The latest anti-Semitic meme scheme: Linking Palestine to Ferguson and Louisiana


Two years ago this summer, an 18-year-old African American man who had lunged for the gun of a white police officer in his patrol car was shot and killed on the street. The officer was subsequently exonerated by a grand jury, but Ferguson, Missouri, erupted in a week of race riots.

Soon after, Sixties Black Power activist Angela Davis delivered a lecture at UC Santa Cruz entitled from “Ferguson to Palestine.” That was the launch of the age-old blood libel against Jews by affixing an American tragedy to the Israel/Palestinian conflict. Some in the emerging Black Lives Matter movement linked Israel’s self-defense against terrorist onslaughts from Hamas-controlled Gaza, to police killings of black men in America. Hamas operatives in Gaza took time out from their rocket barrages against Israel civilians to post selfies announcing their solidarity with Ferguson rioters. -Palestinian militants organized on St. Louis campuses actually were bused to Ferguson where they carried signs blaming the Jewish people for the alleged crimes of Ferguson police, a few of whom had once visited Israel.

Now, there is a new meme that Israel has African American blood on its hands has been revived by NYU’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). Under the hashtag “#No Justice No Peace #From Gaza to Baton Rouge”—they accused Israel of responsibility for the shooting death in front of a convenience store by the police in Louisiana of an African American man Alton Sterling. An SJP post suggests that Sterling is the American equivalent of Ali Dawabsheh, a Palestinian baby killed in the West Bank.

SJP is already notorious for its history of harassing Jewish students on the NYU campus—including serving them with fake eviction notices. But it has reached a new low by libeling Israel for the new controversies over police shootings of African American in Louisiana and Minnesota. (The Wiesenthal Center has supported calls for a Justice Department investigation of the questionable police shooting of a black motorist Orlando Castile in St. Paul, stopped for a defective tail light.)

There is even a new academic theory behind the revived blood libel against Jews and Israel for alleged police brutality against African Americans. It’s “intersectionality” or that all of the twenty-first century world’s evils somehow connect back to the founding of Israel and the Jewish State’s attempt to defeat terrorist genocide against it. Here’s one example from the Facebook Page the New York City Students for Justice in Palestine announcing participation in 2015’s Million Student March against college tuition hikes: “The Zionist administration invests in Israeli companies, companies that support the Israeli occupation, hosts birthright programs and study abroad programs in occupied Palestine, and reproduces settler-colonial ideology throughout CUNY through Zionist content of education. While CUNY aims to produce the next generation of professional Zionists, SJP aims to change the university to fight for all peoples liberation.”

No doubt, now that Dallas has experienced a blood bath of dead and injured police ambushed by a crazed African American gunman said to be incensed by the shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota, we can expect new charges from SJP-types seeking to leverage outrage and angst over the American racial divide to their cause of ridding the Holy Land of Jews. By cynically seeking to connect imaginary dots between two real conflicts, these fanatics succeed only in creating more hate, divisiveness and distrust between two communities who should be natural allies in the struggle for human dignity.


Rabbi Abraham Cooper is Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Museum of Tolerance. Dr. Harold Brackman, a historian is a consultant to the Wiesenthal Center

Anonymous begins to reveal names of alleged KKK members


Last week, a group identifying itself as the online hacktivist collective “Anonymous” vowed to release contact information identifying 1,000 members of the Ku Klux Klan, timed a year after the group first began targeting the KKK in the wake of the Ferguson, Missouri, protests.

On Monday, the group followed through, publishing its first batch of information: an (unverified) list of 57 phone numbers and 23 email addresses allegedly belonging to KKK members. Multiple Twitter commenters questioned the veracity of the information shortly after its release, reporting that many of the numbers belong to businesses with no clear link to the Klan.

Anonymous says it will release a full list of 1,000 names, gleaned from various Twitter accounts it claims to have hacked, on Nov. 5.

Keep reading the story at Huffington Post.

No arrests in Ferguson protests for first time in five days


Protests in Ferguson, Mo., over last year's police killing of an unarmed black teenager ended peacefully on Wednesday morning, law enforcement officials said, after shots had been fired and shop windows smashed earlier in the week.

It was the first night since Friday to end without arrests, said St. Louis County police spokesman Shawn McGuire.

The mainly black St. Louis suburb of 21,000 people has had months of largely peaceful protests punctuated by nights of rioting, arson and gunfire since a white police officer fatally shot 18-year-old Michael Brown on Aug. 9, 2014.

A crowd of several dozen protesters took to West Florissant Avenue, which has borne the brunt of the rioting, on Tuesday night. Demonstrators occasionally attempted to block traffic and threw rocks at police, but the conflict was defused, and no injuries to civilians or police were reported, county police said early Wednesday.

A state of emergency, declared after Sunday night protests where police shot and critically wounded an 18-year-old black teen they said had fired at them, remained in place. County Executive Steve Stenger told local media on Tuesday, however, that it might be lifted if calm prevails.

Police on Tuesday released a video of Sunday's shooting that they said showed the teen, Tyrone Harris, drawing a pistol from his pants. Harris has been charged with four counts of assault on law enforcement, five counts of armed criminal action, and one count of shooting at a vehicle. Bond for Harris, who is black, was set at $250,000.

Harris' father has denied that his son had a gun. Others in Ferguson have said he might not have realized that he was firing on plainclothes police officers.

