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

Bullying-words can hurt

Some people have internalized the childhood saying “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” so deeply that they think words truly don’t have power.

Those people are wrong. Words do have power. Words affect us in many ways. They may not affect us physically, as a knife wound or gunshot would, but they do affect us mentally…psychologically.

Words can convey feelings, such as love. When two people are in love, and one of them says “I love you”, that’s conveying the depth of that person’s feeling to the other one. Depending upon the feelings of the recipient, the impact of those 3 words can be cause for celebration. They can also be cause for trepidation or even fear. Those 3 words have an effect.

Words can convey intense feelings of disdain, apathy, or outright hatred. ‘Nigger’ and ‘faggot’ are two words that are often used to convey such feelings. Those who use these words to insult others demonstrate negative opinions of gay people or black people. The word ‘nigger’ is a word that is meant to dehumanize black people. It shows disdain toward its recipient based on nothing more than the color of their skin. The word is steeped in ‘othering’. When humans ‘other’ one another, we categorize people as being not like us, and therefore another class of humanity, almost always a so-called ‘lesser class’. Often this leads to people being treated as less than human, without the full range of rights that we’re all supposed to have. When someone calls me a ‘nigger’, it’s saying “You’re beneath me. You’re not my equal. You deserve to be treated badly.” The word has power. Similarly, if someone insults me by calling me a ‘faggot’, it’s to show their disdain for me (or homosexuals in general). They don’t view me as a human being deserving of respect. They see homosexuality as something awful; a mark on your character. They see homosexuality as inherently bad. If ‘faggot’ had no negative connotations, it wouldn’t work as an insult. Unfortunately, for a lot of people the word does carry those connotations.  They believe there is a moral component to sexuality–which is not true.  For the purposes of this discussion, morality is defined as a code of conduct of a society that is concerned with the distinction between right/wrong or good/bad actions as they relate to human interactions.   Being a lesbian, a gay man, or a transwoman has no moral component because they are centered on the identity of the individual in question. The sexuality or gender identity of an individual has nothing to do with others, thus there is no moral component.

One group of people that are affected by bigoted slurs like ‘faggot’ are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex teens. This group, collectively referred to by the acronym GLBTQI (with variations), faces far greater harassment than non GLBTQI individuals:

During 2005, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN glsen.org) conducted a study concluding that appearance was the number one reason for bullying. The second most common reason was actual or assumed sexual orientation and gender identity. According to a 2007 study by GLSEN, 86% of LGBT youth report being harassed at school. Compare this to 27.3% of all students being bullied at school as reported by the National Center for Educational Statistics in 2013.


Bullying can take the form of physical violence, or verbal harassment-i.e. words:


LGBT Bullying Statistics Show They Suffer From More Cyber Bullying

42% of LGBT youth have experienced cyber bullying, 25% more than once, 35% receive online threats, and 58% say something bad is said to them or about them online (bullyingstatistics.org).

GLSEN also found that cyber bullying of LGBT youth is three times higher than other student’s experience. 33% report sexual harassment online, which is four times higher than the experience of other students. 27% of LGBT youth do not feel safe online. 20% report receiving harassing text messages from other students.

Sexual harassment online is done using words.
People deliver online threats by using words.
Cyberbullying is done online by using words.
Words have power.
Sufficient power that GLBTQI teens face signficant health risks from bullying:


Cyber bullying combined with bullying at school, lowers self-esteem, which affects grades and mental health. 50% of all youth do not understand that discriminatory language is offensive, nor do they realize the negative impact on LGBT youth. GLSEN also found that LGBT youth spend more time online than youth in general. LGBT youth make friends online, and use the Internet to gather information about sexuality and health including information about HIV/Aids. LGBT youth are twice as likely to participate in political activities as other youth, making these connections online also. Because LGBT youth spend more time online, they are more likely the target of cyber bullying.

That bullying can lead to lower self-esteem, decreased grades, or mental health issues is a big enough problem. Unfortunately, it can also lead to substance abuse:

The Division of Adolescent and School Health, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, CDC published a study in 2011, showing that LGBT youth have a higher risk than the general population for alcohol and substance abuse, engage in more risky behaviors, and are more likely to become runaways. The risky behaviors they studied included, behaviors that cause injury such as not using a seat belt, or a bicycle helmet, drunk driving, or riding in a car with a driver that had been drinking. They also looked at violence, such as carrying a weapon, getting into fights, forcing someone to have sex, or having sex forced on them. Other risky behaviors they studied were smoking, drinking alcohol, and using drugs. Risky sexual behaviors included whether they used condoms and/or birth control, how many sexual partners they had, and how young they were when they lost their virginity. They also looked at their diet, exercise patterns, and computer use. LGBT youth were found to be at high risk.


GLBTQI teens are also at high risk of homelessness:

According to PFLAG NYC (pflagnyc.org) LGBT youth rejected by their families are three times more likely to have substance abuse problems. 50% experience a negative environment at home if they tell their parents about their sexual orientation, with 26% forced out of their homes. Up to 50% of the youth that are on the streets living without a home are LGBT youth, who must live on the streets because of their sexual orientation or gender identification.


Worse still, GLBTQI teens are at high risk for suicide:

LGBT teenagers are two or three times more likely to attempt suicide than other teens (stopbullying.gov). If the family of the LGBT youth does not accept them, they are eight times more likely to commit suicide than other teens. One-third of the suicide attempts that actually result in death are due to a crisis in sexual identity. LGBT youth miss more than five times as much school as other students because of bullying they receive at school. 28% of LGBT youth stop going to school because of being bullied (makebeatsnotbeatdowns.org).

GLSEN statistics show that students who experience bullying feel depressed, anxious and may have other health problems. Students, mistakenly identified as LGBT by their peers, suffer just as much as LGBT students do. Bullied LGBT students, who feel their school is unsafe, get lower grades, have worse attendance records, and are more likely to drop out of school. LGBT students have a disproportional amount of disciplinary problems that keep them out of school and make up 15% of those incarcerated in juvenile detention. It is no wonder that the suicide rates are higher due to all these negative influences.

GLBTQI teens are affected by verbal harassment-aka words-just as they are affected by physical harassment. So when people claim that words don’t have power, they’re ignoring the reality that GLBTQI teens face across the country*.

*While the figures used above are for GLBTQI teens, I fully understand that GLBTQI children and adults face harassment as well. Also, while this post has centered on GLBTQI bullying in the US, I fully understand and acknowledge that bullying of GLBTQI people occurs across the planet.

Bullying-words can hurt