Black Agenda Report’s Glen Ford says the police consistently manipulate public opinion with character assassinations and lies to justify the killing of black men
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KIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real News Network in Baltimore. I’m Kim Brown. At least four protesters were arrested in Ferguson, Missouri, over the weekend. After previously unreleased video surfaced, of slain teenager Mike Brown, apparently not strong-arm robbing a convenience store shortly before he was killed by former police officer, Darren Wilson, back in the August of 2014. The newly seen video was featured in a documentary about Brown’s death, told from the perspective of his family. It’s titled, “Stranger Fruit”, and it claims to show Brown, and the clerk at the convenience store, having a cordial exchange the night before Brown was killed. Let’s have a look. LESLEY McSPADDEN: I was surprised to hear that two years later there was a video. What you’re going to see on this video is what they didn’t show us happened that clarifies that there was an understanding. And that’s what you are going to see in the video. JASON POLLOCK: In the early hours of August 9th, just 11 hours before Mike took his last steps, he went to his local convenience store to make an exchange. Look carefully at the counter, and you can see a trade is made. Mike gives the store a little bag of weed. You can see the employee smelling it and passing it around. LESLEY McSPADDEN: There was some type of exchange for one thing for another. That these people know each other well enough that this is the relationship that they have. JASON POLLOCK: Then you can clearly see Mike being given two big boxes of cigarillos. The store clerk puts the cigarillos into a bag for Mike, with his other stuff, and hands it over the counter. Mike is about to leave the store, but decides to have the clerk hold his things behind the counter for him. The next day, with his hands politely behind his back, Mike goes back into the store to get his stuff. LESLEY McSPADDEN: It was a misunderstanding. JASON POLLOCK: St. Louis County has written documentation that we’ve found, which shows they saw the 1:13 a.m. videotape, but they leave out what really happened that night in their report. Mike traded the store a little bag of weed and got two boxes of cigarillos in return. He left his items at the store, and he went back the next day. KIM BROWN: That was part of the trailer for, “Stranger Fruit.” It debuts this week at the South By Southwest Festival, in Austin, Texas. Produced by filmmaker Jason Pollock, and the woman’s voice you heard there was Leslie McSpadden, Mike Brown’s mother, who has filed a federal lawsuit against Darren Wilson, the Ferguson Police Department, and the City of Ferguson. Joining us today to discuss this, we are joined by Glen Ford. He is the co-founder and executive editor of the Black Agenda Report, and the author of the book titled, “The Big Lie: An Analysis of U.S. Media Coverage of the Grenada Invasion.” He joins us today from Plainfield, New Jersey. Glen thanks for coming back to us. GLEN FORD: Thanks for inviting me. KIM BROWN: Glen, the lawyers for the Ferguson convenience store, dispute Jason Pollock’s accounting of this transaction caught on video the night before Mike Brown was killed. But as many of us can recall, the Ferguson police released a portion of video that they claim showing Mike Brown intimidating a clerk, and so-called stealing a box of cigarillo cigars. What are your thoughts about this new video that claims to show the contrary? GLEN FORD: Well, two things. First, we see that the police have no problem. They specialize in spinning selected pieces of evidence, or even non-evidence, to back up the righteousness of their subsequent actions. And we see how what could have been, just a rather innocent episode in an informal economy in the poor neighborhood, gets turned into something quite insidious, and deadly. That’s one aspect. But the other points, and I think it’s even more important, is that even if the police spin on the events in that store were true, even if they were true, they provide no justification whatsoever for the actual crime that took place. And that crime was the murder of Michael Brown by the police — the murder of an unarmed Michael Brown by that cop. That is separate from, and cannot be used; the events in the store cannot be used as a predicate to justify that killing. But we see that, in fact, is in sync with police procedures. With the whole mentality, the whole story line that’s created by not just the police, but their allies in the media and in political office who paint a picture of these deadly young black folks who are plundering communities, and are always in a state of lawlessness, and need to be encountered with deadly force by police all of the time. It’s a character assassination, not of Michael Brown, specifically, because his actual identity is not important to these cops, but a character assassination of black young men, period. To show that they are at any moment, deserving of death. KIM BROWN: And, you know, there are some very interesting points about this video being released, at this particular point in time. As I said, Mike Brown’s family does have a federal lawsuit pending against the City of Ferguson and the police department there, as well. But to harp on something that you just said there, Glen, I mean, the media, the cable news networks, the mainstream media repeatedly played that segment of video that allegedly showed Mike Brown strong-arm robbing this particular convenience store clerk for a box of cigarillos. And as you said, they used to that to impeach this young man’s character as if to say, you know, well, if he was capable of this misdemeanor crime, then it’s not such a stretch to think that he would be capable of trying to illegally disarm a police officer and shoot at them. Which, you know, if you’re looking at the continuum of crime, that’s sort of like a ridiculous leap to make. So, why do we continue to see this played out over and over again? When it comes to police-involved shootings of black folks? Because this is something that we saw with Tamir Rice, with Eric Garner, with Ramarley Graham, I mean, the list is very long, and we could name a bunch of folks here. But this is a pattern. This is standard operating procedure, regardless of where in the country it actually takes place. GLEN FORD: Yeah. And the pattern is that you put charges on young black men in the community at any opportunity. You manufacture