Brown's death and similar police killings that followed in Baltimore; North Charleston, South Carolina; Cincinnati; and Arlington, Texas, sparked a year of protests and debate across the United States about race, justice and law enforcement's use of force.

A grand jury and the U.S. Justice Department found Darren Wilson, the officer who shot Brown, broke no laws in the shooting. A separate Justice Department report found that the police department in Ferguson routinely violated the rights of black citizens, who make up two-thirds of the city's population.

Wilson has since left the force. The officer who killed a 19-year-old black Texas college football player last week was fired on Tuesday.

Protests return to Ferguson streets, state of emergency declared


Police in riot gear clashed with protesters who had gathered in the streets of Ferguson, Mo., early on Tuesday to mark the anniversary of the police shooting of an unarmed black teen whose death sparked a national outcry over race relations.

About 200 demonstrators, some waving flags, beating drums, and shouting anti-police slogans, marched along a street that was a flashpoint of riots that erupted last year after white police officer Darren Wilson shot dead 18-year-old black teen Michael Brown.

Police made several arrests, including nine people on Monday evening after a group of protesters briefly blocked the roadway.

Police carrying shields rushed into a crowd of protesters around midnight, many of whom started screaming and running from the area. Some protesters threw water bottles and rocks at officers, who used bullhorns to order people out of the street or face arrest.

Authorities declared a state of emergency on Monday for the St. Louis suburb and surrounding areas after police officers shot and critically wounded a man in an exchange of gunfire Sunday night, marring what had been a day of peaceful demonstrations.

Ferguson resident Roberta Lynch, 51, was among the demonstrators on Monday evening. She said relations between police and the community had improved little over the past year.

“They are doing the same old stuff, taking our rights,” Lynch said. “They need to give us our space.”

Monday's demonstrations capped a day of civil disobedience called by activists to protest against the shooting of Brown and other unarmed black men by police across the United States.

Clergy and civil rights groups led a series of protests, staging a demonstration at a courthouse in St. Louis where 60 people were arrested, including Princeton University professor emeritus and activist Cornel West, according to a protest organizer.

Police arrested dozens of protesters who blocked rush-hour traffic on Interstate 70 a few miles from Ferguson hours later, according to a Reuters witness.

The death of Brown and a grand jury's decision to spare the white officer from criminal charges led to a wave of demonstrations that boiled over into rioting and arson at times and spawned sympathy rallies across the country.

Brown's death also prompted greater scrutiny of racial bias within the U.S. criminal justice system, giving rise to the “Black Lives Matter” movement that gained momentum from similar incidents in cities such as New York, Baltimore, Los Angeles, Cincinnati and, most recently, Arlington, Texas. .

'MARRED BY VIOLENCE'

Tensions increased after darkness fell on Monday, with some demonstrators throwing objects at officers who pushed back with shields and threatened arrests. Others urged protesters on the street to maintain order.

St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar told reporters police would give protesters leeway to march, but said the authorities also had to maintain public safety.

“We are going to let them vent and we are going to manage it the best we possibly can,” Belmar said.

“Last night was pretty out of control at times. Unfortunately, all the good work that's happening on both sides of the street has been marred by violence,” he said.

The violence, according to Belmar, erupted Sunday when two groups of agitators apparently began shooting at each other, disrupting what had been peaceful demonstrations. At one point, a gunman darted across a parking lot and was confronted by four officers who pulled up in an unmarked vehicle.

The officers wounded the suspect in an exchange of gunfire, according to police.

Prosecutors charged the man, Tyrone Harris, who was in critical condition in a hospital, with four counts of assault on law enforcement, five counts of armed criminal action, and one count of shooting at a vehicle.

His bond was set at $250,000.

Harris's father said his son did not have a gun.

“He was running for his … life because someone was shooting at him,” Tyrone Harris, Sr., said in a telephone interview from his St. Louis-area home.

The younger Harris was out on bail awaiting trial on charges of stealing a motor vehicle, theft of a firearm and resisting arrest. He was charged with those crimes on Nov. 5 and released after posting a $30,000 bond on Dec. 19, records showed.

Activist groups, meanwhile, said the plain clothes officers who shot Harris should never have been deployed to the scene.

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon called Sunday's violence “a sad turn of events.” Nixon, who deployed the National Guard to quell violence last year, did not make any mention of additional security for those rallies.

Michael Brown's father, Michael Brown Sr. said on Facebook that peaceful weekend protests were “meaningful, inspiring and successful.”

“With your support, we properly honored your friend and my son's memory,” he said.

Protester Rayna Martin, 17, who lives in the neighborhood where Brown was shot, said the violence within her community has been made worse by the actions of police.

“They kill us, they get away with it. It's crazy,” she said.

From Ferguson to Netanyahu


We live in a world of lies.

On major issue after major issue, both domestic and foreign, we are saturated with lies.

Remember the “Hands up, don’t shoot” narrative that dominated American media and all of the protests against a white officer’s shooting of Michael Brown, a Black teenager in Ferguson, Mo.?

It was all a lie. 

Never happened. 

Yet, media personalities, NFL players, and even congressional representatives employed the arms-up gesture and recited the mantra “Hands up, don’t shoot” for the television cameras. And even after the Justice Department released a report thoroughly refuting both the lie and Brown’s victim status, President Barack Obama has made multiple references to Ferguson in his speech commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Selma march — as if there were all sorts of moral parallels.

That lie ruined a city’s economy, not to mention the livelihood and life of an innocent policeman. And, of course, it gave those Black Americans resentful toward America another reason to express anger at white America.

