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“A Forgotten Community”: Long History Of Racial Tension Set The Stage For Ferguson Protests

As Dorothy Kaiser rides down the main streets of Ferguson, the town unfolds before her like a diary. This neighborhood is newer, that one is older, she raised her children in this house, and grew up in that one herself.

As far as anyone can tell, she has lived here longer than anyone. She’s 80 now, and moved to Ferguson at 2. She understands this place.

Moving west along one of the town’s central streets, Suburban, she points and recounts and smiles. She knows every doorway and mailbox.

Then, at a narrow spot in the road, she falls silent. The diary slams shut.

“I wouldn’t really know this area,” she says.

This is where the gate used to be, she says.

The one to keep black people out.
___

At the narrow spot there’s a sign: “Welcome to City of Kinloch.”

In a few hours, a grand jury will announce its decision not to indict a Ferguson police officer who shot an unarmed black man, touching off protests around the nation, with a violent start outside the Ferguson Police Department. The grand jury, and observers around the world, spent months examining the questions of what happened, and how. But it’s here, on Ferguson’s border with a forgotten community called Kinloch, where you can find the history that helps explain the explosive aftermath.

Kinloch is the oldest black town in Missouri, and possibly west of the Mississippi River, formed in the 1890s when a real estate developer found a loophole in laws against selling property to black people. Life there centered on Kinloch Airfield, a history-making place where President Teddy Roosevelt flew in a plane built by the Wright brothers, where the first control tower was built, where a man first parachuted out of a plane.

Larman Williams grew up in Kinloch. He is now 80, like his white counterpart, Dorothy Kaiser. Like her, he knew his town block by block, and remembers it as a vibrant place. “People were wonderful,” he said.

People were poor, sure, but they worked hard. The problem was that other than the airport, all the businesses — and so, the tax base — were based in Ferguson. Black people from Kinloch could cross into Ferguson during the day to work as maids or factory men. But they had to be back across the border by sunset, when the gates closed.

The ordinance ordering black people out of town was known as the “sundown law” and cities across the nation had similar rules. Ferguson’s was around into the 1940s. And if whites and blacks had little contact or understanding of each other, that wasn’t surprising.

“Oh, I was scared of them,” Kaiser said. “They were black. They were different.”

The fear climbed in Ferguson, Kaiser said, when Missouri changed its laws against selling property to black people. “There was anxiety,” she said. “They were coming.”

And no gate could stop them.
___

By the late 1960s, Williams had finished school — a master’s degree in education — and taken a job as a teacher. He and his wife, Geraldine, decided to buy a home of their own.

“I wanted to live in a nice house,” he said recently, laughing. “I had bought us a big new car, and wanted a house to go with it.”

The house he saw on Buckeye Drive in Ferguson seemed ideal. Lots of windows, a big yard that sloped down to the street. A “for sale” sign.

“So I called,” he said. But the real estate agent could tell he was black, on the phone. No sale.

So Williams found a way around it, by calling his pastor, who went to speak to the seller on his behalf and vouched for his character, his work ethic, his spirituality. And it worked. In 1968, Larman Williams became the first black man in his neighborhood — and probably all of Ferguson — to buy property. His three children were the first black students to go to the Ferguson school.

“It was important, yes it was,” Geraldine said. She and Williams have since divorced and he lives in a home for seniors. But she still lives in the little house on Buckeye, where the day before Thanksgiving she and her grandchildren cooked in the kitchen.

Buying a house there felt important. But it didn’t feel good. Neighbors stood off from them, at first. Other kids wouldn’t befriend theirs.

Then one day, things started to change. “My neighbor called out to me from his yard,” Williams said. “He wanted to apologize. He had seen humanity in us, with time. People started to see us as part of the neighborhood.”
___

By the 1980s, everything in Ferguson changed.

The Kinloch Airfield, which had grown to become the St. Louis airport, needed land as it expanded. Lots of land. So it began buying up homes in Kinloch, scarfing up property at prices above the going rate — creating a pressure shift between Kinloch and Ferguson. Suddenly black people had enormous incentive to leave Kinloch and cross the border permanently.

“You had people with enough money to buy houses they couldn’t have afforded otherwise,” said former Ferguson Mayor Brian Fletcher. “Houses they couldn’t afford to maintain. So things went down.”

At first, black residents wound up clustered in neighborhoods where it was easier for them to buy property. Then, in relatively short order, they became the predominant demographic in Ferguson. In 1990, roughly three-quarters of residents were white, and one quarter was black. In 20 years that ratio reversed.

