It’s around 7:30 pm on November 24th, and I, along with a group of fellow Comrades, had just arrived in Ferguson in front of the Firehouse and Police Department to join a crowd of fellow protesters and activists. I had ridden there with SP member Arianna Norris-Landry, her son, Tristan, and fellow Saint Louis Local member, Claude Patillo. Arianna was prepared as a legal observer and set to do her part as Claude and I moved among the crowd. We looked at the faces of people who have been struggling and organizing for months. People who have borne the brunt of the trials of August and have fought as a city and community.
Anger was simmering among the crowd, but peace still prevailed. Chanting and shouting were heard on and off as we waited for the announcement of whether or not Officer Darren Wilson, the murderer of unarmed Black teen Mike Brown, would be indicted or not — the answer which we already suspected.
Thoughts of Michael Brown’s family filled my head as I looked through the crowd. My thoughts were of Lesley McSpadden, Mike Brown’s mother who was among the crowd of protesters, and the unimaginable amount of grief and hell she had been through and how so many other Black families have had to recoil in horror after enduring the same, or a similar, tragedy. I was tugged on the shoulder by Claude, after I had wandered away from him, and he reminded me of the strict buddy system we had implemented to protect each other from being singled out by police, a good precaution to take after hearing stories from other activists who had experienced this.
A megaphone-clad protester called the 1-minute mark for Bob McCulloch’s speech and announcement of the verdict. Everyone froze in grueling anticipation. Then, over a car stereo rigged to a loudspeaker, a voice began to speak. Ironically, it was distorted to a near unintelligible level, which gave McCulloch’s cold and raspy voice a robotic and machine-like tone. It was a tone that signified his alienation and unsympathetic feeling for the oppression faced by the Black community.
The verdict: no indictment.
Anger channeled through us. Yet another example that Black lives have no value in the legal system or among its leaders and the ruling class. People wept, screamed in anger and stood in disapproving silence. A black activist I’ve seen at other protests and marches smashed his megaphone on the ground. Some yelled to march, and some yelled to fight the system. “Enough peace!” I heard over my shoulder.
Suddenly, the crowd panicked and people started running. I looked forward and a phalanx of over 100 riot-geared police moved forward from behind the fire station where they had been hiding. As they moved forward people ran in fear; scenes of the Odessa steps flashed in my mind. The huge onslaught of cops seemed to speak to me as a single grotesque being, “Stand down. You’ve heard the verdict. Now accept or we’ll force you to.”
Calm returned for some, but anger heightened for others. “Fuck the police!” filled the air. Chants of “No justice, no peace!” started. Some marched up the street, and some threw water bottles. But peace was still with the majority, even though what sounded of either fireworks or gunshots was heard in the distance. That wouldn’t last long.
To our right, tactical units had arrived and began ordering us to disperse. We stood in opposition, determined to stand and allow our voices to be heard. A signal flare shot overhead warned the helicopters to fly higher. Veterans of the protests knew what was coming. My comrades and I prepared our bandanas and respirators and mixed together an anti-tear gas solution. Then it happened: Canisters rained down, releasing tear gas. Protesters scattered.
Claude and I ran up a side street and looked for our friends and fellow activists. I was furious — we were told these tactics would not be used. It was said they would allow us to peacefully demonstrate. We were told their tactics would be different. The police lied. They struck with quick action to quell us.
A woman near us went into shock; she was having a heart attack. Protesters carried her and pleaded for help from the police, but none was given. Instead they were met with flash bangs and rubber bullets. They carried her up the street to safety. Arianna went to seek help from law enforcement, but was met with assault rifles and commands to get on the ground. A local pastor escorted her to safety.
People gagged and coughed as the gas kept coming. We were barraged with gas for up to 20 more minutes — a repeat of what happened in August. Many escaped to West Florissant Ave. and then began to fully let out their rage. Our peace had been met with violence and many struck with rightful retribution by rioting. Back on South Florissant Ave., Claude and I saw what we assumed was the first smoke from a police cruiser that had been set ablaze.
“How can they just shoot gas at a goddamned peaceful protest?” Claude spoke visibly shaken. “Bastards” he whispered.
As rioting began we stayed back on South Florissant Ave. and did what we could to help those suffering from gas. It was 12am before we were able to leave. A small protest assembled on the sidewalk. We stood as police spot lights shined on us until we left. We would later find out the police denied using tear gas until an hour after the fact, claiming it was “only smoke.”
The media, of course, told a very different story.
They claimed the police presence was “relaxed” and “laid back,” as if to allow us the chance to vent, which we “lost” after “outside agitators” and “bad apples acted out.” In reality, it was clear to many of us that the police planned a focused effort to disorganize the central protest and to allow for destruction of property in a way to condemn and slander the protests. This is a tactic used to show fearful “middle class” white suburbia the “animals” they feared.
The police were able to hurt protesters through this tactic, many of us physically and all of us psychologically. People can only be pushed so far. What ensued was a result of law enforcement provocation. The police had no intention of using”peaceful” tactics.
What law enforcement, mass media outlets, reactionaries, and “post-racial” liberals didn’t expect is the mass wave of national protests in solidarity across the country. Our brothers and sisters all over the nation took to the streets to demonstrate and practice civil disobedience in tons of major cities, refusing to accept McCulloch’s rubber stamp grand jury verdict.
Justice will be served by the people and we will indict this system through resistance. This must carry on as a national movement to question the racial and economic oppression of Black Americans and other people of color.
I call on all Locals of the Socialist Party USA to get involved locally in demonstrations and acts of resistance in any way they can. United we can move forward and challenge the status quo of this country. No justice, No Peace!
Special thanks to the members of the St. Louis Local, the acts of Arianna Norris-Landry and Claude Patillo on November 24th and to all our SP Comrades who donated in some way to help us fight back.