Political MoJo

The St. Louis Area Has a Long History of Shameful Racial Violence

| Mon Aug. 18, 2014 9:45 AM EDT
A mob blocks a street car during the East St. Louis Riot of July 1917 University of Massachusetts-Amherst Libraries

The shooting of Michael Brown in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri, and the subsequent riots, protests, and police crackdown have highlighted the area's long history of racial strife. One chapter from that history, a century-old summer riot just fourteen miles away from Ferguson, in East St. Louis, Illinois, shows how black Americans were subjected to racial violence from the moment they arrived in the region.

In 1917, East St. Louis was crowded with factories. Jobs were abundant. But as World War I halted the flow of immigration from Eastern Europe, factory recruiters started looking toward the American South for black workers. Thousands came, and as competition for jobs increased, a labor issue became a racial one.

East St. Louis' angry white workers found sympathy from the leaders of the local Democratic party, who feared that the influx of black, mostly Republican voters threatened their electoral dominance. In one particularly striking parallel to today's political landscape, local newspapers warned of voter fraud, alleging that black voters were moving between northern cities to swing local elections as part of a far-reaching conspiracy called "colonization," according to the documentary series Living in St. Louis.

A cartoon from the time of the riot, lambasting then-president Woodrow Wilson for making the world "safe for democracy" while ignoring the plight of East St. Louis. Wikipedia

That May, a local aluminum plant brought in black workers to replace striking white ones. Soon, crowds of whites gathered downtown, at first protesting the migration, then beating blacks and destroying property. On July 1, a group of white men drove through a black neighborhood, firing a gun out their car window. (The perpetrators were never caught.) A few hours later, another car drove through the neighborhood. Black residents fired at it, killing two police officers.

On July 2, as news of the killings got out, white residents went tearing through black neighborhoods, beating and killing blacks and burning some 300 houses as National Guard troops either failed to respond or fled the scene. The official toll counted 39 black and eight white people dead, but others speculated that more than a hundred people died in what is still considered one of the worst incidents of racial violence in twentieth-century America. Afraid for their lives, more than six thousand blacks left the city after the riot.

That the United States was then fighting in Europe to defend democracy while failing to protect its own citizens was not lost on Marcus Garvey, soon to become one of the most famous civil rights leaders of his time: "This is no time for fine words, but a time to lift one's voice against the savagery of a people who claim to be the dispensers of democracy," he said to cheers at a speech in Harlem on July 8. "I do not know what special meaning the people who slaughtered the Negroes of East St. Louis have for democracy... but I do know that it has no meaning for me."

Top image credit: STL250

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How the Defense Industry Convinced Congress to Militarize Local Cops

| Mon Aug. 18, 2014 6:00 AM EDT
Police drift through a cloud of smoke on August 13 in Ferguson, Missouri

The Ferguson, Missouri, police department's display of armored cars, officers in riot gear, and assault rifles over the past week shocked Americans who didn't realize how much military equipment is now available to local police departments. But since the 1990's, more than 8,000 federal, state, tribal, and local police agencies across the country have armed themselves with the military's excess gear, free of charge. The inventory includes everything from office furniture and first aid kits to aircraft, armored cars, rifles and bayonets, according to the Defense Logistics Agency, the Department of Defense office that manages the transactions under an initiative called Program 1033.

In June, Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) introduced an amendment to de-fund aspects of the program. Grayson's bill would have exempted certain military equipment, including planes and armored cars, from Program 1033. That effort failed; just 62 members of the House of Representatives voted for the measure, with 355 voting no. Maybe the outcome shouldn't have been a surprise: According to a new analysis of campaign finance data, the politicians who voted against Grayson's bill received, on average, 73 percent more campaign donations from defense industry sources from 2011 through 2013 than their peers who voted for it. 

The analysis—conducted by the Berkeley-based research group MapLight using data provided by the Center for Responsive Politics—also found that of 59 representatives who received more than $100,000 from the defense industry from 2011 through 2013, all but four voted against the amendment.

Correction: The original version of this story said that three representatives who received more than $100,000 from the defense industry voted against the amendment. Four representatives in this category voted against it.

