This past week the huge impact of #FergusonOctober continued to reverberate throughout the city. The #OccupySLU protesters who had set up an encampment on campus emerged with all of their demands met. (Click here for more information.)
The President of the University himself acknowledged that the protesters were peaceful and nonviolent. This flies in the face of false rumors and media reports to the contrary. In spite of the false and negative reports, the youth leaders stayed focused on their demands. The result is historic for their campus—among other wins, they secured an increased budget for Black Studies programs, financial support for the retention of admitted Black students, and a K-12 bridge program to help youth from Mike Brown’s neighborhood create a path to college. This was one of the more hopeful developments of the past seventy something days since the killing.
Then, true to form, local authorities struck another blow against peace and justice. The official autopsy report of Mike Brown was leaked to the media, and spun for Darren Wilson’s benefit. As a law professor I can say that this was illegal and wrong, but the prosecutor’s office has denied involvement and doesn’t even feel the need to investigate who leaked it. Even attorney general Eric Holder expressed his “exasperation” at the “selective leaks.” But it fits a pattern. On August 14, I was there standing on West Florissant when protesters peacefully celebrated the removal of Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson from authority over the protest site. He responded to the victory by releasing the video of Mike Brown in the convenience store.
I was there the next night when it turned ugly again, thanks to the video release. It was a completely irresponsible and evil act, an attempt to inflame tensions and smear Mike Brown’s name. This most recent leak is the same. It treats Darren Wilson’s side of the story as fact. It ignores the six witness, both black and white, who say Mike Brown was shot with his hands up.
This attempt to inject negativity by local authorities failed. The next day, Oct. 22, was the National Day of Protest Against Police Brutality. In Los Angeles they marched to city hall, in Atlanta they shut down the Freeway, in Chicago they released a report called “We charge Genocide” for police brutality, and in DC law students shut down their campus. In Ferguson, activists occupied the St. Louis County Police Headquarters, Darren Wilson’s homebase and then held a powerful vigil for those slain by police.
Later at the Police Headquarters we saw a new level of creativity on the ground, and in spite of the presence of agitators, and the continuation of wrongful arrests of protesters and even legal observers, we stood strong for night seventy-something in this struggle.
Vonderrit Myers’ autopsy also was released this week. It showed that he was shot six times in the back of the legs, and the kill shot was to the side of his face. This was a cowardly killing, shooting someone from behind. This also fits a pattern. This week activists continued to complain of harassment, some being followed to their homes, others harassed in other ways. One blogger was able to capture on video an officer admitting that he contacted her workplace to try to get her fired. Why do this to people unless you’re scared of their power?
The reality is, police are scared because they can sense that change is coming. But they shouldn’t be scared. On the ground this is a fight to make society better for all of us.