A Few Lessons Courtesy of Ferguson, Missouri

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I  agree with EPJ’s take on the violent confrontation with the state: In short, don’t do it because they have more guns than you do.

But, if you really want to involve yourself in civil disobedience, you should do it the right way. The people of Ferguson are NOT doing it the right way when they riot; they were doing it the right way about a week ago.

EPJ posted a video of the Ferguson Police Department firing tear gas at a group of Black people. (See http://www.economicpolicyjournal.com/2014/08/incredible-video-of-ferguson-police.html.) The people were standing in the yard of a home owned by one of the Black people. These people did several things correctly.

First, the people were on their own private property. That is, they were not breaking the law.

Remember Adam Kokesh? He did something in an effort to be controversial. It was easy for the state to paint him as a bad actor/wild man. Therefore, when the state arrested him, all they needed to say was, “We had to get this person off of the streets because he was bad for society. He was a law breaker.”

In the minds of most people, “following the law = good person,” and “law breaker = bad person.” So, once they saw Kokesh breaking the law or doing anything close to breaking the law, it was easy for the state to arrest him and manipulate the story.

But, in the case of Ferguson, the people in the video were not breaking the law. The police told them to go home. But, they were home. The police told them to get off the streets. But, they were off the streets. The police said, “Obey us.” But, the people were already obeying the police.

Second, the people shouted, “Hands up.” When you confront the police, or, rather, when the police confront you, you must come across as docile as possible. You cannot fight fire with fire. The people of Ferguson wanted to show the world that they posed no threat to the officers, so they told all the people to raise their hands.

Non-violence is often more courageous than violence.

It has been said that the policeman shot Michael Brown while Brown’s hands were raised. What if Brown had been caught on video wrestling with the officer and trying to punch him? That would have been the end of this story. But, people believe that Brown was in a position of submission, the position of a martyr; thus, people are outraged.

Third, the Black people shouted, “Forget the police!” or words to that effect. If you are on your own private property, that is, you are not breaking the law, and if you have your hands-up, that is, you are posing no physical threat to the officers, then you can use your words with great effectiveness. You can exercise your First Amendment rights.

Trash-talking is great. It happens in sports all the time. It is designed to get the listener off of his/her game. In sports, however, you cannot talk trash unless you have the ability to support your words.

In this case, the ability is the previously mentioned private property and hands being raised. If you have that, you can trash talk the police. Without a doubt, one of the officers will lose his head. In the case of Ferguson, the police officer fired-off a tear gas canister. It does not matter if it’s just one guy; that’s all that you need to prove your point.

Unlike the Ferguson residents, however, I do not believe that there is any need to insult the police. In fact, a person would be better served if they asked rhetorical questions of the police. There is no way that the police would answer, so the questions, and the implications of the questions, would speak volumes.

The Ferguson residents could have asked:

1. You are paid by our tax dollars, yet we live in fear of you. In what logic-based system is the employer in fear of the employee?

2. We are not holding any weapon in our hands and we have no weapon on our person. Why do you feel the need to threaten us with rifles and handguns?

3. Why are you wearing tear gas masks? We own neither tear gas canisters nor the ability to shoot said tear gas canister. Are you planning on using chemicals in order to make us somewhat incapacitated? In what other civilized country have law abiding citizens been subjected to forced control by chemical tools in the hands of state actors?

4. You don’t live in our community and you rarely visit our community. During your most recent visit, you killed a resident of the community. Why can’t we express ourselves the way we want? Why don’t you act like you did before you shot Michael Brown — and leave us alone?

Again, these questions are not going to be answered by the police, but that’s the point. Just get the questions on record.

I am not being sarcastic when I talk about these questions. If someone wants to participate in civil disobedience, they need to think about what they are doing. They need to prepare and they need to plan.

The Civil Rights Movement didn’t just happen. The students who were part of sit-ins got trained. They were trained to not respond when confronted with racial insults. They were trained to not fight back when people pushed and punched them. They were ready.

The Ferguson residents were partially prepared but not fully.

Finally, you must record everything. I would suggest that you have two people recording things. One can be in the midst of everything, and someone else needs to be on the sidelines. This gives you the opportunity to have two points of view, and it also give you protection when the police accidentally take the first camera and destroy it.

