and History:
**For a quick summary of Ferguson’s demographics and why there was been so much tension between the citizens of Ferguson and police, Vox has this 2 minute video.
This article shows some of the pictures from Ferguson protests next to pictures from the civil rights movement. When I was watching live feeds on August 13th, I saw cops in military/riot gear, with German Shepherds standing next to them. My exact thoughts were something like, “WTF do they need dogs for? Do they understand how ****** racist that looks to bring dogs to these protests–given our history?”
This picture is becoming one of the most iconic from the events.
A collection of pictures from events. If #22 was in black and white, I would think it’s from the 60s.
There was a really important change between Weds night and Thurs night. To get a sense of that change, you can watch these live feed recordings.
This is one of the feeds I was watching on August 13th (Wed). It’s about 30 mins in total, but police actions escalate quickly and the journalist recording the video does a good job of narrating what’s happening, even as he has to start running. You’ll see tear gas (I think it’s tear gas) being thrown onto people’s property (around 11:00).
Just to note, given pictures and people’s first hand accounts, there was at least one molotov cocktail thrown Weds night.
Now you can watch this video from August 14th (Thurs). It’s long, but really you can just skim through it to get the sense that for the whole hour, cars are honking in support and people are walking around with signs. That is the same street where the night before there was tear gas, armorer vehicles forming a blockade, police with sniper rifles, etc. The first picture on this article (with the train) sums up how wildly different Thurs was from Wed.
**I also highly recommend this report by Elon James White, who is a political and cultural commentator / internet radio host from NYC (with a background in comedy, I believe), who went down to Ferguson with his two of his co-hosts (Aaron Rand Freeman and Emily Epstein White). If you don’t have a lot of time, I recommend listening to the part where White explains how he got a police officer to aim his gun at him (starts around 14:15). I probably can’t explain what it’s like to listen to one of your favorite podcasters (who normally discusses the news, recipes involving bacon, and super hero movies) talk about him being his sort-of-snarky-but-polite, refuses-to-backdown-from-confrontation self, and getting a *sniper rifle* pointed at him. So I’ll just say listen to the clip. And check out TWIB for good podcasts on news/culture/race/etc.
At least two journalists were arrested on Weds night. This article includes a short (1 min) video recorded by one of the journalists as a police officer (who looks like a soldier) orders him out of McDonalds. He was arrested I think right after that video cuts out.
St. Louis politician Antonio French was also arrested on Weds night. You can check out his twitter feed here.
I’m including one picture on here, because even if all the claims about looting, molotov cocktails, and gunshots are true, this picture still encapsulates why the police’s actions have been so problematic. It is a picture of a sniper rifle laser pointed at a protester’s back. You can see a video of this here (at the bottom of the article, around 1:20). If the police are so nervous (or so cavalier) that they are pointing military-grade weapons at protesters who are not even facing them, something is deeply, deeply wrong.
This post on reddit includes links to responses from the mayor, the governor, Eric Holder (US attorney general), and others. They’re under the heading, “Statements, comments, reports”
Rand Paul wrote this piece in response to the protests in Ferguson. Many people find it notable because of this line: “Anyone who thinks race does not skew the application of criminal justice in this country is just not paying close enough attention.” Though, it ends up spending more time talking about the relationship between militarization of police and the size of the federal government than it does about race.
President Obama made these remarks about Ferguson (video). People seem split over whether these remarks influenced later events and whether were empty attempts to appeal to both sides.
Captain Ron Johnson, who was put in charge of security in Ferguson after the police’s militarized reactions Weds night, discusses his concerns with how some information was released on August 15th (today).