Kinloch imploded. Its population dwindled to just a couple of hundred people.

As Ferguson became more black, its political structure stayed white. The specifics would later be picked apart on cable news: A white mayor. An almost exclusively white City Council. Among scores of police officers, only a couple who were not white.

Fletcher said the city struggled during his term to find black police officers. Ferguson wanted them, he said, but they could make much better money in wealthier neighboring towns with lower crime rates. “They got the cream of the crop,” Fletcher said. “We just couldn’t make the ratios.”

Fletcher now runs the “I Love Ferguson” shop downtown, where he sat recently surrounded by Ferguson souvenirs. He spoke with enormous passion about his town.

Yes, there was a problem, he said. But no one knew how to solve it.

“I mean, yeah, there was tension,” he said. He shrugged and held his shoulders hunched. “But there’s always going to be tension. Right?”
___

The night the grand jury announced its decision not to indict police Officer Darren Wilson for shooting Michael Brown, people gathered on the street in front of the Ferguson Police Department.

The crowd organized itself in identifiable concentric rings. On the edges there were people who came for the spectacle, laughing, jubilant. Toward the middle were people concerned but not violent; they had come to speak out. And at the middle, pressed against the barricades, was a core of people who spat at the police facing them.

“How can you live with yourself?” yelled 55-year-old Marvin Skull, who wore a ski mask and a bulletproof vest. He singled out the lone black officer in the line of police. “Hey, there’s some trash over here! Why don’t you come tidy it up for your masters?”

At the center of the protest someone used a bullhorn to castigate the police, in the minutes before the grand jury announced its findings. A few seconds after the announcement, the bullhorn arced through the air, end over end, and crashed into the police’s riot shields. The time for words had given way.

The rest of the night played out on front pages and television screens around the world, as looters plundered stores and some businesses went up in flames.

In his tiny room at the senior center, Larman Williams sat among the signifiers of his life: his Bible, his diploma, a photo of his parents, a photo of his children. He watched as the events unspooled on his television.

At first Williams understood the protesters and their wants. He had lived in this town — with this police force — longer than any of them. But once the violence started, he said, he felt nothing but heartbreak.

Many protesters were young — born decades after blacks had to leave Ferguson by nightfall. Many weren’t even from Ferguson — agitators who poured into town from other parts of Missouri or other states.

“It’s not the way we do this,” he said. “It’s so much foolishness.”

He searched a moment for his eyeglasses on a table, and finally looked up.

“I’m tired,” he said.

 

By: Matthew Teague, The National Memo, December 1, 2014

December 2, 2014 Posted by | African Americans, Ferguson Missouri, St. Louis County | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“From Dysfunction To Malfunction”: Mitch McConnell And The Limits Of Scorched-Earth Obstructionism

As the Senate Republicans’ leader, Mitch McConnell launched an experiment of sorts during the Obama era. It was a strategy without precedent in the American tradition, and it was arguably a historic gamble that wasn’t guaranteed to work. But the Kentucky Republican and his allies did it anyway.

And as the calendar turns from November to December, it’s worth appreciating that last month was arguably the most informative to date when it comes to the results of this experiment – it was a month that crystallized the ways in which the GOP gambit was an extraordinary success and the ways in which it failed in ways McConnell didn’t expect.

McConnell’s master strategy was elegant in its simplicity: after his party was soundly rejected by voters in 2006 and 2008, McConnell came to believe recovery was dependent on unprecedented obstructionism. Republicans, the GOP leader decided, would simply say no to everything – regardless of merit or consequence, even when Democrats agreed with them.

The point, as McConnell has acknowledged many times, was to deny President Obama and his allies the all-important cover of bipartisanship – when an idea enjoys support from both parties, it’s effectively the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for the American mainstream. But if Republicans embraced blanket opposition to literally every Democratic proposal, the public would assume Obama was failing to bring the parties together behind a sound, moderate agenda. The gridlock would be crushing, but McConnell assumed the media and much of the electorate would simply blame the White House, even if that didn’t make any factual sense.

It worked. The American legislative progress has turned from dysfunction to malfunction over the last four years, creating a Congress that fails to complete even routine tasks, and those responsible for creating the worst governing conditions since the Civil War were broadly rewarded by voters. Obama went being from the popular, post-partisan leader who would repair the nation’s ills – an FDR for the 21st century – to the president with a meager approval rating who hasn’t signed a major bill into law since 2010.

As the results came in on Election Night, Vox.com made a compelling case that described Mitch McConnell as “the greatest strategist in contemporary politics.”