But that hysteria is small scale compared to the hysteria fomented against Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel’s voters for his having won an election he was supposed to lose.

This hysteria — whipped up by the (Jewish as much as non-Jewish) left and especially by the president of the United States — has allowed this president to weaken the bonds between America and Israel more than at any time in the 66 years of Israel’s existence.

The vitriol directed against Netanyahu and Israel is allegedly based on two comments Netanyahu made in Israel shortly before the election.

One was about a Palestinian state:

“The right-wing rule is in danger. The Arab voters are coming in great numbers to the polling stations. The left-wing nonprofit organizations are bringing them in buses. Go out to the polling stations, bring your friends and family, and vote Mahal [Likud] in order to close the gap between us and the Labor Party.”

The president of the United States and most if not all of America’s and Israel’s left repeatedly describe this as “racist” and
anti-democratic.

That is a lie.

There is nothing racist or anti-democratic about the comment.

If “racist” actually means something — other than being useful as a left-wing epithet with which to regularly describe right-wingers (in America as well as Israel) — there is not a hint of racism in the comment. How exactly are Arab Israelis depicted negatively in this comment? Do not Democrats in America regularly inveigh against “old white males”?

Nor is there a hint of disenfranchising Arab Israelis. The message to Netanyahu’s followers was simply an appeal to get to the polls because his political opponents appeared to be ensuring that as many Arab voters as possible got to the polls where they were expected to vote against him and his party. 

Yet, not only is the accusation false, the comment on which it is based is almost universally mistranslated. Almost all citations of the phrase use the term “in droves” or, less frequently, “hordes of.” Both terms are far more derogatory than what Netanyahu actually said — “in great numbers” (kamuyot adirot). But because “great numbers” of Arab voters sounds considerably less disrespectful, the Western press prefers “in droves” and “hordes.” That’s how they can charge Netanyahu with “racism” never implied in the original Hebrew — by manipulating his words in translation.

On the day of the Israeli election, March 17, The New York Times correctly translated Netanyahu: “Right-wing rule is in danger. Arab voters are streaming in huge quantities to the polling stations.” But it has since joined the other mainstream media in using the inaccurate and loaded translation, “in droves.” 

(To be sure, I do not think a leader of a country — who, after all is the leader of all groups in his country — should single out any group other than an ideological one as inherently politically problematic. But that is a far cry from any of the charges Obama and the left are making. Moreover, Netanyahu has since apologized to the Arab-Israeli community.)

The other charge, the one Obama is using to suggest that America abandon Israel at the United Nations, where the world’s nations gang up on Israel to such a vile degree that last week Israel was the only country in the world the U.N. condemned for mistreatment of women, is equally false.

This is what Netanyahu said in an interview right before the elections:

“I think anyone who is going to build a Palestinian state today will be freeing up space to give an attack area to radical Islam against Israel. This is the reality created here in recent years. Anyone who ignores this sticks his head in the sand. The left does this, burying its head in the sand again and again.”

Other than it being entirely accurate, what so offends the left and the president?

I would like every prominent left-wing writer and politician to take a lie detector test while answering this question: “Do you believe that if Israel completely abandoned the West Bank and the Palestinians had their own state, no violent Islamist group would take root there and seek to destroy Israel?”

Unless completely capable of self-delusion, I have to believe even those who condemn the comment recognize its validity. As David Suissa of the Jewish Journal notes, even Israel’s most revered living writer, and a man of the left, Amos Oz, has acknowledged this truth.

And the biggest truth of all is that the left so hates Netanyahu that it has created a hysteria — just as it did in Ferguson.


Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host (AM 870 in Los Angeles) and founder of PragerUniversity.com. His latest book is the New York Times best-seller “Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph” (HarperCollins, 2012).

Suspect in Ferguson, Missouri shooting of police appears in court


The man accused of wounding two policemen during a protest rally outside the Ferguson, Missouri, police headquarters last week appeared in court on Monday briefly and did not enter a plea.

The shooting was the latest in violent incidents that have punctuated months of demonstrations in Ferguson, a St. Louis suburb, since a white police officer shot dead unarmed black teen Michael Brown during a confrontation in August.

Jeffrey L. Williams, 20, has admitted to firing the shots that wounded the officers early Thursday and also told authorities he was not shooting at police, Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch said on Sunday after announcing the arrest.

Williams did not give any statements on Monday during his brief appearance before Judge Joseph Dueker in St. Louis County Circuit Court. He is charged with first-degree assault and his bond is set at $300,000.

Police had called the shooting an “ambush” of the officers, who were standing side by side, by a gunman embedded with protesters, but McCulloch said on Sunday Williams may have been shooting at someone else.

Several long-time activists have said they did not recognize or know Williams as a protester. “He never protested before,” Bishop Derrick Robinson, an activist, told CNN on Monday.

The shooting of the officers, who were treated at a local hospital and released, followed a flurry of resignations and protests in the week since the U.S. Justice Department released a damning report accusing Ferguson of racially biased policing.

The Justice Department, which launched an investigation after Brown's shooting, found pervasive racial bias in Ferguson's policing and municipal court practices. Its police force is mostly white and two-thirds of residents are black.

Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson, its city manager and its municipal court judge have resigned.

Williams, who had been on probation for possession of stolen property, is accused of firing shots early Thursday from a car just as a rally after Jackson's resignation was breaking up.

