19 Aug 2014

What I saw in Ferguson last night

The push and pull of protest became a violent drama on the streets of Ferguson overnight.  Here’s what we saw:

•    Young black men arrested on their knees with guns trained on them.
•    An exhausted and frustrated Captain Ron Johnson (of the State Highway Patrol, now in charge of police on the ground in Ferguson) surrounded by a ring of protesters making the case for his tactics, rooting out criminal elements within the crowd.
•    Critics of Ron Johnson shouting; “it sounds scripted, it sounds scripted.”
•    Pastors singing We Shall Overcome.
•    Pastors pulling aside young men who were improvising their own version of the chant; “Hands up, don’t shoot” (in memory of Michael Brown, who eyewitnesses say was shot with hands held high.)  The young men were chanting instead; “Hands up, shoot back.”
•    Pastors pleading for calm standing between the frontline of protesters, facing off against a full line of police, flanked by armoured vehicles.

•    A full line of police in riot gear with shields, helmets, and batons, as well as guns for firing tear gas.
•    Tear gas, fired at protesters, who had been corralled inside a car park, at one end of the street where the protests were permitted.  Police said shots had been fired.
•    A man at the front of the crowd with a loudhailer trying to direct their behavior, asking protesters to stand down, stand aside and stand on the footpath, as police had requested.
•    The same man with a loudhailer trying to direct behavior, asking protesters who were the “real men” and urging them to join him in more trouble down the road.
•    Protester after angry protester, insisting they would not stand down – that these were their streets.
•    People falling down and pouring water on their faces, to stop the tear gas stinging.

•    Everyone on their phones and tablets: filming, photographing and uploading every moment.
•    A father with a young boy on his shoulders, saying the reason why he’d joined the protests with his family, was to safeguard his son’s future.
•    Nelly, the hip hop star, in a car park, saying how important it is to remember and act in support of Michael Brown’s family.

•    An aggressive state trooper wielding a gun who started to ask the observers from Amnesty International to get down on their knees, when he couldn’t place what their business might be.
•    Observers from Amnesty international criticising the police for heavy-handed tactics, for firing tear gas and for restricting the right to protest.
•    Bottles being thrown.
•    And finally – the police helicopter, buzzing low over Ferguson.

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