Ferguson Goddam: 31 Riffs On A Theme

Above image of protester in Ferguson, MO taken by Getty Images photographer Scott Olson, who was arrested on Monday, August 18 2014 by law enforcement officials

Above image of protester in Ferguson, MO taken by Getty Images photographer Scott Olson, who was arrested on Monday, August 18 2014 by law enforcement officials


Michael Brown, the unarmed black teenager who was killed by a police officer, sparking protests around the nation, was shot at least six times, including twice in the head, a preliminary private autopsy performed on Sunday found.

One of the bullets entered the top of Mr. Brown’s skull, suggesting his head was bent forward when it struck him and caused a fatal injury, according to Dr. Michael M. Baden, the former chief medical examiner for the City of New York, who flew to Missouri on Sunday at the family’s request to conduct the separate autopsy. It was likely the last of bullets to hit him, he said.

Mr. Brown, 18, was also shot four times in the right arm, he said, adding that all the bullets were fired into his front.

The bullets did not appear to have been shot from very close range because no gunpowder was present on his body. 

  • Frances Robles & Julie Bosman, “Autopsy Shows Michael Brown Was Struck At Least 6 Times,” New York Times, 08/17/2014  http://tinyurl.com/p6cb2pp


Arrested on charges of unemployment,
he was sitting in the witness stand
The judge's wife called up the district attorney
She said you free that brown eyed man
You want your job you better free that brown eyed man

Way back in history three thousand years
In fact ever since the world began
There's been a whole lot of good women sheddin' tears
For a brown eyed handsome man
It's a lot of trouble with a brown eyed handsome man.

  • Chuck Berry, “Brown-Eyed Handsome Man,” Sept. 1956



The streets were quiet, eerie quiet, and it was pitch black and maybe one in the morning. We were moving slowly down South 7th Street - we had crossed Springfield and were approaching South Orange Avenue - when we saw the lights. Red lights like vicious eyes blinking. A riot of red lights blinking. Like Devils or pieces of hell. We were slowing down, and the lights seemed to get frantic, batting and winking, little silent splinters of scream. Then we could see under the streetlights piles of police cars, maybe five or six. For one instant we started to stop and back up or try to U-turn or even speed up on the sidewalk and go past. But the fantasy had stopped. All of us could sense that if we did anything we would die. We could see the shotguns and helmets. They had the street blocked and as we slowed pulling up to them we looked at each other and got ourselves ready.

A mob of police surrounded the van, two of them pulling open the front and back doors. They had their shotguns and handguns trained on us as they dragged us out the doors. Shorty, Barney, and I. I heard one guy say, “These are the bastards who’ve been shooting at us!”

Another shouted, “Where are the guns?”

Then another cop stepped forward, I think he was saying the same thing. What was really out is that this cop I recognized, we had gone to high school together! His name was Salvatore Mellillo. The classic Italian American face. “Hey, I know you,” I said, just as the barrel of his .38 smashed into my forehead, dropping me into half-consciousness and covering every part of me with blood. Now blows rained down on my head. One dude was beating me with the long nightstick. I was held and staggering. The blood felt hot in my face. I couldn’t see, I could only feel the wet hot blood covering my entire head and face and hands and clothes. They were beating me to death. I could feel the blows and the crazy pain but I was already removed from conscious life. I was being murdered and I knew it. I screamed, “Allahu Akbar. Al Homdulliah!” Spitting the rage and pain back at them.

But then I could hear people shouting at them. Voices calling, “You bastards, stop it. Stop it. You’re killing them. Motherfucking bastards, stop it.” From the windows black people were shouting at the police. From a tall apartment building overlooking the scene. People screamed at them. They started throwing things.

I could hear the policemen shouting at each other. “Put ‘em in the car. Put ‘em in the car!” But once in the car, the torrent of blood was falling out of my head so fast that one of them started cursing. “Get him out of the fucking car. He’s bleeding all over the fucking car!” I never lost consciousness, but I lapsed into an even lower state of semiconsciousness. I felt myself being lifted into the paddy wagon.

So I was locked up the first night of the Newark rebellion.

  • Amiri Baraka, The Autobiography of Leroi Jones, 1984



You explained it to me I must admit
But just for the record you were talkin' shit
Y'all rap about no knock bein' legislated
For the people you've always hated
In this hell hole you, we, call home

No knock, the man will say
To keep that man from beating his wife
No knock, the man will say
To protect people from themselves

No knockin', head-rockin', inter-shockin'
Shootin', cussin', killin', cryin', lyin'
And bein' white
No knock

No knocked on my brother Fred Hampton
Bullet holes all over the place
No knocked on my brother Michael Harris
And jammed a shotgun against his skull

For my protection?
Who's gonna protect me from you?
The likes of you?
The nerve of you?
Your tomato face deadpan
Your dead hands ending another freedom fan

No knockin', head rockin', inter-shockin'
Shootin', cussin', killin', cryin', lyin'
And bein' white

But if you're wise, no knocker
You'll tell your no-knockin' lackeys
No knock on my brother's head
No knock on my sister's head
No knock on my brother's head
No knock on my sister's head

And double lock your door
Because soon someone may be no-knockin'
Ha, ha!
For you.

  • Gil Scott-Heron, “No Knock,” Free Will,  1972



After [Mike] Brown's death came his demonization. First, we heard that Brown had run for stealing candy from a store. Then we were bombarded with a photo of Brown in a red Nike tank top on a stoop, posing for the camera.

This photo, in which Brown was flashing a "gang sign"—a peace sign, actually—was presented as proof that the teenager was a thug; his friends and family now not only have to work through their grief, but against a posthumous slur campaign. Johnson described his friend in an MSNBC interview was cool and quiet. Brown's uncle, Bernard Ewings, said in a Sunday interview that Brown loved music. Brown's mother, Leslie McSpadden, said that he was funny and could make people laugh. He graduated from high school in the spring, and was headed to college to pursue a career in heating and cooling engineering. Monday would have been his first day.