The Justice Department said Ferguson police overwhelmingly arrested and issued traffic citations to black residents to boost revenue through fees and fines, helping to create a culture of distrust that exploded with Brown's shooting.

Demonstrations erupted into arson and looting after Brown's shooting in August and again in November when a grand jury declined to bring charges against Officer Darren Wilson.

Manhunt for shooting suspects grinds on in Ferguson, Missouri


Police hunted for a second day on Friday for suspects in the shooting of two police officers at a protest rally in Ferguson, Missouri, after U.S. President Barack Obama said those responsible must be brought to justice.

The officers were shot and wounded as a demonstration in the St. Louis suburb was breaking up around midnight on Thursday morning, driving up tensions in a community that has become the center of an intense nationwide debate over race and policing.

Investigators scoured streets near the scene of the shooting for clues and several people were brought in for questioning. They were all later released and there have been no arrests, police said.

The shooting happened just hours after Ferguson's police chief resigned following a U.S. Justice Department report that said deep-rooted racial bias in the city's mostly white police force had created a “toxic environment” in the predominantly-black community.

The protesters at the Ferguson rally had been demanding police reforms. Obama, the United States' first black president, said such protests were warranted in the light of events in the city, but said criminal acts could not be justified.

“What had been happening in Ferguson was oppressive and objectionable and was worthy of protest,” he said during an appearance on the ABC program “Jimmy Kimmel Live”.

“But there was no excuse for criminal acts, and whoever fired those shots shouldn't detract from the issue. They're criminals. They need to be arrested,” Obama said.

The scene of the shooting has been the site of regular demonstrations since the fatal shooting in August of an unarmed black 18-year-old Michael Brown by a white policeman.

That killing triggered protests around the country and prompted the Justice Department investigation as well as a contentious national discussion over the use of deadly force by police officers.

PEACEFUL PROTEST

Condemning the wounding of the officers, activists held a candle-light prayer vigil for peace late on Thursday. About 100 people then held a boisterous but peaceful protest outside the police station under light rain.

The crowd blocked traffic at times, but there were no arrests and the demonstration passed without incident.

In Thursday's shooting, a 41-year-old St. Louis County police officer suffered a shoulder wound and a 32-year-old colleague from the nearby Webster Groves Police Department got a bullet lodged near his ear.

Crime Stoppers, a nationwide organization that works to prevent and solve crimes, has offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the culprit and two Missouri Congressmen have added $3,000 more.

St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said at a news conference on Thursday that muzzle flashes were detected from about 125 yards (375 feet) away from the rally.

The shooting came less than three months after a troubled man ambushed two New York City patrolmen, apparently seeking to avenge the killings of Brown and an unarmed black man in New York.

Police swarm home in St Louis suburb after ‘ambush’ of 2 officers


The shooting of two police officers in Ferguson, Mo., during a protest rally sparked an intense manhunt for suspects on Thursday and ratcheted up tensions in a city at the center of a national debate over race and policing.

President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder condemned the attack on the officers, who were treated at a local hospital and released, as a law enforcement team in tactical gear swarmed a home in the St. Louis suburb. Television images showed officers on the roof breaking into the attic with heavy tools.

Shawn McGuire, a St. Louis County police spokesman, said an undisclosed number of people were taken from the house but there have been no arrests so far. He would not confirm media reports that two men and a woman were led away.

Long-simmering tensions between African-Americans and Ferguson's mostly white police force came to a boil in August when a white policeman killed an unarmed black teenager. The shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown led to a coast-to-coast wave of demonstrations last year.

The rally at Ferguson police headquarters on Wednesday evening was called hours after the resignation of its long-criticized police chief, Tom Jackson, but activists demanded more changes. Jackson quit in the wake of a scathing U.S. Justice Department report that found his force was rife with racial bias.

Around midnight, gunfire rang out, leaving a 41-year-old St. Louis County Police officer with a shoulder wound and a 32-year-old officer from nearby Webster Groves Police Department with a bullet lodged near his ear, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said.

“This is really an ambush, is what it is,” Belmar said of the shootings, the worst outbreak of violence in the city since riots that broke out in November after the announcement that a grand jury decided against indicting the officer who killed Brown.

The shootings were “inexcusable and repugnant,” Holder said in a statement. The White House sent a Tweet that read: “Violence against police is unacceptable. Our prayers are with the officers in MO. Path to justice is one all of us must travel together.”

Belmar told a news conference authorities had possible leads, and said the shooter used a handgun and shell casings had been recovered.

“This is No. 1 priority of St. Louis County police to identify that individual or individuals,” said Belmar, who leads the police force in the county that includes Ferguson. Officers did not return fire but may in future, he said.

“I have said all along that we cannot sustain this forever without problems,” he said, referring to festering tensions in the city since Brown's death.

The shooting came less than three months after a man ambushed two New York City patrolmen, saying he sought to avenge the killings of Brown and an unarmed black man in New York. In both cases, grand juries decided against bringing criminal charges.

“We reject any kind of violence directed toward members of law enforcement,” Brown's family said in a statement. “We specifically denounce the actions of stand-alone agitators who unsuccessfully attempt to derail the otherwise peaceful and non-violent movement that has emerged throughout this nation to confront police brutality.”

Police and protesters appeared to disagree about where the shots came from, with Belmar asserting they came from the middle of the crowd gathered in front of police headquarters.

“I don't know who did the shooting, … but somehow they were embedded in that group of folks,” Belmar said.

Protesters at the scene insisted on social media that the shots came from further away.

