SYNDICATED COLUMN: We Would Never Have Had a National Conversation on Racial Profiling if People Hadn’t Rioted in Ferguson

Ferguson, Missouri offers a lesson for those of us who are trying to make life more fair: if you want the powers that be to pay attention, violent protest is more effective than nonviolence.

At this writing, race riots following the shooting of an unarmed young black man by a white cop in a suburb of St. Louis are dominating newspaper headlines and network news coverage. Federal and state officials have taken the rare step of chastising local police authorities, with the second-guessing going so far as to include a do-over of the autopsy of the 18-year-old victim, Michael Brown.

Violent demonstrators have the attention of the attorney general and the president of the United States, the latter of whom broke away from his vacation to call for both “respect for public order and the right to peaceful public protests.” (After his administration’s coordination of the brutal crackdown against the peaceful Occupy Wall Street movement, and his decision to shunt marchers at the 2008 and 2012 Democratic National Conventions into distant, hidden, caged “free speech zones,” Obama’s defense of the right to protest is a startling 180° turn.)

After years of ignoring the problem, we are finally beginning a national conversation about police racial profiling of African-Americans, especially young men. “Driving while black,” “stop and frisk” and the militarization of local law enforcement that always seems to fall heaviest against black communities (c.f., New Orleans during Katrina) have gone on for decades — but no one besides blacks seemed to care.

Thanks to Ferguson’s rioters, mainstream (white, wealthy) America is questioning those oppressive tactics.

This is a political breakthrough. And it’s only happening because people are throwing Molotov cocktails and rocks, and breaking windows and looting, and coming out night after night to confront the police even though — arguably because — the police are shooting tear gas and rubber bullets at them.

Michael Brown’s death fits a standard narrative: White Policeman Shoots Unarmed Black Youth. Happens all the time. White cops who kill unarmed black people are rarely charged with a crime; those who get charged are rarely convicted.

As far as I can tell, no white policeman in the United States has ever received a lengthy prison term for killing an unarmed African-American civilian.

Police shootings provoke anger among the black community — and there it remains. This is because black political and religious leaders usually persuade citizens to limit their tactics to peaceful protest.

Peaceful marches don’t scare the ruling classes. Which is why they don’t lead to meaningful change.

Nonviolent protest was the reaction last month when a NYPD officer killed 43-year-old Eric Garner, suspected of selling untaxed cigarettes, using an illegal chokehold. “We’re not gonna start fighting and pushing each other and breaking windows, right?” Garner’s mother urged at a rally.

So far, the protesters’ decision to respect private property rights has had zero effect. Garner’s death was ruled a homicide, yet the cop remains at work and uncharged.

Also in New York, another unarmed 18-year-old, Ramarley Graham, was shot to death by an undercover narcotics officer who broke into his apartment without a warrant in 2012. Protesters adhered to the usual nonviolent tactics. As usual, results were nil. From The Los Angeles Times: “A judge threw out a manslaughter indictment against the officer who shot Graham on a technicality. A second grand jury failed to indict the officer, saying there was insufficient evidence to charge him. Graham’s family and local lawmakers have called for the Justice Department to investigate.”

I’m a white guy, so I don’t have to worry about getting shot by cops if I’m in a car accident. As a black man, however, Manuel Loggins, Jr. wasn’t so lucky. After Loggins wrecked his SUV, an Orange County sheriff’s deputy shot him — he was unarmed — in front of his 9- and 14-year-old daughters because he had a “mean” expression. This was in 2012. Again, there were peaceful protests. As usual, the deputy was not charged.

This is how it always goes.

Ferguson’s protesters include old-school nonviolent civil rights types as well as younger activists who are fighting back against the police in kind. At a meeting, The New York Times reported, “clergy members despaired over the seemingly uncontrollable nature of the protest movement and the flare-ups of violence that older people in the group abhorred.” The paper quoted an older man from East St. Louis: “These kids do not understand why the nonviolence movement is the best way to get done what we need to get done.”

Given how quickly the young firebrands are getting results, the old folks are the ones who don’t understand.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan,” out Sept. 2. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)



  • The Second Amendment is really about the founders’ fears of a government-controlled, standing army. They were born in a country where the army could be used against the populace and had good reason for that fear. Ours may have been the first country on earth where the police were intended to protect the populace, rather than to protect the nobles from the populace. What happened?

    TPTB have been chipping away at the Posse Comitatus Act ever since it was written, but it may be moot as our police forces look more and more like standing armies in their own right. They’ve been above the law ever since I can remember (when was the last time you saw a cop obeying the speed limit?)