By all accounts, Brown was One Of The Good Ones. But laying all this out, explaining all the ways in which he didn't deserve to die like a dog in the street, is in itself disgraceful. Arguing whether Brown was a good kid or not is functionally arguing over whether he specifically deserved to die, a way of acknowledging that some black men ought to be executed.

To even acknowledge this line of debate is to start a larger argument about the worth, the very personhood, of a black man in America. It's to engage in a cost-benefit analysis, weigh probabilities, and gauge the precise odds that Brown's life was worth nothing against the threat he posed to the life of the man who killed him. It's to deny that there are structural reasons why Brown was shot dead while James Eagan Holmes—who on July 20, 2012, walked into a movie theater and fired rounds into an audience, killing 12 and wounding 70 more—was taken alive.

To ascribe this entirely to contempt for black men is to miss an essential variable, though—a very real, American fear of them. They—we—are inexplicably seen as a millions-strong army of potential killers, capable and cold enough that any single one could be a threat to a trained police officer in a bulletproof vest. There are reasons why white gun's rights activists can walk into a Chipotle with assault rifles and be seen as gauche nuisances while unarmed black men are killed for reaching for their wallets or cell phones, or carrying children's toys. Guns aren't for black people, either.



Fuckin with me 'cause I'm a teenager
With a little bit of gold and a pager
Searchin my car, lookin for the product
Thinkin every nigga is sellin narcotics

You'd rather see me in the pen
Then me and Lorenzo rollin in the Benzo
Beat tha police outta shape
And when I'm finished, bring the yellow tape
To tape off the scene of the slaughter
Still can't swallow bread and water

Lights start flashin behind me
But they're scared of a nigga so they mace me to blind me
But that shit don't work, I just laugh
Because it gives em a hint not to step in my path

To the police I'm sayin fuck you punk
Readin my rights and shit, it's all junk
Pullin out a silly club, so you stand
With a fake assed badge and a gun in your hand

But take off the gun so you can see what's up
And we'll go at it punk, I'ma fuck you up

I'm tired of the muthafuckin jackin
Sweatin my gang while I'm chillin in the shackin
Shining tha light in my face, and for what
Maybe it's because I kick so much butt

They put up my picture with silence
'cause my identity by itself causes violence
The E with the criminal behavior
Yeah, I'm a gangsta, but still I got flavor

  • N.W.A., “Fuck tha Police,” Straight Outta Compton, 1988


The McCone Report, significantly, ignores the political atmosphere of Los Angeles. It refers, for example, to the repeal in 1964 of the Rumford Act—the California fair-housing law—in these words: “In addition, many Negroes here felt and were encouraged to feel that they had been affronted by the passage of Proposition 14.” Affronted, indeed! The largest state in the Union, by a three-to-one majority, abolishes one of its own laws against discrimination and Negroes are described as regarding this as they might the failure of a friend to keep an engagement. What they did feel—and without any need of encouragement—was that while the rest of the North was passing civil-rights laws and improving opportunities for Negroes, their own state and city were rushing to reinforce the barriers against them.

The McCone Report goes on to mention two other “aggravating events in the twelve months prior to the riot.” One was the failure of the poverty program to “live up to [its] press notices,” combined with reports of “controversy and bickering” in Los Angeles over administering the program. The second “aggravating event” is summed up by the report in these words:

Throughout the nation unpunished violence and disobedience to law were widely reported, and almost daily there were exhortations here and elsewhere, to take the most extreme and illegal remedies to right a wide variety of wrongs, real and supposed.

It would be hard to frame a more insidiously equivocal statement of the Negro grievance concerning law enforcement during a period that included the release of the suspects in the murder of the three civil-rights workers in Mississippi, the failure to obtain convictions against the suspected murderers of Medgar Evers and Mrs. Violet Liuzzo, the Gilligan incident in New York, the murder of Reverend James Reeb, and the police violence in Selma, Alabama—to mention only a few of the more notorious cases. And surely it would have been more to the point to mention that throughout the nation Negro demonstrations have almost invariably been non-violent, and that the major influence on the Negro community of the civil-rights movement has been the strategy of discipline and dignity. Obsessed by the few prophets of violent resistance, the McCone Commission ignores the fact that never before has an American group sent so many people to jail or been so severely punished for trying to uphold the law of the land.


Can't you see it
Can't you feel it
It's all in the air
I can't stand the pressure much longer
Somebody say a prayer

Alabama's gotten me so upset
Tennessee made me lose my rest
And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam

Lord have mercy on this land of mine
We all gonna get it in due time
I don't belong here
I don't belong there
I've even stopped believing in prayer

Don't tell me
I tell you
Me and my people just about due
I've been there so I know
They keep on saying "Go slow!"

But that's just the trouble
"do it slow"
Washing the windows
"do it slow"
Picking the cotton
"do it slow"
You're just plain rotten
"do it slow"
You're too damn lazy
"do it slow"
The thinking's crazy
"do it slow"
Where am I going
What am I doing
I don't know
I don't know

Yes you lied to me all these years
You told me to wash and clean my ears
And talk real fine just like a lady
And you'd stop calling me Sister Sadie

Oh but this whole country is full of lies
You're all gonna die and die like flies
I don't trust you any more
You keep on saying "Go slow!"
"Go slow!"

You don't have to live next to me
Just give me my equality
Everybody knows about Mississippi
Everybody knows about Alabama
Everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam

  • Nina Simone, “Mississippi Goddam,” 1964



More than 13 years after the police shooting of Amadou Diallo, Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly has agreed to restore a service weapon to one of the four New York City officers involved, a decision that Mr. Diallo’s mother characterized as a betrayal.

Mr. Kelly had indicated “that he was not going to give back the gun,” Kadiatou Diallo said in a phone interview from her home in Maryland. “Now he has turned around and given back the gun. We want to know why. Why did he change his mind?”

