Ferguson Update

The community of Ferguson, MO is still engaged in protests.  In the last 24-36 hours, we’ve seen the following:

(1) Police in Ferguson tear gassed unarmed peaceful protestors, including children. Again.
(2) Police in Ferguson driving a MRAP (because IEDs are a problem in suburbia?) played chicken with a group of people on foot.
(3) Police in Ferguson fired teargas into people’s yards and houses. Again.
(4) Police in Ferguson harassed/threatened media.
(5) Police in St. Louis arrested a 90-year-old Holocaust survivor for standing in a doorway.
(6) A CNN anchor wondered on air why the police in Ferguson weren’t using water cannons. She got an epic side-eye from her (black) co-anchor for this.

(thanks Esteleth)

As I’ve mentioned, the police have not made the situation better.  They would be better served laying down their weapons and joining the protesters.  One commenter at Pharyngula, Desert Son, OM, actually recommends this as a reasonable course of action, and I agree with him:

Here’s a genuine idea to try in Ferguson:

The police lay down their arms and disperse peacefully.

The police do this.

I suspect the result would not be an increase in violence and rioting. I suspect the result would be a mix of somber reflection on the tragic death of Michael Brown and a celebratory street-party expression of solidarity, compassion, and a renewed desire for tomorrow to be just a little bit better for just a little bit longer.

Amended suggestion: The police lay down their arms and join arm-in-arm with the protesters decrying the systemic oppressions—both micro- and macro-—in which we all play a part by virtue of cultural infusion.

Sadly, I don’t think this is even an option the local or state authorities are even considering.

Police in Ferguson are firing tear gas canisters manufactured during the Cold War Era:

As reported last week in Yes! Magazine, our ongoing analysis of the less-lethal weapons used in Ferguson shows the large majority of spent munitions found in the city have been produced by two US based less-lethal contractors: Combined Tactical Systems, a Combined Systems, Inc. product line used by the St. Louis County Police Department, and Defense Technology, a division of The Safariland Group, used by the local Ferguson Police Department and Missouri State Highway Patrol. In addition to munitions manufactured by these two companies, we have uncovered evidence of the use of two tear gas canisters so old that they cannot be positively dated.

St. Louis-area resident Andrew, who asked to be identified by his first name only, posted photos on his Instagram from the protest on Wednesday, August 13. The self-identified “firearm enthusiast” says he “wanted to document a part of history,” and wished to observe police weapons from the front lines. “I got some pretty strange looks,” he acknowledged. He bagged all the spent munitions he and a friend could find, and posted photos later.

One of Andrew’s photos from Wednesday night displays an arrangement of spent munitions, including types that protesters had not yet posted. Among them: two clearly outdated riot grenades manufactured by Smith & Wesson Chemical Company, a division of Smith & Wesson that was eliminated in the late 1980s, according to the company’s history.

Since Brown was killed, police from both Ferguson and St. Louis County have fired on protesters with rubber-coated bullets, pepper balls, beanbag rounds, tear gas, and other less-lethal ammunition on an almost nightly basis. The expelled debris made its way across social media, and eventually to national broadcasts. But before the national media descended on Ferguson, the community was subjected to gas on their own properties; on the night of August 11, police fired tear gas on residential streets. Residents photographed canisters, still smoking, in their and their neighbors’ front yards.

Andrew provided us with additional exclusive photographs that show the impact damage to these vintage canisters. While most canisters detonate and mostly remain in one piece, these were not intact, sustained a lot of damage, and could have sent shrapnel flying. Andrew witnessed, “police throwing tear gas canisters by hand,” rather than shooting them from a modern munitions gun or rocket launcher. He believes that these could have been the Smith & Wesson canisters. The area on the canisters where the handles attach appears to be rusted, an obvious safety and containment hazard. Andrew notes that the vintage canisters are made of “some pretty solid metal.”He later found what he thinks may have been a handle from the Smith & Wesson grenades, and notes that its metal is lighter than the metal of the canisters, perhaps tin.