    I don’t like the idea of violent protests – Gandhi accomplished a lot with nonviolent civil disobedience; but neither can I fault Ted’s reasoning.

    Non-violent resistance activities cannot succeed against an enemy that is able freely to use violence. – Noam Chomsky.

    and as we’ve seen, today’s cops are able to freely use violence. I saw another great Chomsky quote, but I can’t find it – something to the effect that the further away from a problem you are, the less violence looks like a viable solution.

    • *… something to the effect that the further away from a problem you are, the less violence looks like a viable solution.*
      Does this help?
      “So to sum up: if violence could be shown to lead to the overthrow of lasting suppression of human life that now obtains in vast parts of the world, that would be a justification for violence. But this has not been shown at all, in my view.”
      (last paragraph)

      • eh, that’s good stuff – but not the precise quote I was looking for. Thanks, anyhow.

    • Chomsky has said is that activism today mistakes objectives for steps (and possible the other way around too). He used the example of the proposed general strikes being proposed in 2011-2012. He pointed out that such talk completely overlooks the years of work neccesary to get there.

      When you really stop and try to chart a course that gets you from the tactical step level to the milestone and objective level, all of the sexiness (and most of the people) go out of the room. But then you are free to think about what a course that could actually get you there might look like. I think what activists really need is something like the the Ladrillo of the Pinoche regime. That is to say a 500 to 1000 page detailed plan for the economy, sector by sector, point-by-point, which can be epistemically developed to a large extent before entering into a period of maintenance until the right crisis comes along. But it really needs to be more It has to be a program, in the computer sense of the term, with extensive contingency and variable considerations. At the same time a colloquialized heuristic version needs to be developed.

      As Milton Friedman once said:
      “Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable.”

      Is that not one of the most hopeful things you’ve read in a long time?

  • SenatorBleary
    August 18, 2014 5:09 PM

    Another point: How many Americans are familiar with the Ramarley Graham and Manuel Loggins Jr. cases, compared to the Michael Brown case? Those two cases seem more disturbing to me, yet somehow I missed the media coverage.

  • The violent and non-violent protesters really really hate each other.

    But without the the violent type, who would the non-violent type be in opposition to?, since the non-violent type seem to think they have noticed something innocently overlooked by the Master Class, who will promptly take action to right things upon being informed.

    Dream on.

    Would MLK Jr. ever have met with LBJ if cities weren’t burning? Would Frederick Douglas ever have met with Lincoln if the slave issue hadn’t gone violent?

    Such is life in a Representative Plutocracy.

    • alex_the_tired
      August 19, 2014 4:15 PM

      Such is life at the END of a representative plutocracy. This can’t go on too much longer. Take a walk through your kitchen for the answer why.

      Who cooks in your house? Who cooks in a plutocrat’s house? When the walls go up and we have the “haves” and the rest on two sides of an impenetrable barrier, how long before Rose the cook, who the family has loved for years and who they pay almost a great wage to, poisons them all?

      There’s a flashpoint, and it’s coming.

  • Ted,
    In the wake of the Ferguson slaying and subsequent riots, Tommy Sotomayor has advocated African-Americans to follow “killer cops” to their homes and perpetrate killings and kidnappings in retaliation for their actions – only not while the police are in uniform or on duty. This is supposed to teach them that they are not immune. Family members are also fair game. Is this the solution?

  • “We’re not gonna start fighting and pushing each other and breaking windows, right?” Garner’s mother urged at a rally.

    We heard much the same from Trayvon Martin’s mother. I wondered then whether it was an act of altruism, or whether it was the wisdom of someone who’s seen what happens to uppity Negros.

  • Badge-dangling gangbangers who like crushing the spirit of life out of the “Nigger” class in our homeland. While white people are marginally more resistant, they’re still not completely immune to the viciously violent excesses of America’s pig-master-class-without-sanity.

    Do notice that our cop-class increasingly absorbs all the “Defense” Department psycho-patients of its own much more official warrior-class. Of all those brain-damaged patriots-gone-sour coming back home to roost in “The Real World,” from Iraq and Afghanistan and all those other-more-nameless black and gray op sites of the Near East and Latin America? Every last one of them have been comprehensively retrained to “crowd-control” slaughter — as ordered — massive numbers of civilians and other non-combatants … with pleasure. Do you really believe that “being American” makes you more immune?