This Guy Appears To Have Live-Tweeted Michael Brown's Shooting

| Fri Aug. 15, 2014 6:17 PM EDT

Via Rolling Stone National Affairs reporter (and Mother Jones alumnus) Tim Dickinson, Twitter user @TheePharoah appears to have witnessed—and live-tweeted—Michael Brown's shooting on August 9 from his home in Ferguson, Missouri.

(Scroll to the bottom, the tweets are in reverse chronological order.)

In the days since the unarmed teenager was gunned down by police officer Darren Wilson, Feguson has come to look increasingly like a war zone, with the highly militarized police department squaring off against peaceful protestors.

(We've reached out to @TheePharoah and will update this post if we hear back.)

GOP Obstruction Is Making It Harder To Catch Rapists—Mitch McConnell Would Rather Not Talk About It

| Fri Aug. 15, 2014 11:47 AM EDT
Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will not say if he will stop blocking a major spending bill in the Senate that contains funding to help identify and prosecute rapists—or whether he would support a separate bill to break the log jam.

As I reported last week, since June, Senate Republicans have held up a $180 billion appropriations bill that would fund several federal agencies, including the Department of Commerce, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Justice. Part of the funding allotted for the DoJ is supposed to go toward a $41 million grant to help states and localities go after rapists by funding jurisdictions to process backlogs of rape kits, the samples of DNA evidence that are taken after a sexual assault and used to identify assailants. There are over 100,000 untested kits waiting to be processed at crime labs and police departments around the country, partly because states and localities don’t have enough money to test them. The kits can go untested for decades, allowing countless rapists off the hook.

The sweeping spending bill has hit a wall in the Senate because McConnell and other Senate Republicans want Dems to let them add several unrelated amendments to the legislation. The amendment McConnell introduced would make it harder for the EPA to enact new rules on coal-fired power plants. Democrats have complained that GOPers are abusing the amendments process to hold up a bill they don’t like. "Regardless of the outcome of the amendment votes…Republicans have indicated that they are not willing to support the underlying bill," a Senate staffer told me last week.

On Tuesday, the Louisville, Ky. Courier-Journal asked McConnell if he would withdraw his amendment, which would indicate that he and fellow Republicans would be willing to vote for the underlying bill, including the $41 million in funding to process rape kit backlogs. McConnell dodged the question. His office did not respond when Mother Jones asked the same question this week.

Lawmakers may be able to add the rape kit funding into an temporary spending measure in October. However, neither McConnell's office nor Republicans on the House and Senate appropriations committees will say whether they would support doing so.

Wondering What #NMOS14 Is?

| Thu Aug. 14, 2014 7:08 PM EDT
Jeremiah Parker, 4, stands in front of his mother, Shatara Parker, as they attend a protest Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo.

Starting tonight at 7pm Eastern time, a National Moment of Silence event will be playing out in gatherings big and small across the country. It's headed up by a New York-based activist and social worker who writes online as Feminista Jones and talked to USA Today about the event:

After an activist posted on Twitter that there would be a vigil in downtown Manhattan for Brown, Feminista Jones reached out.

"I wonder why they always have vigils so far removed from the people who are most likely to be affected by police brutality," she wrote back to the poster. "I just know that people in the Bronx and Brooklyn will struggle getting there on Sunday trains." (The correspondence is documented in a Storify.)

Plans for the peaceful assemblies began through that platform, then moved to Facebook. It's an update to activism Jones compares to "phone banking and letter writing — just reaching 90,000 people."

"We're having a national moment of silence — one chord, one silent voice — to honor not only Mike Brown, not only Eric Garner, but all victims of police brutality, especially those who have lost their lives," she said.

The Root, the online black culture and politics mag, is using the #NMOS14 tag to post heartbreaking photos of unarmed black men shot by police over the years, from Amadou Diallo to Kimani Gray to Oscar Grant to far too many others.

To find an #NMOS14 event near you, check out the Twitter hashtag #NMOS14 and this Facebook listing of local groups. 

The Ferguson Shooting and the Science of Race and Guns

| Thu Aug. 14, 2014 2:03 PM EDT
Ferguson, Mo. residents protesting the shooting of Michael Brown retreat after police detonate tear gas cannisters.