What’s left of the labels identifies the products as Smith & Wesson Chemical Co. Riot Control Grenades, although it is unclear whether the gas inside is CS or the older CN. Although CN (2-Chloroacetophenone) is still manufactured and is the active ingredient in Mace, CS gas (0-Chlorobenzalmalononitrile) is “more stable, more potent and less toxic” and is commonly used in riot control agents. Smith & Wesson once manufactured CN gas, which has been phased out for United States use in favor of safer CS gas. Smith & Wesson packaged their CN gas in canisters similar to the ones found in Ferguson and Egypt. Yemeni security forces deployed CN gas against protesters there during the spring of 2011, causing extreme reactions including convulsions and muscle spasms. The physical effects among protesters were so severe that they initially believed they were being hit with nerve gas.


Similar products and models are listed occasionally on auction sites for collectors of antique and vintage firearms and ammunition. A Cold War-era Smith & Wesson grenade identification training poster owned by the Canadian Museum of History displays a model similar to one of the two older cans, listed as a “No. 5 Blast Dispersion Grenade.” A grenade container on an ammunition enthusiasts’ message board similar to the canister in the poster shows a manufacturing date of 1982, along with CS as the type of gas contained. (The label on one of the canisters found in Ferguson appears to read “Instantaneous Discharge,” rather than “Blast Dispersion.”) Similar vintage Smith & Wesson canisters were identified in Egypt at the height of the protests that eventually toppled Hosni Mubarak’s regime in 2011, one with an expiration date of either 1980 or 1990. Modern chemical munitions, including those manufactured by Defense Technology and Combined Tactical, have a five-year warranty and expire five years after their date of manufacture.

Social media reporting during the Arab Spring brought new evidence ofexpired tear gas sales, drawing criticism from human rights organizations. Amnesty International, in particular, criticized the United States for selling military leftovers to oppressive governments such as Egypt’s and Bahrain’s. Tear gas has not been used this wantonly in an American city in modern times; even its deployment against WTO protesters in 1999 and Occupy Oakland in 2011 was isolated and largely away from residential areas. Chemical munitions deployed in residential areas can be deadly: Physicians for Human Rights, an independent organization, recorded 34 tear gas related deaths in Bahrain from 2011 to 2012, many from inhalation in close or confined spaces.

The chemical weapons convention prohibits the use of chemical munitions in war; the weapons sales angered activists and rights groups who saw it is as evidence of American companies profiting from attacks on protesters. Anexception to the chemical weapons convention, to which the United States is a signatory, is the use of chemical munitions for domestic law enforcement purposes; it is under this allowance that tear gas and other chemicals are now deployed in Ferguson.

The legality of the use of expired and/or vintage munitions must still be explored, but deploying such a weapon against a civilian population, especially in residential areas, demonstrates a significant disregard for health impacts. Outdated and expired tear gas canisters are ignitable waste as defined by the EPA Resources Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 and subject to containment and disposal as required by the Missouri Hazardous Waste Management Law.

(read the entire article here)

Overpoliced and Underprotected:  In Michael Brown Killing, Neglect of Black Communities Laid Bare

Eugene Robinson Ι The Rage in Ferguson Comes From the Ones Left Behind:

But the violence in Ferguson tells of a deeper, more fundamental narrative about what African-Americans have done, and what has been done to them, in the decades since the urban riots of the 1960s — the fire last time.

Tempted to conclude that nothing has changed? Please note that the Missouri highway patrol commander, brought in to bring proportion and discipline to what had been a provocative local police response, is black. The attorney general who interrupted his Martha’s Vineyard vacation to order a Justice Department investigation and a third autopsy is black. And, of course, the president and commander in chief — who also took time from a Vineyard holiday to address the crisis in Ferguson — is black.

Also note that this undeniable evidence of progress on the issue of race — which would have been unimaginable when Harlem exploded in 1964 over the police shooting of a 15-year-old boy — makes no apparent difference to the young men who have been rampaging through the streets of Ferguson.