The police fired 41 shots, killing Mr. Diallo as he stood in the vestibule of his apartment building in the Bronx on Feb. 4, 1999. Although the officers said they believed he had a gun, Mr. Diallo was unarmed.

The Police Department offered no official explanation on Tuesday about restoring a gun to the officer, Kenneth Boss. But a law enforcement official familiar with Mr. Kelly’s reasoning pointed to the recent exoneration of another officer, Michael Carey, who fired 3 of 50 bullets shot at Sean Bell, who was killed on the morning of his wedding outside a Queens nightclub in 2006.

“The subsequent exoneration in the trial room of Officer Carey in the Sean Bell case, whose gun-carrying privileges were restored under similar circumstances as the Diallo shooting played a significant role in the decision,” the law enforcement official said.

Patrick J. Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said he believed that Mr. Kelly’s decision, reported Tuesday in The New York Post, was “appropriate and long overdue.” “This police officer was exonerated in a criminal trial and in a thorough departmental review and there was no reason to deny him full restoration,” Mr. Lynch wrote in a statement.

The fusillade of bullets, 19 of which struck Mr. Diallo, prompted furious protests against the police. The officers, all white and members of the elite Street Crime Unit, said they believed Mr. Diallo had a gun. It turned out to be his wallet.

  • Wendy Ruderman and J. David Goodman, “Diallo’s mother asks why officer who shot at her son will get gun back,” The New York Times, 10/02/2012, http://tinyurl.com/k36bozo



The police department is like a crew,
It does whatever they want to do.
In society you have illegal and legal.
We need both, to make things equal.
So legal is tobacco, illegal is speed,
Legal is aspirin, illegal is weed,
Crack is illegal, ‘cause they cannot stop ya,
But cocaine is legal if it’s owned by a doctor.
Everything you do in private is illegal,
Everything’s legal if the government can see you.

  • Boogie Down Productions, “Illegal Business,” By All Means Necessary, 1988



About 150 people gathered for an afternoon demonstration in downtown St Louis, 12 miles southeast of Ferguson, where Michael Brown, 18, was shot repeatedly by Darren Wilson last Saturday afternoon. Some wielded placards with messages defending the 28-year-old officer and his family.

“He was doing his job,” said Kaycee Reinisch, 57, of Lincoln County, Missouri. “And now because of public uproar in Ferguson, he is being victimized. He is being victimized by the whole city, the state and the federal government.” Reinisch said she had relations in law enforcement who would be “frightened to do their jobs” if Wilson were punished for the incident.

Robin Barklage, who said he once lived in one of the apartment buildings overlooking the site of Brown’s shooting, said he believed police claims that Brown assaulted Wilson. “I believe he did what he had to do,” said Barklage. “No officer is going to go further then they need to”.

Others – none, apparently, from Ferguson – complained about the charges of police racism in a city where 50 of the 53 police officers are white, while the population is roughly two-thirds black. Figures compiled by the Missouri attorney general show that black residents are stopped and searched disproportionately by the police.

“Ferguson will now be forced to hire 10 African American police officers just because of this terrible ordeal,” said Damon Andersen of Imperial City, Missouri. “Let the black officers see how difficult it is to try and deal with the black criminals on the beat they are patrolling.”

  • Jon Swaine, “Ferguson police officer was 'doing his job', say supporters,” The Guardian, 08/17/2014, http://tinyurl.com/kcwymul 



Tell me what has become of my rights
Am I invisible because you ignore me?
Your proclamation promised me free liberty, now
I'm tired of bein' the victim of shame

They're throwing me in a class with a bad name
I can't believe this is the land from which I came
You know I really do hate to say it
The government don't wanna see
But if Roosevelt was livin'
He wouldn't let this be, no, no

Skin head, dead head
Everybody gone bad
Situation, speculation
Everybody litigation
Beat me, bash me
You can never trash me
Hit me, kick me
You can never get me

All I wanna say is that
They don't really care about us
All I wanna say is that
They don't really care about us

Some things in life they just don't wanna see
But if Martin Luther was livin'
He wouldn't let this be, no, no

  • Michael Jackson, “They Don’t Care About Us,” 1996


A few days after George Zimmerman’s acquittal, I was on the phone with my father. Trayvon Martin’s fate, my dad said, could have fallen on “my grandfather, my father, me, you….” His voice trailed off slightly, and I knew that the most frightening declaration was coming next: in less than two decades, it could find my two-month-old nephew. Not every situation ends with a death, and many end without bodily harm, but the absence of empathy toward black men from our political, law-enforcement, and judicial systems is nearly beyond comprehension.

Earlier in the week, Rich Lowry, at Politico, wrote, “Let’s take a tragedy and make it a racial crime. … Let’s never, ever admit that if Martin hadn’t hit Zimmerman, he would almost certainly be alive today.” How far must a heart travel to reach a place of empathy for Trayvon Martin? The six jurors and, it seems, Rich Lowry have found that path unpassable or, at least, obstructed. Lowry continues:

Let’s ignore that Zimmerman is from a mixed-race household. Let’s forget that he initially didn’t mention Martin’s race on his 911 call and said he “looks black” only when prompted by the operator. Let’s disregard testimony about his good character, lest it get in the way of the national dialogue about how he’s a racist murder [sic] who got away with it.

Let’s say the trial was about race in America or about whether black men can walk home from the store or any other insipid, racially charged nonsense to fill the air or column inches. The national conversation cannot afford to get mired down in legal niceties like what constitutes lawful self-defense, let alone reasonable doubt.

Lowry mocks those who are trying to come to terms with what he rightly calls a “tragedy.” In doing so, he brushes aside the historical relationship that blacks have had with people in America who hold power. “What constitutes lawful self-defense” in Florida and other states with Stand Your Ground laws has been redefined to legalize—and, indeed, encourage—lethal force inspired by fear. Moreover, a Stand Your Ground claimant stands a greater chance of being cleared of a crime if his victim is black. The history of race and criminalization is not a sideshow but, rather, the central issue.