On Saturday, a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri gunned down unarmed black teenager Michael Brown. Eyewitnesses say Brown was killed while trying to run away or surrender, but Ferguson police claim that Brown reached for the officer's gun. It will be a long time before all the facts are sorted out, but research suggests that such claims may be rooted in something deeper than the need to explain actions after the fact: Race may literally make people see things that are not there, whether it's a gun or a reach for a gun.

In a 2001 study, participants were shown a picture of a white face or a black face followed immediately by a picture of a weapon or a tool. They were asked to identify the object as quickly as possible. Study participants more often identified weapons correctly after they saw a black face, and more accurately identified tools after seeing an image of a white face. What's more, "they falsely claimed to see a gun more often when the face was black than when it was white," the report's author wrote. He goes on:

Race stereotypes can lead people to claim to see a weapon where there is none. Split-second decisions magnify the bias by limiting people's ability to control responses. Such a bias could have important consequences for decision making by police officers and other authorities interacting with racial minorities. The bias requires no intentional racial animus, occurring even for those who are actively trying to avoid it.

This study has been repeated by several different groups of scientists with the same results. (When participants are primed with female as opposed to male African-American faces, however, they are less likely to assume the object is a gun.)

A 2005 study by University of Colorado neuroscientists bolsters these findings. The scientists measured threat perception and response in the brains of 40 students to targets in a video game, some of whom were carrying pistols while others carried wallets or cellphones. The study authors predicted that because there is a cultural perception that African-Americans are "more threatening," participants' "shoot response" would come more naturally. Indeed that’s how it panned out. The study found that the students shot black targets with guns more quickly than white targets with guns, and took longer to decide not to shoot unarmed blacks than unarmed whites.

We may never know what was going on in the head of the officer who shot Brown—or, for that matter, in the heads of George Zimmerman or Michael Dunn, or many other killers of unarmed African-Americans in disputed situations. But studies like the above suggest that the underlying problems run deep.

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Watch President Obama Deliver Remarks About the Violence In Ferguson, Missouri

| Thu Aug. 14, 2014 1:44 PM EDT

 

President Obama just delivered remarks on the deteriorating situation in Ferguson, Missouri, where Wednesday night St. Louis law enforcement officials fired tear gas on peaceful demonstrators protesting the killing of Michael Brown.

Here are his remarks, transcript courtesy of the Washington Post:

I want to address something that’s been in the news over the last couple of days, and that’s the last situation in Ferguson, Missouri. I know that many Americans have been deeply disturbed by the images we’ve seen in the heartland of our country as police have clashed with people protesting, today I’d like us all to take a step back and think about how we’re going to be moving forward.

This morning, I received a thorough update on the situation from Attorney General Eric Holder, who’s been following and been in communication with his team. I’ve already tasked the Department of Justice and the FBI to independently investigate the death of Michael Brown, along with local officials on the ground. The Department of Justice is also consulting with local authorities about ways that they can maintain public safety without restricting the right of peaceful protest and while avoiding unnecessary escalation. I made clear to the attorney general that we should do what is necessary to help determine exactly what happened and to see that justice is done.

I also just spoke with Governor Jay Nixon of Missouri. I expressed my concern over the violent turn that events have taken on the ground, and underscored that now’s the time for all of us to reflect on what’s happened and to find a way to come together going forward. He is going to be traveling to Ferguson. He is a good man and a fine governor, and I’m confident that working together, he’s going to be able to communicate his desire to make sure that justice is done and his desire to make sure that public safety is maintained in an appropriate way.

Of course, it’s important to remember how this started. We lost a young man, Michael Brown, in heartbreaking and tragic circumstances. He was 18 years old, and his family will never hold Michael in their arms again. And when something like this happens, the local authorities, including the police, have a responsibility to be open and transparent about how they are investigating that death and how they are protecting the people in their communities. There is never an excuse for violence against police or for those who would use this tragedy as a cover for vandalism or looting. There’s also no excuse for police to use excessive force against peaceful protests or to throw protesters in jail for lawfully exercising their First Amendment rights. And here in the United States of America, police should not be bullying or arresting journalists who are just trying to do their jobs and report to the American people on what they see on the ground.