“The shooter was not with the protesters. The shooter was atop the hill,” activist DeRay McKesson said on Twitter.

“I was here. I saw the officer fall. The shot came from at least 500 feet away from the officers,” he said.

A string of Ferguson officials quit after the Justice Department report, which found the city used police as a collection agency, issuing traffic citations to black residents to boost its coffers, resulting in a “toxic environment”. Activists want the city mayor, James Knowles, to step down as well.

Rev Osagyefo Sekou, a frequent participant in the protests in Ferguson over the last several months, said he was in the crowd when shots rang out.

“Tensions are high,” Sekou said. “We deplore all forms of violence, we are a non-violent movement. But we also deplore the findings of the Department of Justice report and the suffering and the misery that this community has endured.”

After the report, Holder said the federal government would demand police reforms in Ferguson, including possibly dismantling the department.

Knowles said on Wednesday he was committed to keeping the department intact, but Belmar, the St. Louis County chief, would not rule out the possibility that the county would take over policing in the town.

After last autumn's rioting, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon called out thousands of National Guard to patrol the streets of Ferguson and temporarily put the head of the state Highway Patrol in charge of security.

Two officers shot outside Ferguson police HQ after chief quits


Two police officers were shot during a protest outside the Ferguson, Missouri police headquarters early on Thursday, police said, just hours after the city's police chief quit following a damning justice report into his department.

“Two @SaintLouCo police officers were shot outside the #Ferguson PD shortly after midnight. Gathering more info. Conditions not known,” the St. Louis County Police Department said in a tweet.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper earlier reported that Ferguson Lt. Col. Al Eickhoff said he did not believe either of the officers were part of his department. He could not provide details on their injuries to the Post-Dispatch.

A few dozen demonstrators fled following the sound of gunfire around midnight with some screaming, “They hit a cop,” according to a Reuters photographer at the scene.

Several dozen protesters had gathered in front of the Ferguson police department earlier on Wednesday night, just hours after the city's police chief, Thomas Jackson, announced his resignation.

Prominent activist Deray McKesson said on Twitter that he was at the scene, adding that the gunfire did not appear to come from the group of demonstrators.

“The shooter was not with the protesters. The shooter was atop the hill. We can live in a world without guns,” McKesson said.

Protesters had called for Jackson's removal since the fatal shooting of unarmed black 18-year-old Michael Brown by white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9, 2014. The killing triggered nationwide protests and drew scrutiny to police use of deadly force, especially against black men.

Neither a grand jury nor the federal probe led to charges against Wilson.

Jackson's departure was the latest in a string of officials who stepped down following a scathing report from the U.S. Justice Department that found widespread racially biased abuses in the city's police department and municipal court.

Wednesday's demonstration had been tense but peaceful throughout the night. Several dozen people attended, and at one point demonstrators hung a flag with the words “Racism Lives Here” over a silhouette of the St. Louis skyline and drew chalk outlines in the parking lot of the department.

Later, some two dozen officers clad in riot gear faced off against the demonstrators, who had relocated to the street. At least two people were taken into custody.

Holder: Ferguson must act immediately on racial bias in policing


Attorney General Eric Holder called on leaders of Ferguson, Mo., to take “immediate, wholesale and structural corrective action” on the problems with the city's police that the Justice Department unearthed while investigating the shooting of an unarmed man this summer.

Holder, who will soon hand over the position of the country's top cop to Loretta Lynch, said the department would continue to work on reducing and eliminating racial bias within Ferguson's police force and elsewhere.

“Let me be clear: the United States Department of Justice reserves all its rights and abilities to force compliance and implement basic change,” Holder said in a speech about the department's findings of systemic racial bias and unconstitutional policing in the Midwestern town.

The death of Michael Brown, a young black man, at the hands of a local white police officer led to massive civil unrest this summer. Holder, though, said the investigation revealed problems with policing across the country.

“In the days ahead, the Department of Justice will stay true to my promise, vigilant in its execution, and determined in the pursuit of justice – in every case, in every circumstance, and in every community across the United States,” Holder said.

U.S. Justice Department finds racial bias in Ferguson police practices


The U.S. Justice Department on Tuesday concluded that the Ferguson, Missouri police department routinely engages in racially biased practices, according to a law enforcement official familiar with the department's findings.

The investigation into the police department began in August after the shooting of unarmed African-American teen Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson sparked national protests.

The findings are expected to be formally released as early as Wednesday, a Justice Department spokeswoman said.

The findings will be used by the Justice Department to either negotiate with Ferguson officials and enter a consent decree or, if negotiations fail, sue the city.

Analysis of over 35,000 pages of police records found that African Americans make up 93 percent of arrests in Ferguson while accounting for only 67 percent of the city's population, the official said.

African-Americans also made up the majority of the incidents in which officers used force and all of the incidents where dogs bit citizens, the official said.

In the city's court system, African Americans were less likely to have their cases dismissed by a municipal judge and made up 95 percent of people held longer than two days in the Ferguson jail.

The Ferguson Municipal Court, which Attorney General Eric Holder has previously criticized for unfairly penalizing the city's poor, issued the majority of its warrants for minor violations such as parking, traffic and housing code violations.

Justice Department said ready to clear Darren Wilson


The Justice Department is about to close the investigation into the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Miss., and clear the white police officer involved of any civil rights charges, the New York Times reported on Wednesday.