Later, Lowry writes,

Let’s not talk about the 90 percent of black murder victims killed by other blacks. That is not a fit topic for the nation’s wide-ranging national conversation. Why should we get worked up about something that happens on the streets of Chicago literally every night? If you are bothered by routine slaughter, sadly, you just don’t get it. For national conversation purposes, not all murders are equal.

More attention—from the media and from political leaders—should be paid to the communities being torn apart by violence. But let’s not pretend that no one is taking action, or that those communities are idly waiting to be saved from themselves. Individuals and organizations across the country are dedicated to disrupting cycles of violence, against the strong tides of history, poverty, and dysfunction. Using black-on-black violence as a retort to focussing on a single incident of injustice is a bit of rhetorical trickery, one that further entrenches the pathology with which America regards black men: they’re not like us; their violence comes from something in their nature; look at how they are when they’re together.

We levy power when we define others in terms that are not their own, and black people, excluded from obtaining power for much of American history, have been susceptible to debilitation—political, economic, in the realm of law-enforcement—by definitions from the upper classes. And it’s worked, generation after generation.

  • Matthew McKnight, “Before and After Trayvon Martin: How Power Flattens Humanity,” The New Yorker, July 22 2013, http://tinyurl.com/jwaxbzg 


Get that flashlight out of my face
I'm not a dog, so damn it, put away the mace
I got cash and real attorneys on the case
You're just a joker perpetratin’ a ace
You got time, you wanna give me a taste
I don't smoke cigarettes, so why you're lookin for base?
You might plant a gun, and hope I run a race
Eatin in the messhall, sayin my grace
You tried to frame me, but it won't work
Illegal search

On the turnpike, and everything's right
In the background is flashin lights
Get out the car in the middle of the night
It's freezin cold, and you're doin it for spite
Slam me on the hood, yo, that ain't right
You pull out your gun if I'm puttin up a fight
My car, my clothes, and my girl is hype
But you wanna replace my silver stripes
You're a real man, your uniform is tight
Fingerprint me, take me name and height
Hopin it will, but I know it won't work
Illegal search

And them cops out there
That did the wrong thing to one of my brothers
In Jersey
Keep on searching
Cause that was foul

  • LL Cool J, “Illegal Search,” Mama Said Knock You Out, 1990


[Chief Thomas Jackson,] I’m offering no judgment as to the legitimacy of the police action in the death of Mr. Brown, nor am I critiquing your department’s militarized performance with regard to the resulting civil disturbances in your municipality. I leave the former for the more careful assessments of prosecutors and, presumably, a grand jury; the latter, I am sure, will be a subject of continued discussion within your community, in Missouri as a whole, and elsewhere in the country.

But for now, let’s simply focus on the notion that you, as head of a police department accountable to the citizens of your jurisdiction, actually seem to believe — along with local prosecutors — that it is plausible for a sworn and armed officer to kill a citizen and do so in anonymity.

Regrettably, I know that you are not alone in this astonishing breach of trust.  More than a decade ago, some of our most authoritative federal agencies began a tragic retreat from basic accountability, shielding their agents from any scrutiny for their use of the most significant power that a law officer can possess — the taking of a human life as an act of personal deliberation.  Following the lead of the FBI, other large urban departments have since followed suit, or attempted to do so at points.

But the cost to our society is not abstract — and the currency in which that cost is paid is trust.  Your department has shown that you do not trust the public with the basic information about who specifically has, in the performance of his or her duties, been required to take a human life in Ferguson. And that same public is now in the street demonstrating that they do not believe that Ferguson law enforcement can therefore be relied upon for anything remotely resembling justice.  

If you cannot see the contempt inherent in your policy, then you, sir, may need to reconsider both your own role and the premise of law enforcement in a democratic society.   You may need to yield your position to someone who retains the basic notion that your officers, armed with the extraordinary authority of using state-sanctioned lethal force on fellow citizens, are equally burdened by a responsibility for standing by their actions in full. You, your department, and the prosecutors in your jurisdiction are now running from that responsibility. In doing so, you lose the trust and respect of your citizens, your state and the nation.

I know that you wish to claim that the individual officer, if identified, would be somehow vulnerable. But this is dishonest and dishonorable, sir.  Having covered a police department in a jurisdiction even more troubled than your suburban community, I am well aware of the resources available to your department to protect one of its own against retribution. Your officers are the ones with legal authority. They are all armed. And they can maintain a presence anywhere in your jurisdiction.  Moreover, they have, if necessary, the support of your county’s prosecutors and judiciary, and all of the law itself to ensure the safety of a solitary officer.   They are, as police in Baltimore were accustomed to saying, the biggest, toughest gang out there — so much so that the claim of violent retribution against this officer is embarrassing hyperbole. The same claim was offered by a police commissioner here in Baltimore five years ago, in an abortive effort to hide the identities of officers who took life in the course of their duties. When examined in detail, the claim of any serious threat against any officer evaporated into a series of half-baked crank calls and unsubstantiated rumor.  Fears of retribution were not the issue; accountability was the real target. As it is now in Ferguson.


Not guilty, the filthy devils tried ta kill me
When the news get to the hood then niggas will be
hotter than cayenne pepper, cuss, bust
Kickin’ up dust is a must
I can't trust a cracker in a blue uniform
Stick a nigga like a unicorn
Vaugn, wicked, Lawrence Powell, foul
Cut his fuckin’ throat and I smile 
Go to Simi Valley and surely
somebody knows the address of the jury
Pay a little visit, "Who is it?" (Who is Ice Cube?)
"Can I talk to the grand wizard?" then boom
Make him eat the barrel, modern day feral
Now he's zipped up like leather tuscadero
Pretty soon we'll catch Sergeant Coon
Shoot him in the face, run up in him witta broom
Stick prick, devils ain't shit
Introduce his ass to the AK40 dick
Two dazed niggas layin in the cut
To get some respect we had to tear this muthafucka up

  • Ice Cube, “We Had To Tear This Muthafucka Up,” The Predator, 1992


"We were told it was a two-prisoner job," [paramedic Billy] Pagan has said. "We get there and there are two holding cells in the back. There are three guys in the cell on the left. One guy is sleeping in a chair with a hat on his face. Patrick Antoine [another prisoner] is standing there with another guy. Patrick has a cut above his eye."

