White Police, Black Unarmed Suspects
Glen Ford discusses the recent acquittal of white St. Louis Police Officer Jason Stockley and the uprising that followed
EZE JACKSON: For the Real News Network, I’m Eze Jackson. Protests in St. Louis entered a fourth day after a weekend where thousands took to the streets following the acquittal of St. Louis police officer, Jason Stockley for killing 24-year-old Anthony Lamar Smith in 2011. Over 80 people were arrested on Sunday alone during the demonstrations, which began on Friday. Smith, who prosecutors argued was unarmed, fled from Stockley and his partner after being suspected of a drug deal in December of 2011. In police recordings of the incident, Stockley can be heard saying he was going to kill the suspect. Smith was shot five times and pronounced dead on the scene.
Joining us to discuss this is Glen Ford. Glen Ford is the Executive Editor of the Black Agenda Report and also the author of “The Big Lie.” Thanks for joining us, Glen.
GLEN FORD: Thank you. It’s good to be working with you.
EZE JACKSON: Yes, sir. Glen, I want to start by getting your response to what the Circuit Judge, the Circuit Court Judge, Timothy Wilson said when he ruled in the officer’s favor on Friday. He said, quote, “An urban heroin dealer not in possession of a firearm would be an anomaly.” What’s your response to this?
GLEN FORD: That’s the most important quote and it reveals volumes. It goes to the heart of the criminal injustice system in the United States.
First of all, what’s been going on in the streets of St. Louis over the past couple of days is all about power. It is not about justice, and if you don’t believe that, then just ask the police. The corporate media have been reporting that formations of cops were chanting, “Whose streets? Our streets,” as they swept demonstrators off of those streets and the interim Police Chief himself declared, and I’m quoting him here, “I’m proud to tell you the city of St. Louis is safe and police owned tonight.” In other words, the police own the streets. It’s their streets, like they said. Those are the words of an occupying army, and those words have nothing to do with justice.
As far as the protesters are concerned, this judicial system also has nothing to do with justice, and we’re talking about that system as personified by the judge who you quoted. That judge believed the police officer’s claim that he shot Mr. Smith because Smith had a gun, even though that gun didn’t have any of Mr. Smith’s DNA on it. It had the cop’s DNA on it. But the judge said that he couldn’t believe that the cop would have killed Mr. Smith and that an unarmed drug dealer is an anomaly. Of course, Mr. Smith was not arrested for drug dealing either, in which case, why do we even need judges?
A colleague of mine, Omali Yeshitela, who is Chairman of the Black is Back Coalition. The Black is Back Coalition led one of the contingents in those demonstrations in St. Louis this weekend. He said that if the cops can execute anybody that they claim is armed simply by also claiming that they’re dealing in drugs, then there’s really no need for judges. And it’s really all about raw power, which is what the cops were talking about when they were chanting, “Whose streets? Our streets.” In other words, justice without power is just a mirage.
EZE JACKSON: Yeah. The St. Louis police officers have a history. I mean, police officers killing Black men is no new thing, but St. Louis police officers, they have been killing Black men in a rate higher than the national average. According to the website MappingPoliceViolence.org, St. Louis Police Department has the second highest rate behind Oklahoma. The St. Louis area including Ferguson, which is just a few miles away, is also among the most segregated cities in the country.
Does the anger of the acquittal also reflect frustration at the systemic forms of oppression? Are the people of St. Louis fed up right now?
GLEN FORD: Well, Black folks all over the country are fed up and they’re fed up with the same crimes being committed in their streets as are committed in the St. Louis streets. Probably the rate of police atrocities against Blacks is relatively higher in St. Louis because the ground is so heavily contested. That is, White folks in general are contesting the geography. Ferguson becomes a heavily contested area because it was a White suburb to which White folks fled as St. Louis became blacker, and then Black folks followed them there, and that is a pattern around the country, and the armed defenders of White space, the cops, reacted to that with typical escalation of their violence.
Yeah. That’s an indication that the space in the St. Louis area is heavily contested, heavily defended by folks who want to keep it as White as possible, and even if not White inhabited, controlled by White cops or controlled by cops who answer to rich White people.
EZE JACKSON: Right. You talk about the police imposing their violence. This situation is also sparking more hate from Alt Right groups. The hashtag “Gas the Synagogue” started trending on Twitter after news of a rabbi opening his synagogue to house protestors escaping tear gas. How dangerous is it to send this kind of message and support to the St. Louis Police Department now?
GLEN FORD: Well, if you’re talking about the Alt Right, part of their peculiar ideology is that the Jews are so dangerous because they provide the brains to Black folks. Remember these white supremacists don’t think the Black folks have the intelligence to lead their own movement and that it is Jews who are whispering in their ear and giving directions. Even when they commit these acts of terror against Jews, it’s also directed against Blacks, since they think that Jews are directing Black folks.
EZE JACKSON: Right. I’m from Baltimore and we saw that the city stopped being ignored after Freddy Gray, after the Uprising and people took to the streets. Now again, I’m seeing people are condemning the destruction of property by protesters, but on the second night a store owner whose window had been busted open told the AP, “The window is not murdered.” Do you think violent protests are justified in a situation like this?
GLEN FORD: I think that people have a right to secure their lives and that these cops are dangers to the life and limb of all Black people, that this thing they call justice is not that. It’s the arbitrary and capricious use of violence, and you can’t tell people not to use violence when they’ve subjected to violence, and even those folks whose philosophy is nonviolence, justify it mainly, unless it’s in religious terms, in which case your religion is yours. But it’s usually justified in political terms as being a way to avoid violence against the oppressed people in the future. In other words, to embarrass the violent state authority by not resisting.
Well, I think that the ’60s and the great strides that we made during that decade were at least as much because of our violence and our contemplation of violence as it was about our Gandhian kinds of methods.
EZE JACKSON: Like you said earlier Glen, I think Black people all over the country are getting frustrated and tired of hearing the same story. It seems every other week there’s an officer being cleared of murder. What has to happen for this to actually change?
GLEN FORD: Well, the question really should be what should Black folks be demanding? What kind of system do we want established? Clearly, this is a system that does not serve us. It produces and nurtures judges who do not even respect the laws that they are sworn to uphold. It is a rotten system that has rotten purposes and we must escape that system.
What we need is the democratic fulfillment of the democratic demand of Black community control of the police, with the ultimate aim of Black folks providing their own security, and then we won’t have to argue about whether people need to go to racial sensitizing sessions. They’d actually live in the community and much more than likely be of that community, and accountable to that community through democratic procedures.
EZE JACKSON: Well, we’re going to continue to follow this, Glen. Thanks for coming on and talking to us today.
GLEN FORD: Thank you.
EZE JACKSON: Thank you for joining us. Again, we’ll continue to follow this story here in St. Louis. This is The Real News Network.