It’s tough to disagree, right? Republicans intended to destroy the American legislative process, and they did. Republicans set out to exacerbate partisan tensions, and they did. Republicans hoped to make Obama less popular by making it vastly more difficult for him to get anything done, and they did. Republicans hoped to parlay public discontent into electoral victories, and they did. Republicans made a conscious decision to prevent the president from bringing the country together, and they successfully made the national chasm larger.

There’s just one thing McConnell & Co. forgot: a gamble like this can be a strategic success and a substantive failure at the same time.

Consider this report, which ran on Thanksgiving.

President Obama could leave office with the most aggressive, far-reaching environmental legacy of any occupant of the White House. Yet it is very possible that not a single major environmental law will have passed during his two terms in Washington.

Instead, Mr. Obama has turned to the vast reach of the Clean Air Act of 1970, which some legal experts call the most powerful environmental law in the world. Faced with a Congress that has shut down his attempts to push through an environmental agenda, Mr. Obama is using the authority of the act passed at the birth of the environmental movement to issue a series of landmark regulations on air pollution, from soot to smog, to mercury and planet-warming carbon dioxide.

It seems counterintuitive, but President Obama simply doesn’t need Congress to advance one of the most sweeping and ambitious environmental agendas in generations.

With this in mind, McConnell’s strategy worked exactly as intended, producing the precise results Republicans were counting on, but the plan failed to appreciate what an ambitious president can still do with the powers of the presidency.

It’s not just the environment, of course. McConnell’s plan was also intended to destroy immigration reform, which was effective right up until Obama identified a legal way around Congress, helping millions of families in the process. Jon Chait added:

The GOP has withheld cooperation from every major element of President Obama’s agenda, beginning with the stimulus, through health-care reform, financial regulation, the environment, long-term debt reduction, and so on. That stance has worked extremely well as a political strategy. […]

The formula only fails to work if the president happens to have an easy and legal way to act on the issue in question without Congress. Obama can’t do that on infrastructure, or the grand bargain, and he couldn’t do it on health care. But he could do it on immigration.

And the environment. And in addressing the Ebola threat. And in targeting ISIS.

The irony is, had McConnell pursued a different approach, he could have advanced more conservative policy goals. If Republicans had worked with Democrats on health care, the Affordable Care Act would have included provisions with the right. If McConnell were willing to deal on immigration, Obama would have endorsed a more conservative approach than the executive actions announced two weeks ago. If the GOP made an effort to work with the White House on energy, Obama’s environmental vision would almost certainly have more modest goals.

Republicans might have been better off – which is to say, they would have ended up with a more conservative outcome – if they’d actually compromised and taken governing seriously in some key areas.

But McConnell thought it’d be easier to win through scorched-earth obstructionism.

Again, as of next month, he’ll be the Senate Majority Leader, so maybe he doesn’t care about the substantive setbacks. But for all the GOP gains at the ballot box, it’s Obama, not Republicans, moving a policy agenda forward.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 1, 2014

December 2, 2014 Posted by | Midterm Elections, Mitch Mc Connell, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Shouldn’t Be The Victim’s Responsibility”: If Tech Companies Wanted To End Online Harassment, They Could Do It Tomorrow

If someone posted a death threat to your Facebook page, you’d likely be afraid. If the person posting was your husband – a man you had a restraining order against, a man who wrote that he was “not going to rest until [your] body [was] a mess, soaked in blood and dying from all the little cuts” – then you’d be terrified. It’s hard to imagine any other reasonable reaction.

Yet that’s just what Anthony Elonis wants you to believe: That his violent Facebook posts – including one about masturbating on his dead wife’s body – were not meant as threats. So on Monday, in Elonis v United States, the US supreme court will start to hear arguments in a case that will determine whether threats on social media will be considered protected speech.

If the court rules for Elonis, those who are harassed and threatened online every day – women, people of color, rape victims and young bullied teens – will have even less protection than they do now. Which is to say: not damn much.

For as long as people – women, especially – have been on the receiving end of online harassment, they’ve been strategizing mundane and occasionally creative ways to deal with it. Some call law enforcement when the threats are specific. Others mock the harassment – or, in the case of videogame reviewer and student Alanah Pearce, send a screenshot to the harasser’s mother.

But the responsibility of dealing with online threats shouldn’t fall on the shoulders of the people who are being harassed. And it shouldn’t need to rise to being a question of constitutional law. If Twitter, Facebook or Google wanted to stop their users from receiving online harassment, they could do it tomorrow.