When Pagan asked about the second prisoner, cops pointed to the adjoining cell. Louima lay there, his hands free, fully clothed, Pagan told investigators.

"Louima was in there alone," Pagan has said. "We didn't even see him at first. He got up when Frank went over. Louima had a swollen face, that was all we saw. No blood. No smell."

The paramedics said cops told them that the prisoners were hurt in a riot and that they were cop fighters. "The cops told us nothing about rectal trauma or homosexuality," Pagan said, referring to police claims that Louima's injuries resulted from homosexual activity. 

The paramedics wanted more information. "What happened to you?" Birnbaum asked. 

"I am not going to say anything here," Louima said.

"You gotta tell us what happened," the paramedic said. "What's wrong with you? We can't help you unless you tell us where it hurts."

"Wait till we get to the hospital," Louima whispered.

That is consistent with what the torture victim told me from his hospital bed. 

"The medics helped me," Louima said. "But I was too scared to tell them."

He said because the cops threatened to kill him if he talked, he never spoke to anyone until he got to the hospital. Then Louima spoke to a nurse, who told another nurse, Magalie Laurent, who placed the 911 call to Internal Affairs that the NYPD could not find for two weeks.

"I don't blame him for not telling me," Pagan has said. "I would have done the same thing if I was surrounded by cops. The Fire Department doesn't want us to go into that precinct on a job. Cops may feel we overheard something. But we didn't hear or see anything unusual."

There was a white sheet on the stretcher. There was no blood on it when Louima got up, Pagan has told investigators. Any rectal bleeding, Pagan reasoned, was internal.

"I don't think I ever saw Justin Volpe," he said of the cop accused of using the wooden stick. "But one of the cops I saw in the paper . . . took Polaroid shots of Louima outside the cell before we left. Very normal. 'Face left, then right.' "

The cop seemed proud of his work, Pagan told investigators.


Laid down last night, hopin' I would have my peace,
I laid down last night, hopin' I would have my peace, 
But when I woke up, Tom Rushen was shakin' me

When you get in trouble, it's no use to screamin' and cryin',
When you get in trouble, it's no use to screamin' and cryin', 
Tom Rushen will take you, back to the prison house flyin'

I got up this mornin', Tom Day was standin' around,
I got up this mornin', Tom Day was standin' around,
If he lose his office now, he's runnin' from town to town

Let me tell you folksies just how he treated me,
Let me tell you folksies just how he treated me,
Aw, he caught me yellin', I was drunk as I could be.

  • Charley Patton, “Tom Rushen Blues,” 1929


I'm slowly catching up on my reading on the week's events in Ferguson and trying to get my head around what exactly happened. In the meantime, one idea creeping into the discourse—that black people are unmoved by intra-community violence—deserves to be immediately dismissed.  Eugene Robinson, reacting to the tragic murder of Knijah Bibb, offers an incarnation here:

We’ve been through this so many times. Brown, from all reports, was a good kid who had just graduated from high school and was about to enroll in college. But young black men are automatically assumed to be dangerous thugs—and are not given the benefit of the doubt that young white men are accorded. This is racist and wrong, and it must change.

But we should be just as outraged over Knijah’s death—and just as determined that this kind of killing should never happen again.

The entire Prince George’s County police force—not just the homicide division—has been working long hours to try to find Wallace and is motivated by what a police spokesman called a “sense of moral outrage”.

That feeling should be universal. The near-constant background noise of black-on-black violence is too often ignored. Yet it continues to claim victims at a rate that our society should consider outrageous and unacceptable.

There are a number of things wrong here. To the extent that killings by the police generate more outrage, it is completely understandable. Police in America are granted wide range of powers by the state including lethal force. With that power comes a special place of honor. When cops are killed the outrage is always different than when citizens are killed. Likewise when cops kill under questionable terms, more scrutiny follows directly from the logic of citizenship. Great power. Great responsibility.

More importantly Robinson's claim is demonstrably false. The notion that violence within the black community is "background noise" is not supported by the historical record -- or by Google.  I have said this before. It's almost as if Stop The Violence never happened, or The Interruptors never happened, or Kendrick Lamar never happened. The call issued by Erica Ford at the end of this Do The Right Thing retrospective is so common as to be ritual. It is not "black on black crime" that is background noise in America, but the pleas of black people.

There is a pattern here, but it isn't the one Eugene Robinson (for whom I have a great respect) thinks. The pattern is the transmutation of black protest into moral hectoring of black people. Don Imus profanely insults a group of black women. But the real problem is gangsta rap. Trayvon Martin is killed. This becomes a conversation about how black men are bad fathers. Jonathan Martin is bullied mercilessly. This proves that black people have an unfortunate sense of irony.

The politics of respectability are, at their root, the politics of changing the subject—the last resort for those who can not bear the agony of looking their country in the eye. The policy of America has been, for most of its history, white supremacy. The high rates of violence in black neighborhoods do not exist outside of these facts—they evidence them.

This history presents us with a suite of hard choices. We do not like hard choices. Here's a better idea: Let's all get together and talk about how Mike Brown would still be alive if Beyoncé would make more wholesome music, followed by a national forum on how the charge of "acting white" contributes to mass incarceration. We can conclude with a keynote lecture on "Kids Today" and a shrug.