The paper quoted law enforcement officials as saying federal prosecutors had begun work on a legal memo recommending no civil rights charges against the officer, Darren Wilson, after an FBI investigation found no evidence to support the charges against him.

It would close the case of 18-year-old Michael Brown, whose death in August led to months of nationwide protests and sparked a debate on police use of force.

Tributes, protests mark Martin Luther King Jr. Day


Tributes to civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. were held nationwide on Monday as protests over the treatment of minorities by law enforcement rolled on across the country.

Observers of Martin Luther King Jr. Day have this year linked the federal holiday to a rallying cry in recent months during demonstrations over police brutality: “Black lives matter.”

King's 1960s dream of racial equality was being viewed through a lens focused on the recent deaths of unarmed black men after confrontations with police, including Eric Garner, who died in July after being put in a chokehold in New York City, and Michael Brown, shot in Ferguson, Missouri, in August.

More than 1,800 people pressed into a King commemoration service at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where King once preached, some holding signs with his famous quote “I am a man,” others with placards reading “I can't breathe” in Garner's memory and “Hands up! Don't shoot!” to honor Brown.

“We look at the yellow crime scene tape that's wrapped around America now and we know that we have a lot of work still to do,” Gwendoyln Boyd, president of Alabama State University, told the crowd that responded with an earsplitting “Amen!”

MLK CALLED 'DISRUPTIVE'

About 400 protesters blocked traffic in New York City as they walked about 60 blocks from Harlem to near the United Nations, chanting “Black lives matter!” as King's speeches blared from loudspeakers.

“This march is about reclaiming Martin Luther King. He was a radical organizer – he's been arrested, he believed in non-violence, but he was also disruptive,” said Linda Sarsour, spokeswoman for the Justice League NYC, which organized the #Dream4Justice March.

Hours before an evening vigil on the Staten Island street where Garner died, his family placed wreaths on the Brooklyn street where two uniformed officers were ambushed in December by a gunman claiming to avenge the deaths of Garner and Brown.

“This holiday should also represent that we are unequivocally against the shedding of innocent blood,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton, who accompanied Garner's widow, mother and children as they laid down the arrangements of blue hyacinths and white roses.

Protests in other U.S. cities included a pre-dawn rally in Oakland, California on Monday, about 40 demonstrators converged on the home of Mayor Libby Schaaf, calling for harsher punishment of police who use violence against civilians.

They chalked outlines of bodies on the tree-lined street, played recordings of King's speeches and projected an image of the slain civil rights leader with the words “Black lives matter,” on the mayor's garage door.

President Barack Obama, the nation's first African-American president, took a more traditional approach to honoring King on Monday, spending the day working with his family and other children on a literacy project at a Washington charity.

Obama has shied away from race-related activism, but after a grand jury failed to indict a white officer in Brown's death, he spoke out against what he called the “deep distrust” between law enforcement and black Americans, vowing to use his last two years in office to improve community policing and trust between the groups.

Ferguson is Yiddish for forget


Judaism frequently demands that we remember. The Torah tells us to remember the Sabbath Day; that we were slaves in Egypt; and that the Amalekites attacked us. Once a year, those who have lost a close relative say Yizkor, the prayer of remembrance. Remembering is one of the three themes of the main New Year’s prayer on Rosh Hashanah. And, of course, those murdered by the Nazis constantly call upon us to remember them.

But must everything be remembered? Interestingly, the word Ferguson (פאַרגעסן) is Yiddish for “forget.” Unlike many people, I don’t think recent events are a good “teaching moment” for much of anything; by contrast, L’affaire Ferguson is best put behind us, even as we continue to discuss race in other contexts.

Americans will never agree on the factual details of the confrontation between Officer Darren Wilson and Michael Brown. Who did what when? Which one, if any, was justified to behave as he did? When we can’t agree on what happened – at all – we can hardly use the episode as an object lesson on race or police conduct or both in American society.

Further, neither side is really interested in actual dialogue. Dialogue means conversation on an equal basis between people with different perspectives who really listen to each other with the possibility of changing their own minds. Would Wilson’s defenders be open to understanding what’s so legitimately hurtful about American racism that people actually feel they have to say “Black lives matter?” And does anyone seriously believe Brown’s defenders could ever assign blame for most African-American communal problems to beliefs and actions of blacks themselves?

I do think such discourse is necessary, or else we’ll have Fergusons every few years ad nauseam. But let’s not have that conversation during an emotionally charged news event when, for example, many of Wilson’s defenders have been cowed into keeping their opinions quiet – either because they don’t want to be called a racist; or worse because they fear for their physical safety. And right now, Brown’s defenders are in the uncomfortable position of having “allies” who just expressed precisely the same opinions and feelings in unconscionable ways: demanding police disarmament, burning down buildings, and more.

So sure, let’s talk about race relations in America. But Ferguson? That’s something best פאַרגעסן.

David Benkof constructs the Jerusalem Post crossword puzzle, which appears weekly in the Jewish Journal. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter (@DavidBenkof); or E-mail him at David Benkof@gmail.com.

Ferguson and Eric Garner are symptoms of a deeper problem


I sat down last week to write about what happened in Ferguson. As I began to write, there was no doubt in my mind that there would be a “next time” as soon as we hit the next news cycle, if not sooner.

Then I heard the news that the New York City police officer responsible for the death of Eric Garner would not be charged. I was struck by the fact that I could write this article every day and just leave a blank spot to fill in a new name.