The Civil Rights Movement was greatly aided by televised newscasts. Now, every person has some access to media.

On a related but separate note, people are rightfully upset about the militarization of police departments. Police departments are supposed to keep the peace; they are supposed to be peace officers.

I live near Palo Alto, CA. Palo Alto is home to some really wealthy individuals. My wife’s boss lives there in a very large home. He sometimes hosts the company Christmas party.

A couple of years ago, my wife and I left the party and made a wrong turn. In under 30 seconds, we were out of the city of Palo Alto and into the city of East Palo Alto. You could immediately tell the difference. We went from $10,000,000 homes to rundown apartment buildings. We went from Teslas and Range Rovers and Bentleys to cars without tires sitting on bricks and cars with broken windows.

The neighboring cities of EPA and PA are worlds apart.

Which of the two cities has the more aggressive police force? Of course, it’s East Palo Alto.

The cities do not share the same financial resources. Palo Alto is in Santa Clara County, and East Palo Alto is in San Mateo County. The militarized EPA PD is not there to keep crime out of Palo Alto. The EPA police department is trying to keep a handle on the Nortenos and Surenos, and the Bloods and the Crips.

I used to teach in EPA. I had some students who claimed Blue (Surenos/Crips) and some who claimed Red (Nortenos/Bloods). I was talking with a young man who was a Sureno. He told me that the EPA police had arrested him on a particular weekend. I asked him what happened after the arrest. He told me that they took him to Palo Alto and released him.

Someone who knows more about the non-aggression principle than I do can correct me, but if the Nortenos and Surenos, the Bloods and the Crips, and the Corleones and the Tattaglias want to engage in killing each other, and they are willing to be killed by the other, then why should anyone care? When the Raiders play the 49ers, they are both willing to hit and be hit. They are both willing to aggress against each other. It seems to me that the same principle should apply when we talk about gangs.

The police would argue that they are there to prevent the killing of innocent bystanders. There is nothing, however, that the police can do to prevent an innocent person from dying from a stray bullet. So, I don’t buy that answer.

Furthermore, there are more and more reports of more and more people dying from the stray police bullet. The police could help innocent people to live by simply not showing up and not firing their weapons.

If the police really wanted to act in a defensive manner, why don’t they post up two or three deep in front of businesses and prevent rioters from stealing and committing vandalism?

The police would also argue that part of their job is to prevent the gang violence from spreading. The Palo Alto PD may have a mandate to stop the crime from spreading from East to West, but the East Palo Alto PD, the one that is actually militarized, doesn’t care about stopping the gang violence from spreading into Palo Alto. In fact, in the anecdote that I mentioned above, they intentionally tried to spread it into the neighboring community. And, even if the police were needed to stop the violence from spreading, they would not need to affirmatively go after the gangs. They could just wall-off that part of the city that was gang infested and let them aggress against each other.

What about the innocent people who live in the community with the gangs, or what about those who are currently in gangs and want to get out? The answer for those people is that they should move to a different community or city. Of course, that’s the easy answer, but that’s the only answer. The police are not going to protect you: They cannot protect you from a stray bullet, and/or they don’t want to protect you because they are unwilling to risk their own lives.

The police claim to want to stop gang violence, and they use this claim as a reason for militarization. But, I know of several communities that the police will not visit. They believe that it’s simply too dangerous. This means that the police say, “We want military-grade weapons to fight the gangs!” but, after they get the military-grade weapons, they say, “We are not going to fight some of these gangs because it’s too dangerous!”

In closing, I heard someone ask what it would be like to have a day without the police. I think they were thinking it would mean that criminals would have a field day. Let’s change the hypothetical: What would it be like to have a day without the police, and everyone who wants to own a gun has a gun? As Ice Cube so eloquently put it:

Didn’t even see a berry flashin those high beams

No helicopter looking for a murder
Two in the mornin got the Fatburger
Even saw the lights of the Goodyear Blimp
And it read, “Ice Cube’s a pimp” (yeah)
Drunk as hell but no throwin up
Half way home and my pager still blowin up
Today I didn’t even have to use my A.K.
I got to say it was a good day.

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