  • Ta-Nehisi Coates, “Black people are not ignoring ‘black on black crime’: The politics of changing the subject,’ The Atlantic, 08/15/2014, http://tinyurl.com/ncde3ct


When it come to something we say
What they don't like is a brother like me on the mic
In fact to the gritty ain't none of us wack
Noriega had back

Jeffrey Dahmer enter the room without cuffs
How the hell do we get stuffed
In the back of a cell
On an aisle
Aint’ it wild
What’s criminal?

Only if I had more time to kick
The rhythm that keep ripping down the door
So the real criminals get exposed behind the clothes
Doors and the suits that make and break the law
Looking for my own cause I had enough bull
I can't understand it must be crooked way they planned it

Police supposed to keep the peace
But I can’t trust ‘em
So I keep my piece
Loaded & cocked
Cause I don't miss the block
I’m talking about the ones who don’t get chained to the rock
Those who got away with the dirt and the grime
While we go away for the neighborhood crime

Never liked what I saw in the law
Indiana trees hanging us instead of leaves
We hanging from the roof (yeah)
By real criminals

  • Public Enemy, “Hazy Shade Of Criminal,” Greatest Misses, 1992


Rush Limbaugh: I'm not trying to be funny here.  I'm trying to explain something. So everything you say is true. The street that you're talking about, the McDonald's, places have been looted, and the cops are enforcing the law, and the cops are protecting private property from further damage, vandalism, looting, what have you. The cops are protecting neighborhoods, okay?  Now, some people, Joe, actually believe that because a cop shot an unarmed teenager, that the cops ought to look the other way when there is a reaction to it because people think that the cop shooting an unarmed teenager is wrong, and therefore there must be a price paid for that.  Some people look at the price and say, "You gotta do understand that the vandalism's gonna happen, Rush. You have to understand they're gonna loot.  They're ticked off!  The cops killed an unarmed kid," and so some people expect the cops to look the other way as a means of not ratcheting up tensions even further.  Some people, Joe, I'm telling you.  I'm not talking about residents.  I mean, people not living in St. Louis, looking at the situation -- maybe media -- would say, "Maybe the cops, for community peace, should just kind of look the other way."

Caller:  One wrong does not justify another wrong.

Limbaugh:  No, I know. I know.  So here's what happens.  When people who think that the cops should look the other way say, "Just, you know, don't go after anymore people. Just kind of stand aside. Let some things happen. Let them boil over. Let 'em get it out of their system. Let 'em do some looting. Let 'em do this. You know, give 'em a week before you enforce the law."  When the cops then come in and enforce the law, those people that think the way I've just described think the cops are being hard, cold, mean SOBs, 'cause they don't understand.  So when you call and support what the cops are doing and say, "We're scared. They're protecting us. They're trying to keep order and so forth," a lot of people are gonna think you're the weirdo.  Not me.  I'm just telling you that America 2014 has some very odd ideas about conflict resolution and expectations and how a wrong is dealt with and so forth.  Many of them think that a show of force, enforcing the law, is provocative, unnecessary, and mean, given all the circumstances here.

Caller:  Well, just like Israel. If you don't show force and strength, it only gets worse.

Limbaugh:  Oh, I hear you.  

  • Rush Limbaugh, “Ferguson Resident: We are Not Afraid of the Police -- We are Afraid of the Rioters,” The Rush Limbaugh Show, 08/14/2014,


Hey Mr. Policeman
I've seen you in my neighborhood
You look to me up to no good
I've seen you with your gun in your hand

Hey Mr. Policeman
I saw you shoot my good friend down
He was just havin' fun
Checkin' out a one & one

It's a shame and disgrace
Everytime you show your face
Somebody dies man
La la la la la la la la la

Hey Mr. Policeman
Why don't you leave the boys alone
Why don't you just roll your own
And call me on the telephone

  • Rick James, “Mr. Policeman,” Street Songs, 1981


Second-generation non-lethal weapons already appear to have been tested in the field. In a first in U.S. crowd control, protesters at last September’s G20 summit in Pittsburgh found themselves clutching their ears in pain as a vehicle mounted with an LRAD circled streets emitting a piercing “deterrent tone.” First seen (but not used) at the 2004 Republican Convention, the LRAD has since been used on Iraqi protesters and on pirates off the Somali coast; the Israeli Army has used a similar device against Palestinian protesters that it calls “the Scream,” which reportedly causes overwhelming dizziness and nausea. The 2009 Pittsburgh G20 protests also produced another U.S. first when a New York social worker was arrested for posting details of police movements to a Twitter feed; when Iranian protesters made similar use of Twitter during the contested elections last summer, U.S. elites had nothing but praise.

It may be “tactical pharmacology,” finally, that holds the most promise for quelling the unrest stirred by capitalist meltdowns, imperialist wars, and environmental collapse. As JNLWD research director Susan Levine told a reporter in 1999, “We need something besides tear gas, like calmatives, anesthetic agents, that would put people to sleep or in a good mood.” Pentagon interest in “advanced riot-control agents” has long been an open secret, but just how close we are to seeing these agents in action was revealed in 2002, when the Sunshine Project, an arms-control group based in Austin, Texas, posted on the Internet a trove of Pentagon documents uncovered through the Freedom of Information Act. Among these was a fifty-page study titled “The Advantages and Limitations of Calmatives for Use as a Non-Lethal Technique,” conducted by Penn State’s Applied Research Laboratory, home of the JNLWD-sponsored Institute for Non-Lethal Defense Technologies.

Following the Sunshine Project’s revelations, the JNLWD quickly issued denials, and subsequent Freedom of Information Act requests have been refused on national security grounds — and also, no doubt, because such research is prohibited by the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, signed by more than 180 nations and ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1997. Little more was heard about the Pentagon’s “advanced riot-control agent” program until July 2008, when the Army announced that production was scheduled for its XM1063 “non-lethal personal suppression projectile,” an artillery shell that bursts in midair over its target, scattering 152 canisters over a 100,000-square-foot area, each dispersing a chemical agent as it parachutes down. There are many indications that a calmative, such as fentanyl, is the intended payload — a literal opiate of the masses.