This is not just about Michael Brown or Eric Garner. These cases are not anomalies but symptoms of something much deeper.

We have a system in this country that lets some get ahead while keeping others in the cycle of poverty. We see this play out in the disparities in educational opportunities available to low-income African-American students compared with middle-class white students. We see it in who can buy a home and what kind of mortgage options are available to them. And we see it in the unequal application of drug laws that send huge numbers of black men to jail for drug crimes committed in nearly equal numbers by white individuals. These are just a few examples from a much longer list.

As Jews, we have in recent history benefited greatly from a system that has actively held down our black brothers and sisters. The G.I. Bill and the various programs enacted under the New Deal helped many white Jews move into the middle class while either explicitly or in application excluding many African-Americans.

I say this not to impart guilt upon those of us who benefited, but as a reminder. As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel famously said, “There is no limit to the concern one must feel for the suffering of human beings, that indifference to evil is worse than evil itself, that in a free society, some are guilty but all are responsible.”

Jewish-Americans are responsible for understanding how the systems that helped us advance also prevented so many others from doing the same. We must understand how these systems played a role in perpetuating racial and economic inequality, to bear witness, and then to act for change.

Many people have told me that they are outraged but simply don’t know what to do. We cannot allow ourselves to be paralyzed by the sheer size of the problem, to simply express our sadness and outrage until it passes through the media cycle. Inevitably there will be another “next time” until we as a society fix the larger system that allows the injustices to occur.

At AVODAH, we have been discussing an idea and recently put a name to it: Tikkun Ma’arechet, repairing the system. This framework is vital because the injustice we are seeing is the result of intersecting systems in our society that are badly in need of repair. A broken system has provided many Jewish-Americans with privilege and power. We have an opportunity to use that same power to fix it.

What is our role in that repair? Here’s a start:

Have hard conversations with the people we care about. Race and economic inequality are emotionally charged issues to discuss. It’s easy to disengage when someone disagrees with your perspective or says something offensive, but those are the moments when we must dig deep and continue the dialogue. Take a deep breath. Acknowledge your feelings of frustration, anger and impatience. Think about how to make these issues connect on a personal level. But above all, keep talking. If we only talk to those who agree with us, we won’t be able to move things forward. And remember that having these conversations is not a natural ability; it’s a vital skill that is honed over time.

Support work to address the systemic issues. There are many in the Jewish community and beyond who are already engaged in Tikkun Ma’arechet, but it isn’t glamorous work. They need to know that others support them and believe in their vision. These organizations need volunteers, they need people to show up and speak up, and they need support to grow their work to be even more impactful.

Learn about being an ally. While we have a role to play, it isn’t always about standing in front, especially as people with privilege. It’s less important to lead on everything than to show up and be supportive. Listen to the stories of people most affected by racial injustice and understand those stories as lived experience, even if what you hear challenges your own perspective.

Pace yourself, but start marching. Ethics of the Fathers teaches us that we are not expected to complete the task, but neither are we free to desist from it. The work of Tikkun Ma’arechet is not something we will complete in our lifetimes. But we must begin, and begin now. Lives are at stake today, tomorrow and the day after. We cannot stand idly by.

Our work must continue until there are no more “next times.”

(Suzanne Feinspan is the acting executive director of AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps.)

 

What Ferguson can learn from LAPD’s rehabilitation


In recent weeks, race relations have dominated national news in the United States, carried by a wave of incidents of striking similarity: A white male police officer kills an unarmed black man; his community grieves over the injustice. Protests, and sometimes riots, ensue, but in the end the officer involved is not charged with a crime for the death, and sometimes not even disciplined. 

In a lengthy interview last week, Steve Soboroff, president of the Los Angeles Police Commission, gave his take on issues of race and policing, both nationally and in L.A. Soboroff, a developer and past chairman and CEO of Playa Vista, was appointed to the commission by Mayor Eric Garcetti in 2013, but he has for decades been an official and unofficial adviser to politicians and organizations around Los Angeles. He spoke over lunch at Nate ’n Al delicatessen in Beverly Hills.

Jewish Journal: What steps do you think the Justice Department should take in Ferguson, Mo., where the unrest since the death of Michael Brown has been a springboard for a national movement of similar protests?

Steve Soboroff: The experience that the Los Angeles Police Department [LAPD] went through, being put under a federal consent decree — federal oversight — [for more than a decade after the Rampart corruption scandal first revealed in 1999] turned out to be a blessing. And without judging Ferguson, it looks to me as if that kind of oversight — the kind a department has under a federal consent decree — may be a best-case scenario for implementing change and regaining the trust of the people.

JJ: Do you think it needs to be easier to indict police officers in this type of situation?

SS: No, I don’t. Being indicted has to do with an officer’s intent to commit bodily harm or homicide, and there is a difference between that and poor policing, between intent and not following policy. You don’t go to jail for not following policy. I believe the policy needs to be clear. Community policing has to be from the bottom up, and policy needs to be from the top down. And the kinds of policies officers need to be trained in now are community policing policies, preventative policing. 

Community policing policies are the reason we are at a 40- to 50-year low in crime rates [in L.A.], not because our guys are tougher or are better shots. We don’t often shoot our guns. I think there were 39 incidents last year, and some of those were on pit bulls attacking officers, and some were accidental discharges. But that doesn’t mean that if there are 15 incidents, for example, that that isn’t 15 too many. 