When money is on the line, internet companies somehow magically find ways to remove content and block repeat offenders. For instance, YouTube already runs a sophisticated Content ID program dedicated to scanning uploaded videos for copyrighted material and taking them down quickly – just try to bootleg music videos or watch unofficial versions of Daily Show clips and see how quickly they get taken down. But a look at the comments under any video and it’s clear there’s no real screening system for even the most abusive language.

If these companies are so willing to protect intellectual property, why not protect the people using your services?

Jaclyn Friedman, the executive director of Women Action Media (WAM!) – who was my co-editor on the anthology Yes Means Yes – told me, “If Silicon Valley can invent a driverless car, they can address online harassment on their platforms.”

Instead, Friedman says, “They don’t lack the talent, resources or vision to solve this problem – they lack the motivation.”

Last month, WAM! launched a pilot program with Twitter to help the company better identify gendered abuse. On a volunteer basis, WAM! collected reports of sexist harassment, and the group is now analyzing the data to help Twitter understand “how those attacks function on their platform, and to improve Twitter’s responses to it”.

But when a company that made about $1bn in ad revenue in 2014 has to rely on a non-profit’s volunteers to figure out how to deal with a growing problem like gendered harassment, that doesn’t say much about its commitment to solving the problem.

A Twitter spokesperson told me that WAM! is just one of many organizations the company works with on “best practices for user safety”. But while Twitter’s rules include a ban on violent threats and “targeted abuse”, they do not, I was told, “proactively monitor content on the platform.”

When WAM! and the Everyday Sexism Project put pressure on Facebook last year over pages that glorified violence against women, the company responded that its efforts to deal with gender-specific hate speech “failed to work effectively as we would like” and promised to do better.

On Sunday, a Facebook representative confirmed to me that since then, the social network has followed through on some of these steps, like completing more comprehensive internal trainings and working more directly with women’s groups. Harassment on Facebook remains ubiquitous nonetheless – and even the most basic functions to report abuse are inadequate.

So if those who face everyday online harassment can’t rely on the law, and if social media companies are reluctant to invest in technologies to scrub it from their platforms, what then?

Emily May, the executive director of the anti-street harassment organization Hollaback, told me that, like many women, “I don’t want to be on YouTube or Twitter if every time I open up TweetDeck I see another rape threat.”

Do you?

 

By: Jessica Valenti, The Guardian, December 1, 2014

December 2, 2014 Posted by | Domestic Violence, Social Media, Violence Against Women | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Liberty, Racism And Police Militarization”: Those Entrusted With Our Safekeeping Have Become Agents Of Racial And Class Division

An important duty of any law enforcement professional is to prioritize the safety of the public over that of his or her self, which is precisely the sacrifice for which we owe our officers immense respect and gratitude. Their selfless commitment to protect and serve our communities warrants praise and commendation, without question.

Unfortunately, it is becoming evident that police agencies are instead implicitly prioritizing their own safety over that of the public, and they justify this trend by citing heightened threat levels on the job. This reorganization of priorities is implied by a passive but evident willingness to increase their protection and firepower at the cost of civil liberty and comfort.

Police militarization is in and of itself an escalation of sorts; when confronted by a police force that is armed with and protected by military grade equipment, a reasonable person will likely perceive himself to be under immediate threat of physical violence. Therefore he will be more likely to reciprocate, resulting in increased aggression by both parties whether that manifests passively (police intimidation) or physically (hurling rocks at a line of police). It is by no means an imaginative stretch to say that the chances of a peaceful protest becoming violent increase dramatically if the assembly is approached or contained by an intimidating and imposing police presence.

Unnecessarily subjecting our police to harm is also ill-advised, but we should pay careful attention to the balance between their safety and the degree to which their presence hinders individual and collective liberty. Even if any perceived assault on liberty is wholly unintended, it is nonetheless unwarranted and unjust.

My critique of police convention is not to trivialize the issue of the structural racism evident in Ferguson and which is pervasive across our justice system. Contrarily, the issue of the militarization of law enforcement directly contributes to and perpetuates this unfair system since the burden of militarization most often rests on the shoulders of underprivileged minority groups. For comparison, consider this year’s Pumpkin Festival at Keene State, which largely devolved into a destructive riot, and how the police response was relatively subdued.

In the aforementioned example, it could be argued that a reduced perception of threat could have driven the relatively amicable police response. This line of thinking alone is indicative of the inequality prevalent in our society. It suggests that those we have entrusted with the safekeeping of our communities have themselves become agents of racial and class division, and that their understanding of institutionalized privilege and oppressive power structures is largely nonexistent.

