Thursday, November 13, 2014

He was There: A Conversation With Journalist Lou Dubose About His Experience Reporting on the Killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri

I have written extensively about the killing of Michael Brown by Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. However, like most of the cultural critics, analysts, and interested public, I have not had an opportunity to actually go to Ferguson, and to speak with the members of the under siege, bullied, and harassed by the thuggish white police, African-American community that resides there.

For those of us who live outside of Ferguson, our insights into that community are mediated by others. While the broader issue of police brutality may resonate with us because of our personal encounters with racist and classist police power, this is no substitute for a direct experience and "eye on the ground" in Ferguson.

In the next two episodes of The Chauncey DeVega Show, I will try to remedy that social distance.

Lou Dubose, editor of The Washington Spectator, is the first guest in our two part series on the killing of Michael Brown by Darren Wilson, and the subsequent police riot against the black citizens of Ferguson.

He is a very accomplished and experienced journalist who has written for The Nation magazine and has also appeared on news programs such as 60 Minutes.

Mr. Dubose has written an excellent series of stories about the events in Ferguson based on his experiences there in the aftermath of the police riot against the town's black and brown community.

In this conversation, Lou and I discuss the racial geography of Ferguson, what he learned from the young people he spoke to about their experiences with police harassment, how the police responded to the media, the inter-class tensions within the black community in response to the protests about Michael Brown's death, and his thoughts about the grand jury investigation into Darren Wilson and the future of Ferguson if the latter is not put on trial for the killing of Michael Brown.

The grand jury in Ferguson will be issuing its decision about Darren Wilson in the very near future.

My conversation with Lou Dubose is timely and essential.

This newest episode of The Chauncey DeVega Show can either be listened to and downloaded from the link below or "watched" on Youtube.

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SW said...

After listening to this discussion, I can't help but land on the question of what is the role of the police in our communities?

According to its website, the Ferguson Police Dept. "provides protection of life and property in Ferguson through the enforcement of laws and ordinances and assistance with emergency medical services." Interesting.

The broader St. Louis County police department's mission is to "work cooperatively with the public, and within the framework of the Constitution, to enforce the laws, preserve the peace, reduce fear and provide a safe environment in our neighborhoods".

Having grown up in St. Louis's North County, less than 10 minutes away from Ferguson, I can attest that if these are the aims of these departments, they are failing miserably. While I think the County police (they wear brown, not blue), seem more professional, it feels like the police's main goal is to generate revenue, or "police for revenue". As was alluded to in the discussion, fines can represent the second largest line item on a municipalities income statement. The police have come to represent a tax collector of sorts, that patrol the streets with the objective of levying taxes on the communities black citizenry. That's a far cry from "working cooperatively with the public" or "providing protection for life and property".

I wonder what America's communities would be like if the police were actually living up to their stated goals? Would Michael Brown still be alive?

chauncey devega said...

The police in Ferguson are in a debt peonage hustle against the black community there. Moreover, and this is why I always try to locate these discussions in a broader human rights framework, we are seeing similar dynamics where the cops now go and steal people's property and the onus is on the victim to show it belongs to them. The badge is a license to steal. What does it take for White America to wake up....or is White America willfully asleep on this and many other matters?

Justin M. White said...

Maybe if we dressed police up as British Redcoats, Fox News could finally get some idea of why amassing 1,000 police preemptively against peaceful protesters upon Darren Wilson's non-indictment is not considered "preparation" or "community protection", but an invasion and show of force.

chauncey devega said...

If the cops are white and the victims are black the former can do no wrong in the eyes of white (and black) conservatives.

Justin M. White said...

:Sigh: I know that you're right, I just wanted to enjoy the thought of the cognitive dissonance playing out on their faces.

At least comparing scenes from historical dramas with news stories from today might still be a neat trick to pull on undergraduate students.

SW said...

Is awake and actively perpetuating an option?

ALPHA.MALE said...

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.,.,/,., /,., /

Gable1111 said...

"Despite the poverty and unemployment, Ferguson’s municipal court took in $2,635,400 in 2013, the incorporated suburb’s second-highest revenue source. Astonishingly, municipal court judges disposed of 24,532 warrants and 12,018 cases. That’s roughly three warrants and 1.5 cases per household..."

This is eerily reminiscent of the piracy of debt peonage systems instituted post slavery, which produced equally outrageous statistics, that were evidence of targeted abuse, through sharecropping and convict labor. As lawless as these systems were, they were "justified" by the dominant culture of the day as "necessary." The same thing is going on in Ferguson, where you have the poor population subsidizing the city through usurious fines and fees.

Here's the budget for the city of Ferguson:

The figure above is the third largest revenue stream, behind sales taxes and grants and amounts to approximately 13% of the city budget. Given the number of cases, this represents a clear policy of using the police to extract money from the poor and black residents in the city. In order to produce this stream, it requires not just tickets but arrests, and it appears the Ferguson PD had become adept with developing excuses to arrest people,

That said, I believe that was the motivation behind the murder of Brown. Wilson saw two black man, sources of revenue, and instead of asking them to please take the sidewalk, he was antagonistic and intimidating, trying to provoke a confrontation to have an excuse to arrest. Clearly Brown death is not an appropriate response for walking in the middle of the street. Wilson may not have thought it would end that way, but ending up killing Brown as a way to cover up the encounter.

Brown's death then was a tragic consequence of the policy of debt peonage in Ferguson, just as lynchings were in the days post Reconstruction.

chauncey devega said...