Why not? Because the tremendous gains achieved by some African-Americans have not just left some others behind but made their situation more desperate and hopeless than it was 50 years ago.

When the unrest in Ferguson is over, I predict that there will be a flood of ambitious journalism seeking to assess the status of black America. Most of this analysis will be ignored because it will so contradict what many Americans see every day with their own eyes.

Millions of African-Americans took advantage of the opportunities created by the civil rights movement to climb into the middle class — and in some cases far beyond, as exemplified by President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder.

Yet millions of other black Americans did not reach the middle class. This group, mired in poverty and dysfunction, finds the paths others took are blocked. They live in neighborhoods with failing schools that cannot prepare them for today’s economy. Secure, high-paying blue-collar jobs are a thing of the past. Racial bias in policing means they are much more likely to be arrested and jailed for minor nonviolent offenses, such as drug possession, than whites who commit the same crimes.

Increasingly, these African-Americans who were left behind are invisible. Their neighborhoods either get gentrified — which means they can no longer afford to stay there — or simply bypassed by development. What happens in poor black neighborhoods has less and less to do with the everyday lives of middle-class Americans, white or black.

Yet in Ferguson and other such pockets across the nation, millions of young black men and women grow up knowing that the deck is stacked against them. Did Michael Brown have a chip on his shoulder? Not according to his friends and family, although the convenience store video suggests otherwise. Would it be understandable if he did? Might he have wondered if white kids, living in more affluent parts of town, routinely got hassled by the police for jaywalking?

In Ferguson, the Violence of the state created the violence of the street

St Louis police fatally shoot ‘erratic’ man with knife near Ferguson

It would be nice to hear fewer stories of the police shooting and killing people.   Can’t they aim for a leg or foot?  Why do so many shoot to kill?

More Tweets:

Arrested for being out at night without Free Papers.


Missouri Lt. Governor:  We need Anglo-American justice in Ferguson, not racial protests:

Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder (R) on Tuesday called for Gov. Jay Nixon (D) to reinstate the curfew in Ferguson to allow the justice system — which he said was a product of “Anglo-American civilization” — to do its job.

Following Monday night’s clashes with police in the wake of the death of slain teen Michael Brown, Kindler told MSNBC’s Ronan Farrow that Nixon had been wrong to end the curfew in Ferguson.

“I don’t understand an argument for not reinstating it,” he insisted. “I don’t understand that. I’m not trying to be overtly political. I am saying, the people of Ferguson, the people of the state of Missouri are crying out for leadership.”

Before Farrow ended the interview, he asked the lieutenant governor if he agreed with Ferguson Mayor James Knowles that “the perspective of all residents” was that there was no “racial divide” in the city.

Kinder said there was “no question” that race was playing a role in what was happening in Ferguson.

“We do not do justice in America in the streets though,” he argued. “We have legal processes that are set in motion, that are designed after centuries of Anglo-American jurisprudence tradition, they’re designed to protect the rights and liberties of everyone involved.”

“That includes the Brown family, for justice for them and for the community. It also includes the officer who has not yet been charged,” he added. “Our constitutional and our Bill of Rights protections have to be followed here, and we do not do justice in the streets.”

“That’s one of the great advances of Anglo-American civilization, is that that we do not have politicized trials. We let the justice system work it out.”

Yes, it is 2014, and yes, you’re reading  of politician using coded language to say that “white peoples’ justice is superior to black peoples’ justice” as if the two are separate, and one is superior, while the other is inferior. He treats non-violent protests as if they’re not Constitutional rights of all Americans, and he seems to think that protesters are treating the streets of Ferguson as a courtroom.  This man is ignorant of what the community in Ferguson wants, and he clearly has prejudicial beliefs about black people, as well as as some biases about the superiority of white people that he really ought to reexamine.  Yes, I’ll remind you that this is 2014.

Ferguson Update