Though it is easy to believe that such subjectivity is warranted and possibly even a best practice for the protection of our law enforcement officers, placing the safety of a police force over the safety of the community is a dangerous line to cross in the context of a supposedly free and progressive nation. How can we expect subjective law enforcement conventions to establish and maintain an objective peace in our marginalized communities if they themselves perpetuate the structural violence that affects these communities?

Furthermore, we cannot readily expect communities that receive privileged treatment from law enforcement agencies to denounce, acknowledge, or even understand the impacts of inherently racist police practices, their ignorance a result of their own advantaged realities. Such existential distance diminishes the power of compassion to rally our ally communities in support of the less fortunate.

Will a less intimidating police presence fix our problems? No. But it will be a lot easier to support our officers when we don’t see them as being catalysts of the very violence they are employed to suppress.

 

By: Andrew Nathan Bartholomew, The Blog, The Huffington Post, December 1, 2014

December 2, 2014 Posted by | Criminal Justice System, Ferguson Missouri, Law Enforcement | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Is Obama Bold Enough For You Now?”: Conservatives Derided Him For Timidity, Appalled At What A Tyrant They Now Think He’s Being

Remember when the problem everyone had with Barack Obama was how passive he was? In late October, Charles Krauthammer lamented Obama’s “observer presidency with its bewildered-bystander pose.” Dana Milbank agreed that “The real problem with Obama is not overreach but his tendency to be hands-off.” Milbank quoted Mitt Romney approvingly for his criticism of Obama for not being sufficiently “focused” on the Ebola threat (I guess a more focused president would have managed to avert the thousands of American Ebola deaths—oh wait). Anonymous Hillary Clinton aides tell reporters that unlike the “passive” Obama, their boss is going to be “aggressive” and “decisive” when it comes to foreign crises. Leon Panetta writes a memoir criticizing Obama for being passive, but the specific criticisms look a lot like, “I told the President to do something, and he didn’t follow my advice!”

This isn’t a new complaint. For years, pundits who are supposed to have some sense of how politics actually works have looked at the institutional and political limits surrounding policymaking and whined, “Why won’t Obama lead?” as though he could do things like make Republicans agree with him if only he were to exert his will more manfully. A close cousin of this inane belief is the idea that Obama could solve some complicated problem by giving a really good speech about it, an idea that has had disturbing currency among Obama’s liberal critics.

Perhaps some of this comes from the contrast between Obama and his predecessor, who called himself “the decider,” so decisive was he. During his time in office, reporters and headline writers were forever referring to George W. Bush’s proposals and actions as “bold,” almost regardless of what they entailed. And some of them actually were. Invading Iraq? Now that was bold. Had Obama decided to invade Syria, that would have been bold, too. But we probably wouldn’t be too pleased with the results.

Even when Obama has done bold things, he’s seldom described that way. Perhaps it’s because of his generally calm countenance; I’m really not sure. But his career has been characterized by periods of patience interrupted by calculated risks taken when the timing seemed right. So maybe it’s because many of the “bold” things Obama has done, like running for president after only a couple of years in the Senate or proposing ambitious health care reform, actually worked out. In retrospect, everyone thinks an electoral or legislative success was pre-ordained, and the sage observer saw it coming all along. Perhaps if Obama crashed and burned in dramatic ways more often, he’d get more credit for boldness.

But now, with two years remaining in his presidency and faced with a Congress unified under Republican control, Obama doesn’t look so passive. He’s using executive authority to grant legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants, he’s making agreements with China on carbon reductions, he’s issuing regulations on ozone. Of course, the same conservatives who derided him for timidity are appalled at what a tyrant they now think he’s being. Could it be that nobody really cares whether he’s being too bold or too passive, and those complaints are just a cover for their substantive disagreements with whatever he’s doing (or not doing) at a particular moment?

If there’s an area where you think Obama hasn’t done what he should have, go ahead and make that criticism. You might be right. There may be issues on which he’s allowed the status quo to continue when you think more aggressive moves were called for, and you could be right about that too. But presidents constantly make choices to pursue some paths and not others, to allow some policies to remain in place while trying to change others, to start some political fights that they think look winnable while avoiding others that don’t. If you think some issue ought to be higher on his agenda, the fact that it isn’t is probably just because he doesn’t agree with you on that particular point, not because of some broader orientation toward passivity that is holding him back.

And if you’re pleased that he’s moving on immigration and climate change, is it because you think the things he’s doing are worthwhile, or because you just favor boldness in the abstract? I’ll bet it’s the former.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, December 1, 2014

December 2, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Politics, President Obama | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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