Now there are leaks of the supposed dispatch call and the lie that Brown robbed the store. I trust nothing from the Ferguson PD given their incompetence, not filing a report, etc. On the new audio Wilson says there is a "problem". Yup. He went off, hot headed and killed someone in broad daylight w. witnesses.

With what we know, and I hate making these timelines (but it is what I would do as a juror based on what has been released) the Ferguson PD harass black people. This is the environment for their behavior. Wilson sees 2 black people in the street, he tells them to get the fuck out of the road or something equally rude, he speeds past them and supposedly hears about a robbery (I don't believe this as the chief said Wilson had no knowledge of the supposed event). He backs up to confront Brown and company because 1) the robbery lie or 2) Brown and Dorian "disrespect" Wilson.

Wilson has the gun on his lap (he said in his report it was unholstered) and confronts Brown with the weapon to intimidate him during the arrest for the JIm Crow crime of bumptious walking. Wilson grabs him through the window, Brown panics and tries to deflect the weapon because he doesn't want to get killed, the gun goes off, he and Dorian run for their lives. Wilson exits the vehicle and shoots Brown multiple times. Brown stops, is stunned, surrenders and Wilson executes him.

Wilson and his fellow cops in Ferguson are thugs whose reason d'etre is to control, harass, and intimidate black people to give them tickets and warrants so that they can get paid off of them.

Gable1111 said...

The Ferguson PD has destroyed its own credibility, with the leaks and lies, particularly about the eye socket injury supposedly suffered by Wilson, and Brown robbing the store, to an extent where it is reasonable not to believe them. Its also reasonable to believe the department has covered up not only the murder of Brown by Wilson, but also other crimes against the community, including impeding their constitutional right to protest. These over the top descriptions of the protesters as "terrorists" and Brown as a "thug" are typical of the projection engaged in by right leaning groups to deflect and smear those who call them out.

And speaking of the robbery charge. If we had a working press, the PD should be challenged on that, having leaked it. You would think an ambitious reporter would be salivating over the chance to run this down. The police chief has already admitted that Wilson knew nothing of the robbery call at the time. Only once have I read of the store manager being questioned in this regard, who was adamant in responding that he never called the police to report a robbery. Supposedly, someone else called. Then this is public information that should be readily available.

There appears to be a concerted effort to not ask the obvious questions, while "reporting" as fact every rumor floated that serves the purpose of exonerating Wilson. I also find it curious, even in these times, that instead of public officials calling for calm and sending out emissaries to the community to ask for cooperation in maintaining order, taking an adversarial stance about "order" and gearing up for battle. Here you have a case where the police department has clearly lied, and has worked not to determine what happened but to exonerate Wilson through leaking of information, and then expect the community to just ignore it all and accept the verdict as just. That too is not reasonable.

chauncey devega said...

Totally agree. And on the "robbery" I thought that the owner said it wasn't one anyway. They had a disagreement about buying the how box of cigars and at what price. Brown paid for the ones he purchased. Do correct me if I am wrong.

The whole deal is a pretext to get Wilson off and to continue the theater of white victimology and police thuggery.

On a related note--feedback is important--what do you think of the Season 3 so far in terms of audio quality, the conversation w. Dubose, etc.?

Gable1111 said...

The owner of the store has said he did not call the police to report a robbery, and if memory serves, also said that the store was not robbed by Brown. To my knowledge, its never been reported who called the police to report a robbery. I'm also interested of the timing of the robbery claim, and how it fits into the timeline with Brown and his friend being accosted by Wilson, and ultimately killed. From what I read, the entire encounter took less than two minutes.

Audio quality for season 3 is good. I have not listened to all episodes however of what I have heard, they are impressive. The conversation with Dubose was instructive as well, providing a view from the ground, so to speak, asking questions and follow up that tease out nuances of the dynamics among the protesters, black store owners and local politicians, that you don't get in mainstream reporting. It gives some important context for what you read and hear from mainstream media outlets reporting on Ferguson. And that can be said generally for all of your audio content; it adds value to what we read and hear in the mainstream press.

Great job!

chauncey devega said...

As long as folks are learning from and sharing the podcast. Some are gonna be great others mixed some in the middle. Can't all be home runs, but I think folks--if they give it a chance--will be very impressed with the conversations I have put in the can for Season 3.

Once we got on Itunes, which is where folks go for podcasts, coverage will grow. Youtube has helped. One of the challenges is that folks will have to trust me in that even if the conversations isn't about "race" that all of the guests are smart and interesting folks who have something to offer.

SW said...

Keep up the good work Chauncey. One of the things that I really like about your writings and podcasts is the new knowledge or new context and/or shift in a given mental framework that are quite thought provoking. To that extent, the discussion with Dubose didn't present that small or large aha moment, but was still valuable. I think if one has been paying attention, or has been up to Ferguson in the wake of the police killing, no "new" information was presented, but does serve to provide some balance to what is presented by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and other lazy media outlets.

SW said...

Page 52 of the budget reveals that police personnel accounts for 48% of the personnel expense for the entire City of Ferguson. This is the largest personnel expense for the entire city by a lot. So police rack up the fines in order to pay their own salaries, which are budgeted to be 6% higher in 2014 than the 2013 budgeted amount.

chauncey devega said...

Thank you. It is always good to hear from folks who have actually been to the places being reported on. Lou did a good job of giving us that personal voice. Part 2 is from someone who is there and on the ground. They are nice complements to each other.