them. You make them up or you exaggerate charges, so that by the time a young black man does wind up getting shot by the cops, he already has a record of encounters with police. That record is made available to the press, so that if they bother to report on that killing it looks like this is a bad guy based upon his rap sheet. So, the police are in the constant quest for hanging longer and longer rap sheets on young black men in the ghetto, which inevitably justify whatever harm comes to them. KIM BROWN: Mmm. You know, after the incidents happened in Ferguson with Mike Brown and then the subsequent uprisings there, it made the Department of Justice really push to, a.) Come up with a report for what’s happening in Ferguson, along with how the police deal with the community there. But it certainly raised the issue of statistic keeping, and whether or not local police departments are dutifully reporting their crime stats and their shooting of suspects, and even killing of suspects, to the FBI. If we take a look at this tweet, because in Arkansas, the Arkansas Democrat Gazette is undertaking a new project where they now are keeping track of police-involved shootings and killings. And as this tweet says, “FBI stats show two killings by police in Arkansas between the years 2011 and 2016. The Arkansas Democrat Gazette found at least 67.” So, Glen, there is a huge discrepancy there between the number 2 and the number 67. But this is sort of like the larger pattern of newspaper, and independent media, sort of taking on what the federal government doesn’t seem to be able to do. And that’s keep stats of police-involved shootings. What are your thoughts about this? GLEN FORD: Well, let’s tie that in directly with the Michael Brown killing. If there had not been an explosion of protest, and resistance, and rage in Ferguson, we would not know the name Michael Brown. We know the name Michael Brown because the community made that name known. Made their anger and their rage known. And that compelled the police to put together an elaborate justification and spin to why that man who had a name now – Michael Brown – was lying dead. But the police, if given their druthers, would rather just kill and go on to the next killing without a whole bunch of ado. And that’s what this Arkansas Democrat Gazette story is all about: a state, which, according to the FBI, their cops have killed only two people in six years. The Democrat Gazette in its own survey shows that they killed twice as many – four people – in December of 2016 alone. We need to point out that Congressman Bobby Scott, the black congressman from Richmond, Virginia, introduced, and got passed, in the early 2000s a bill that would require that local police report truthfully and dutifully put together a system to report the actual number of killings of civilians, or deaths in police custody, to the FBI. That was passed during the Bush administration. But the legislation, well, nobody paid it any attention, and it was allowed to expire after a few years. And then after all of this, well, movement activity, after 2014, Congressman Bobby Scott introduced the bill again. It was met by ambivalence from the Obama administration, which wanted to give people the impression that the Justice Department had these things well in hand. I want to mention that the Justice Department itself estimates that the FBI only keeps a tally of about half of the police killings every year. A bill had not made much progress this time around. And it’s almost certain that the Trump administration, and the Republicans in Congress, will not look kindly upon it. This whole project now joined by the Democrat Gazette, joined before by The Guardian and the Washington Post, which took it upon themselves to keep a running tally of police killings in the country, we need to give the credit where credit is due. And that is to the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, which in 2012 put together its own tally based mostly upon media reports, its own tally of the killings of black people by police, and security guards, and vigilantes in this country. It was called Operation Ghetto Storm, and it found that a black person is killed by those forces once every 28 hours, that report was available to people. It came out in 2012, when Trayvon Martin was killed. But it was available in 2014 when the Black Lives Matter movement exploded in the wake of Michael Brown’s killing in Ferguson. So, there were some stats there for people to get a handle on. Put together by no more than three very hard-working activists from the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. What I think we should go back even further in time for the historical roots of this kind of activity. Back to Ida B. Wells, the great civil rights leader of the early 20th century. To that time, the United States was in the throes of a frenzy of lynching. But the official American line was that lynchings of black people, especially in the South, were just isolated incidents, and that when they did occur it was because of a propensity of black men to rape, or try to rape, white women. Ida B. Wells did her landmark study which showed that there had been thousands of lynchings, and only a very few involved even allegations of rape by black men of white women. Most of them had to do with jealousies by whites of blacks having a little bit of land. Or, just black folks not buckling under to the movement to establish absolute ironclad white supremacy. And it should be pointed out that Ida B. Wells, although she’s known as a civil rights leader, was a journalist. She had been driven out of Memphis where she’d run a newspaper by these same white mobs. KIM BROWN: Absolutely. And we know Ida B. Wells was no stenographer for the police so it’s certainly encouraging to see newspapers like the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, the Post, and The Guardian, and others to step up and not just accept the police line and the government’s line of how many people are actually killed… GLEN FORD: … KIM BROWN: …and injured by police every year. Absolutely. Glen, we’ve run out of time. We’ve been speaking with Glen Ford. He’s the co-founder and executive editor of the Black Agenda Report, also author of the book titled “The Big Lie: An Analysis of U.S. Media Coverage of the Grenada Invasion.” Glen, as always, we appreciate your perspective on all these issues, so thank you so much for joining us. GLEN FORD: Thanks for putting up with me. KIM BROWN: (laughs) No problem at all, and thank you all for watching The Real News Network. ————————- END