reverend osegyefo sekou ferguson missouri michael brown

The following piece of from EBONY. It was written by Dr. Cornel West and Rev. Osagyeo Sekou. 

By: Dr. Cornel West and Rev. Osagyefo Sekou 

The blood of Michael Brown has seeded the soil of a great American revolution—sprouting yearlings of new black leadership onto the political and public landscape.  The Ferguson Rebellion has exposed deep-seated racism, hyper-militarized state forces, unabashed police brutality and the soul-crushing poverty that will come to define “the Age of Obama.” It also revealed the open hostility between many from a younger generation of activists and elites of the traditional civil rights, religious and civic organizations of the Black freedom struggle.

The extrajudicial killing of Mike Brown was followed by the lynching-like display of his body to his shocked and grieving community for over four hours.  This sinister threat and clear provocation bred even greater contempt for the Ferguson Police Department, a department that is 94 per cent white, charged to protect and serve a community that is 67 per cent black; a department that has issued arrest warrants on two-thirds of its black population.  The hyper-militarized police response included teargas, rubber bullets, tanks, drones, an unrelenting assault on the freedom of the press and a globally televised attack on First Amendment rights and peaceful protests. This in turn, fomented a rebellion led by poor and working class black youth.

Meanwhile, traditional civil rights institutions and religious leaders failed to understand the foment of the younger generation. Older leaders called for protester restraint and highlighted black-on-black crime, affirming popular notions of black pathology. Many condemned the vicious policing during the Ferguson Rebellion as an afterthought – further alienating a dispossessed generation.   On more than one occasion high profile black leaders denounced black youth who took to the street as thugs, rioters and looters.  A significant portion of Rev. Al Sharpton’s sermon during Mike Brown’s funeral service was devoted to criticizing a generation of young blacks, painting them as gun-toting thugs who have “ghetto pity parties”. The NAACP was silent for nearly three days following Brown’s killing and the subsequent social unrest.  The venerable civil rights’ organization’s first comment on the ugly affair came in the form of a quickly deleted tweet:  “When someone outside of our race commits murder we want upheaval, but we need same for all murder.” This ill-fated statement resulted in a swift social media backlash, further underscoring the distance between the historic civil rights organization and a younger generation.

By placing the emphasis on respectability politics instead of on the visceral pain and rage so eloquently articulated on the streets of Ferguson, traditional leadership attempted to shame the courageous yet maligned young folks who forced the nation to acknowledge their humanity in face of inhumane treatment by law enforcement. Diminishing Mike Brown with that same chimera of ‘respectability’ – and the popular obsession of the absent black father – obscures the fact that Mike Brown had four loving parents (step and biological) and was part of an intergenerational community.

It is clear that that neither a nuclear family nor voter registration drives will save black folks from state violence, but many Black leaders appear to wilfully deny this. To this end, both Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton were booed by young Ferguson activists who found their presence wanting, even self-serving. David Whitt, a Canfield resident, shouted down Rev. Jackson during a rally.  “Why are you here?” Mr. Whitt wanted to know.  “We need folks in the streets not giving speeches,” he admonished the visibly ruffled civil rights icon. Whitt’s vocal dismay harkened back to the 1965 Watts Rebellion when inconsolable youth lambasted Martin Luther King, Jr. for being a tool of the white establishment.  Unlike King, Sharpton and Jackson have not responded adequately to young Black leadership rooted in the plight of poor blacks.

Equally, the tone-deaf response of the Obama Administration and other elected officials merely confirmed to young activists that they were on their own in their quest for justice.  As the President and First Lady wined and dined with elites on Martha’s Vineyard, black youth were attacked with tear gas, rubber bullets, and the full weight of what must surely be one of the most militarized small town police forces around.

The vast majority of the Congressional Black Caucus is also culpable in the brutal and unconstitutional response by police after they overwhelmingly voted for the deployment of such weaponry in our communities. Nearly two weeks after police killed Mike Brown and cracked down on protesters, Attorney General Eric Holder came to Ferguson and lauded Captain Ron Johnson and his troops as a model of community policing, a matter of hours after Johnson had unleashed tear gas on children several hours before the ‘curfew’ was due to begin.  Having witnessed scenes from Missouri that reminded him of his days as a SNCC activist, Congressman John Lewis called for the National Guard to be sent to Ferguson to protect the right to freedom of assembly and the press.  This was the case in some of the most intense civil rights struggles in the 1960s.  In recalcitrant places like Alabama, federalized National Guards would protect civil rights activists.   In an ironic turn of events, the Missouri Army National Guard was not federalized.  When the tanks rolled into occupied Ferguson, they were ordered to protect the militarized police who were guilty of denying the protesters their right to assemble, to cross the street in their own town, or to access their own homes and businesses. Even to stand stillin Ferguson became an arrestable offense.

The failure of traditional Black leadership to acknowledge the power of youth outrage and organizing, a callous White House, a suspect Justice Department coupled with an out-of-touch Congressional Black Caucus, Ferguson’s electoral apartheid and a national epidemic of police brutality set the stage for the emergence of a new black leadership.  Self-organized poor and working class Black youth sit at the center of this new crop of leaders, part of the mass of young folks who took the nation by surprise and demanded justice for Mike Brown.

Many of them reside in the Canfield Green Apartments where Mike Brown’s lifeless body lay in the sweltering summer heat.  Incensed by the police response, devastated by yet another of their own being shot for the ‘crime’ of walking while Black, and galled by the disrespect shown to that young man’s body, they began to march and – having no place to express their discontent – some began to damage property. In Ferguson, one-fourth of the population lives below the poverty line and unemployment has doubled in the last decade, making it a daily struggle for some to meet the most basic human needs.  Much of the meager bounty taken from stores was redistributed for free to the needy by a complex network of various street organizations (gangs) who called a rare truce in order to seek justice for Mike Brown.

Of course, it was the destruction of property—not Mike Brown’s death, the bungled police response, or the transparent and ongoing smear campaign city hall launched against Brown and his peers—that seized media attention and thus the public imagination, creating the space for sustained debate over the role of militarized policing and brutality.  Mr. Whitt, a father of three, organized in partnership with Copwatch a campaign to give video cameras to local youth so they can document police harassment.

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