It may seem absurd that the eternal battle between the haves and the have-nots may devolve into a Marxist pun. But several generations of U.S. policymakers have struggled to realize this very absurdity, and they have been quite articulate about their reasons — perhaps never more so than at an April 8, 1997, Senate hearing on the Chemical Weapons Convention. Three former secretaries of defense — Donald Rumsfeld, Caspar Weinberger, and James Schlesinger — appeared together to voice their opposition to ratification, with Schlesinger reading a letter of opposition from yet another former defense secretary, Dick Cheney. All of them objected to the treaty’s prohibition against using “riot-control agents” as a “method of warfare,” and on this subject Schlesinger, who served under Richard Nixon, repeated a familiar argument. If riot-control agents were to be banned, “whether in peace or war,” he said, “we may wind up placing ourselves in the position of the Chinese government in dealing with the Tiananmen Square uprising in 1989. The failure to use tear gas meant that the government only had recourse to the massive use of firepower to disperse the crowd.”

It is striking, of course, that a former American defense official would so publicly identify with the leaders of an authoritarian Communist regime. Perhaps even more striking, though, is that the formulators of our policy of pain compliance feel so limited in their options — confronted by citizens calling for change, their only response is to seek control or death. There are many other possible responses, most of them far better attuned to the democratic ideals they espouse in other contexts. That pain compliance seems to them the best alternative to justice is an indictment not of the dreams of the protesters but of the nightmares of those who would control them.


Nigga, you remember the smoke and the burning buildings and shit?
Couple stolen T.V.'s and a seat belt for my safety (uh huh)
Played the passenger I think it's five years after eighty-
seven do the math ' 92 don't you be lazy (I won't)
Looking out the window, notice all the essentials
of a block party that stop for a second then it rekindle
Like a flame from a trick candle everybody got dental
Insurance 'cause we 'bout to floss
you get that couch I sent you?
I heard that from a block away probably had credentials
of a scholar but shit not today
them Dayton spokes was his to take
Refrigerators, barbecue pits and Jordan kicks
They did invasions while helicopters recorded it
Hello Mister Miyagi I want them ten woo-woofers
Say that you got me if not I'll dig in your drawer for it
The swap meet was the bull's eye like Tauruses
Murder was the melody you should know what the chorus is
Papa you really telling me we can just get some more of it if we run out?
He said lil nigga today the poor is rich
Don't tell your mom that you seen a Molotov bomb
If she ask just know you have to lie and son don't forget
Bitches ain't shit, hoes ain't neither
Niggas gon' snitch watch the company you keeping
And one day you'll put money in the ghetto when you got it
Rather than having to hustle off these Rodney King riots
(That's right the mothafuckin' Rodney King
you just put your daddy on Bullis Rd.)

  • Kendrick Lamar, “County Building Blues,” good kid, m.A.A.d city, 2012


A Chicago-area police officer who fatally shot a young dog in front of its 6-year-old owner on Friday was fired on Monday. Witnesses said the dog was not provoking the cops before it was shot.

Police dispatch in the Chicago suburb of Hometown, Illinois received a phone call on Friday from the dog’s owners that Apollo, a 16-month-old shepherd mix, got out of the family’s yard, and they requested assistance in finding him, Police Chief Charles Forsyth said in a statement on Facebook. The officer ‒ identified by the Justice for Apollo Facebook page as Robert Norris ‒ located the dog and followed him back to his home.

Norris reported that, while attempting to coax the dog back into the house, the dog turned, growled and approached him in a threatening manner. He then withdrew his service weapon and fired one shot, striking the dog, the chief said.

But Apollo’s owner says the dog was never aggressive and did not lunge at the responding officers. She said he didn’t get defensive until Norris pulled out his gun.

“We were in the lawn and the cop already had his gun out,” owner Nicole Echlin told WMAQ. “I tried to call him in the house and he just stood there staring and I guess he showed his teeth and the cop just shot him, right in front of me and my 6-year-old daughter.”

“The dog wasn’t doing anything. I didn’t see it doing anything, it wasn’t barking,” said witness and area resident Nicco Torres. “Then I saw a cop shoot the dog, the dog fell to ground on the lawn. I saw through the window the dog was on the floor shot but the dog was still moving, it was moving its legs like it was trying to run but it was laying down.”

“I don’t know why they would pull out a gun they had so many other options,” said Echlin's 23-year-old sister and fellow owner Kristy Scialabba, who works at an animal care center in Chicago. “And to shoot a dog in front of a child, that’s going to scare her for the rest of her life.”

On Monday, Norris was fired, Forsyth announced on the Hometown Police Department’s Facebook page. “Although the Officer may have been justified under the Illinois Use of Force statute governing deadly force, I have made the decision to terminate that [officer’s] employment with the Hometown Police Department,” the chief  wrote. “In addition, all reports and witness statements will be forwarded to the Illinois State Police Public Integrity Unit to be reviewed.”

"I'm heartbroken. That was my best friend. It was also my niece's best friend (and she is) traumatized,"Scialabba said to the Tribune. "It should have never happened."

In response, she started the Justice for Apollo Facebook page, created a petition calling for Norris to be fired or punished for shooting the dog and planned a protest of the Hometown PD, which has since been cancelled after the officer was terminated. “Apollo got his justice,” Scialabba wrote on Monday.


Don't call me nigger, whitey
Don't call me whitey, nigger
Don't call me nigger, whitey
Don't call me whitey, nigger

Well, I went down across the country
And I heard the voices ring
People talkin' softly to each other
And not a word could change a thing

Don't call me nigger, whitey
Don't call me whitey, nigger
Don't call me nigger, whitey
Don't call me whitey, nigger

  • Sly & The Family Stone, “Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey,” Stand!  1969



Every now and then, a charge of police brutality hits the headlines. Such was the case when Staten Island police officer Daniel Pantaleo put Eric Garner in a chokehold last Thursday. Garner died. Somebody caught the whole thing on video. There has been much outrage since.