    In this Brave-New-World, we are consuming ourselves with an ebola-like cancer of national militarism. It certainly doesn’t help at all that the outsourced advisors of Zionland are actively retraining America’s over-militarized police forces to treat ‘Cano-land’s predominately-colored, economic under-class like Israel’s death-forces do to ALL the non-“Jewish” niggers (including its indigenous Christianite population) of Palestine. In a self-flagellating, monkey-see-monkey-do orgy of jealous admiration, relatively shortly, America is going to have dozens — if not hundreds — of little, FEMA-sponsored Gaza-Strips located just outside most, significant population centers throughout the nation. To McCarthy cocktail qualify as a “presumed-guilty” inmate, all anyone need do is garner the psychotic attention of the gutless snitches operating throughout our jack-boot drowning society, overpopulated mostly by the family members of our own pig-class.

    The newest nomenclature for murdering “Nazi-pig” is (also Christianite) Zionist.
    The latest American euphemism for “like-a-Palestinian-nigger” is “Not-a-Zionist-conspiring-1%er.”


  • I have read many comments that non-violent protests have proven far more effective than violent ones. Gandhi is repeatedly mentioned.

    In fact, in most cases where an oppressed group managed to end the oppression, there were both violent and non-violent protests. Anytime an experimental group is subjected to two things, it is impossible to know conclusively which one (or possibly both) was responsible for any differences between the experimental group and the control group. So, unless one has at least 30 situations where only non-violent means were employed to compare with 30 where only violent means were employed, there is absolutely no proof as to whether violent or non-violent protests are more effective at changing oppressive situations.

    One point, though: Gandhi. In 1907, the US had a Panic with a period of high unemployment. US factories said, if they could sell to the British and French colonies (prohibited by both Britain and France) they could put the workers back to work. Hence, Wilson was desperate to end the European Mercantile Empires in ’18, but failed miserably.

    Truman had much more luck in ’45: the dissolution of the British Empire started in ’47. It was Truman, not Gandhi, who gave the Raj its freedom. (The dissolution of the French Empire started a few years later.)

    (But then the ungrateful South Asians gave all the credit to Gandhi and Jinnah and banned all foreign imports, including those from the US, so Truman’s goal of opening more markets for American factories, a goal that he tried to achieve just by dissolving the European Mercantile Empires, wasn’t achieved for another half century.)

  • I have to generally disagree with the violent vs. non-violent protest dichotomy , even if I agree with it as a general matter as to practical effect. I think there is ample evidence in the American labor movement. It was violent–don’t get me wrong there. But a lot of that violence was scab busting and not labor-versus-capital (the actual and implicit threat of violence by capital-versus-labor addressed below). What was fundamental to the American labor movement was the sit-down strike. In the sit-down strike (versus a walkout) the actual, real threat was labor controlling the means of production. Labor threatened to take over the factory. It had violent components certainly–but it was the fundamental threat of overthrow that led to change (not enough).

    To that end, non-violent movements can, and have, affected change because they fundamentally posed the threat of the complete overthrow of the status quo. The sit-downers were crafting weapons in the event of a hostile raid by police/military, but were not taking a violent position per se.

    I think what was galvanizing about Ferguson was that state-sponsored paramilitary violence wasn’t working in sustaining control. That is what drew attention.

    Certainly violence, in and of itself, doesn’t accomplish anything. A cop killing accomplishes about as much as the murder of a doctor who performs abortions. With a paramilitarized police force the days of Blair Mountain are over. I’d rather see a sit-down of any fortune 500 company–with cube jockies sharpening their swinglines until an invasion of the police state or the dissolution of the company’s stock and the company’s profits paid to its employees.

    I do think what garnered attention to Ferguson wasn’t the violence of the protestors, but the response of the police. And some violence was probably necessary to cause that response. In the modern police-state, violence may be necessary to challenge the status quo. But that doesn’t seem the necessary response. I’d like to see a sit-down at Target, or Wal-Mart, or a bank. To paraphrase JLL, let the state affix the bayonets, and see how well that works out..

  • If only Martin Luther King JR had known how much more effective violent protest is than non-violent. White Presidents and Congress might have actually passed some laws helping disenfranchised minorities.

    If only Jackie Robinson had spit back or cursed those whites who cursed him. There might be statues of him somewhere if he had.

    Violently hitting back is what is so successful about the Palestinians in Gaza–they have the Israelis on the ropes. It’s worked so well, violent reaction, that it’s been going on for DECADES.

    I call bullshit, Ted. You may be partially correct, that is, that violent protest DOES get results, but if you think it’s the only tool in the box, you’re not much better than George W. Bush in March of 2003.

    • @Daddy-O, I never said it’s the only tool in the toolbox, and if you read my Manifesto you’d know that. Nonviolence has a role – but not the exclusive tactic. A violent state cannot be defeated nonviolently.

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