Put simply, we all need to hold ourselves to a high standard, particularly those of us in positions of authority. I know that emotions are raw right now in Ferguson and there are certainly passionate differences about what has happened. There are going to be different accounts of how this tragedy occurred. There are going to be differences in terms of what needs to happen going forward. That’s part of our democracy. But let’s remember that we’re all part of one American family. We are united in common values, and that includes belief in equality under the law, basic respect for public order and the right to peaceful public protest, a reverence for the dignity of every single man, woman and child among us, and the need for accountability when it comes to our government.

So now is the time for healing. Now is the time for peace and calm on the streets of Ferguson. Now is the time for an open and transparent process to see that justice is done. And I’ve asked that the attorney general and the U.S. attorney on the scene continue to work with local officials to move that process forward. They will be reporting to me in the coming days about what’s being done to make sure that happens.

Sarah Palin Picks Imaginary Fight With Elizabeth Warren, Loses

| Thu Aug. 14, 2014 11:57 AM EDT

Last month at Netroots Nation, Sen. Elizabeth Warren gave a speech outlining what she considers 11 tenets of modern American liberalism. ("We believe in science, and that means that we have a responsibility to protect this Earth...We believe that no one should work full-time and still live in poverty, and that means raising the minimum wage.") You can watch it in full here.

On August 7, Alaska governor-turned reality star Sarah Palin went on her eponymous television channel to offer a conservative rebuttal.

The thing to keep in mind as you watch the following video is that she had three weeks to write these responses. This is not live. This is not a real debate. There is no moderator. Katie Couric and the lamestream media have no hand in this. This is a Sarah Palin joint.

As Robyn Pennacchia points out at Death & Taxes, the real highlight is Palin's word salad in response to Warren's statement that "we believe that fast-food workers deserve a livable wage, and that means that when they take to the picket line, we are proud to fight alongside them."

'We believe?' Wait, I thought fast food joints, hurh. Don’t you guys think that they’re like of the Devil or somethin’ I was. Liberals, you want to send those evil employees who would dare work at a fast food joint then ya just don’t believe in, thought you wanted to, I dunno, send them to Purgatory or somethin’ so they all go VEGAN and, uh, wages and picket lines I dunno they’re not often discussed in Purgatory, are they? I dunno why are you even worried about fast food wages because dha.

You really should watch the whole thing.

Where is Governor Jay Nixon?

| Wed Aug. 13, 2014 11:58 PM EDT
@darth says it all
@darth says it all @darth/Twitter

Five days ago, Ferguson, MO, cops shot and killed unarmed teenager Michael Brown, and the outrage of area residents—and the country—has grown day by day. Jay Nixon, the Democratic governor of Missouri whose name has been floated as a possible 2016 candidate (VP or, if Hillary doesn't run, even presidential), has been notably absent. Yesterday he finally issued a brief statement. And today, as St. Louis County Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas canisters at protestors and arrested reporters from the Washington Post and the Huffington Post, he's been silent on the conflict.  So I wondered:

And I'm far from alone. Here's a small sample:

Update: Looks like he finally heard all the criticism:

Update: Governor Nixon has released a statement:

"The worsening situation in Ferguson is deeply troubling, and does not represent who we are as Missourians or as Americans. While we all respect the solemn responsibility of our law enforcement officers to protect the public, we must also safeguard the rights of Missourians to peaceably assemble and the rights of the press to report on matters of public concern.

"I have been closely monitoring the situation and will continue to be in communication with local leaders, and I will be in north St. Louis County tomorrow. As Governor, I am committed to ensuring the pain of last weekend’s tragedy does not continue to be compounded by this ongoing crisis. Once again, I ask that members of the community demonstrate patience and calm while the investigation continues, and I urge law enforcement agencies to keep the peace and respect the rights of residents and the press during this difficult time."

Sure I'm not the only one wondering why he isn't in north St. Louis County tonight.

Incredibly Powerful Photo of Black Students at Howard University

| Wed Aug. 13, 2014 11:28 PM EDT

Check out this amazing photo taken earlier today at Howard University, the historically black college in Washington, D.C. Twitter user @The_Blackness48 posted it, explaining that it wasn't so much a planned rally as a bunch of students already gathered for a meeting on freshman move-in "and we also felt we needed to respond to the Mike Brown issue."

 

Here's another powerfully sad image from earlier today, this one from Ferguson. Hope these kids grow up in a safer world.