But browse through civil court dockets in any of the five borough, and you'll notice that charges of police brutality are common. Many more don't make it to court. Most are phoned in to the NYPD or the Civilian Complaint Review Board. From 2009 to 2013, the department faced 11,334 "force allegations," according to a report by the CCRB. That's more than 2,000 a year. Less than two percent were substantiated.

There are two ways to interpret that statistic, of course. Some will see it and conclude that the vast majority of police brutality accusations are made-up. People going after cops they don't like or exaggerations of minor and incidental contact. A product of any anti-police sentiment in the city. 

Some will see that two percent as an indictment of the internal investigation process. A product of the Blue Line. A statement that police officers almost always get the benefit of the doubt and have a free pass to rough somebody up as long as there are no cameras around.

Among the 189 substantiated cases, nearly two-thirds fell under the category of "physical force," which includes "dragged/pulled, pushed/shoved/threw, beat, punched/kicked/kneed, slapped, fought, and bit." The next most common were "nightstick as club," "pepper spray," and "gun pointed." After that was "chokehold," with nine incidents.

In all there were 1,022 chokehold accusations. Of those, 462 were fully investigated. In 13 percent of cases, investigators were unable to identify the officers involved. The lion's share of cases were ruled "unsubstantiated" or "unfounded."

Complaints against the NYPD spread disproportionately across demographics and precincts. The majority, 57 percent, among those who filed complaints were black. The majority, 61 percent, were between 15 and 34 years old.

  • Albert Samaha, “Almost All Allegations of NYPD Brutality Go Nowhere,” The Village Voice, July 25 2014, http://tinyurl.com/kotxza5 



Listen, homie, it's Dollar Day in New Orleans
It's water water everywhere and people dead in the streets
And Mr. President he bout that cash
He got a policy for handlin the niggaz and trash
And if you poor you black
I laugh a laugh they won't give when you ask
You better off on crack
Dead or in jail, or with a gun in Iraq
And it's as simple as that
No opinion my man it's mathematical fact
Listen, a million poor since 2004
And they got -illions and killions to waste on the war
And make you question what the taxes is for
Or the cost to reinforce, the broke levee wall
Tell the boss, he shouldn't be the boss anymore
Y'all pray amin

God save, these streets
One dollar per every human being
Feel that Katrina clap
See that Katrina clap
God save, these streets
Quit bein' cheap nigga freedom ain't free
Feel that Katrina clap
See that Katrina clap

  • Mos Def, “Dollar Day,” 2006



Esquire: How can we get the black people to cool it?

James Baldwin: It is not for us to cool it.

Q: But aren't you the ones who are getting hurt the most?

Baldwin: No, we are only the ones who are dying fastest. 

Q:  What would you say ought to be done to improve the relationship of the police with the black community?

Baldwin : You would have to educate them. I really have no quarrel particularly with the policemen. I can see the trouble they're in. They're hopelessly ignorant and terribly frightened. They believe everything they see on television, as most people in this country do. They are endlessly respectable, which means to say they are Saturday-night sinners. The country has got the police force it deserves and of course if a policeman sees a black cat in what he considers a strange place he's going to stop him; and you know of course the black cat is going to get angry. And then somebody may die. But it's one of the results of the cultivation in this country of ignorance. Those cats in the Harlem street, those white cops; they are scared to death and they should be scared to death. But that's how black boys die, because the police are scared. And it's not the policemen's fault; it's the country's fault.

Q: In the latest civil disorder, there seems to have been a more permissive attitude on the part of the police, much less reliance on firearms to stop looters as compared with last summer when there was such an orgy of shooting by the police and the National Guard.

Baldwin: I'm sorry, the story isn't in yet, and furthermore, I don't believe what I read in the newspapers. I object to the term "looters" because I wonder who is looting whom, baby. 

Q: How would you define somebody who smashes in the window of a television store and takes what he wants?

Baldwin: Before I get to that, how would you define somebody who puts a cat where he is and takes all the money out of the ghetto where he makes it? Who is looting whom? Grabbing off the TV set? He doesn't really want the TV set. He's saying screw you. It's just judgment, by the way, on the value of the TV set. He doesn't want it. He wants to let you know he's there. The question I'm trying to raise is a very serious question. The mass media-television and all the major news agencies-endlessly use that word "looter". On television you always see black hands reaching in, you know. And so the American public concludes that these savages are trying to steal everything from us, And no one has seriously tried to get where the trouble is. After all, you're accusing a captive population who has been robbed of everything of looting. I think it's obscene.

Q: Would you make a distinction between snipers, fire bombers and looters?

Baldwin: I've heard a lot of snipers, baby, and then you look at the death toll.

Q: Very few white men, granted. But there have been a few.

Baldwin: I know who dies in the riots.

Q: Well, several white people have died.

Baldwin: Several, yeah, baby, but do you know many Negroes have died? 



Oh, Lord, don't let 'em shoot us!
Oh, Lord, don't let 'em stab us!
Oh, Lord, don't let 'em tar and feather us!
Oh, Lord, no more swastikas!
Oh, Lord, no more Ku Klux Klan!

Name me someone who's ridiculous, Dannie.
Governor Faubus!
Why is he so sick and ridiculous?
He won't permit integrated schools.

Then he's a fool! Boo! Nazi Fascist supremists!
Boo! Ku Klux Klan (with your Jim Crow plan)

Name me a handful that's ridiculous, Dannie Richmond.
Faubus, Rockefeller, Eisenhower!
Why are they so sick and ridiculous?

Two, four, six, eight:
They brainwash and teach you hate.
H-E-L-L-O, Hello.

  • Charles Mingus, “Fables Of Faubus,” Mingus Ah Um, 1959



I do not know if all cops are poets, but I know that all cops carry guns with triggers.

- Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man, 1952