JJ: Because you brought up local officer-involved shootings — there was community concern recently regarding the killing of Ezell Ford, an unarmed, mentally challenged Black man, by two LAPD gang officers. There were differing accounts from the officers and from community members regarding what occurred, and frustration with how long it is taking for the department to release evidence.

SS: But that’s the case in every case. A universal, unifying truth is that if you put four people in a room, you will get five different views. Before cases come to us for adjudication at the commission level, there is an incredible amount of cold science that goes into the investigation. What you don’t want to do is release all of your science and then have witnesses call up just to affirm what they have heard. We want to hear what the witnesses say in order to see which statements match the cold science, and the delay that causes can be frustrating to the public. I understand that. 

JJ: You have been a strong advocate of on-body cameras. You mentioned it in your speech the day you became a commissioner, saying that we need it “within 18 months, not 18 years.” 

SS: We are going to beat that. I made that statement Sept. 10, 2013, so 18 months would be March 2015.  We are OK. 

JJ: And I imagine an official policy on how the on-body cameras will be used is to be made public? 

SS: Yes. In forming a policy, the issue isn’t the equipment; it’s the use or abuse of the equipment. The policy will answer the question of when a camera should go on, and when it should go off. The policy is probably going to say that the camera must be on whenever there is a pending arrest, or something like that. But storage is important as well — the fact that the officer cannot delete or add to a tape. 

JJ: Shifting to another issue the LAPD is currently facing: The Los Angeles Times recently reported an alleged misclassification of about 1,200 violent crimes as minor offenses over a year period. Is the department conducting its own investigation? And if so, what has it found?

SS: Sure we are. That report came as a result of a number of meetings with The Times, over specific incidents. And one incident is too many. But it isn’t a systemic, department-wide issue. Some people misclassify things, there are technology errors, and there are misunderstandings because of a lack of uniformity. What I got out of our meetings is that the rules need to be clearer on every level. 

But we also need to consider the perception that is coming out of an article and how to then deal with it. Perception of the police department by the community is important to us — in every community, at every income level, and every color, religion and neighborhood. That’s why we go to the churches and into communities — to build what the chief calls “a bank of trust.” 

JJ: In 2009, Harvard released an LAPD-commissioned study on the department’s years under the consent decree, which included high praise for the police. It noted that the LAPD is now about as racially diverse as the city of Los Angeles. It also found that the LAPD had, quite remarkably, reduced crime and increased community satisfaction while also increasing law-enforcement activity. 

SS: We are the finest police department in America. Period. There is no question about it. Are we perfect? No. Do we make mistakes? Yes. But that does not mean we are not a great police department full of great people. It is a difficult job. 

JJ: Let’s return to the Harvard study. It also said that there was a “troubling pattern in the use of force” against African-Americans, echoed by a lower level of confidence. What has the LAPD done since 2009 to remedy this, and what efforts do you think still need to be made institutionally, and to make officers challenge their personal preconceptions? 

SS: Between 2009 and now, community policing has developed from a concept into an intuitive part of everyday policing. A police station is not just this place you go to if you are a bad guy; it is a part of the community. Our officers are out in the field, and they know people’s names that live in their communities. 

Does that mean that every single community feels the same? No, it doesn’t. And whether or not their feelings are justified is not the issue to me or to the chief. It is that they have negative feelings at all — they have a perception, and that is what we have to work on. Because you can’t stand up to a group of people who feel one way and talk them out of what they are feeling. You have to show them; you have to work with them. 

JJ: Do you think there is more the LAPD needs to do with regard to its relationship with African-American communities, and, in particular, with the perception that Blacks are being unjustly targeted? The Harvard study showed, at least through 2009, that Blacks are stopped and arrested disproportionately to other races. 

SS: We don’t racial profile. Do we criminal profile? Yeah. I believe that a lot more communication, and a lot more preventative, programmatic things need to happen in a number of communities, and with a number of gangs — whether they are African-American gangs or Latino gangs. 

JJ: Let’s look at just one statistic — narcotic-related arrests, for example. It is one thing to say, “We don’t have a policy of racial profiling,” but the data shows that it is occurring regardless. 

SS: One statistic I do know well is that if you look at our homicide rate — last year there were 251 homicides, you need to ask, how many of those were gang-on-gang? How many of those were Black-on-Black, or Latino-on-Latino? An inordinate number. There are so many variables in these things, but what is important is what the solutions are and what we can do better. 

Did you see what happened in New York [on Dec. 3] with the cop [Daniel Pantaleo] that choked and killed Eric Garner? The grand journey didn’t indict him, and that incident was on tape. But the issue is not did he do it or not. The issue is, was his intent to kill or to hurt, or did he just do a lousy job of arresting Garner? But that doesn’t mean [Pantaleo] didn’t do a ridiculously horrible thing. It should have never happened.

JJ: A similar incident happened here with killing of Jorge Azucena — the man with asthma who died while an officer was arresting him because the officer didn’t believe him when he said he couldn’t breathe. 

SS: Yeah. That is bad training and bad policing. But these cases aren’t felonies. 

SS:  That was tragic, and I am not familiar with the details or the adjudication results.

JJ: You don’t think these are felonies?

SS: No. When there are felonies, we go after them.

SS:   We determine in policy vs. out of policy. Felony determinations are made by the DA, the Grand Jury or others, as are the decisions to prosecute.

JJ: What other issues do you think the LAPD is currently facing? 

SS: We are losing too many officers. And the people that come in to replace them have one thing in common — they have no experience. The overall level of experience of LAPD is dropping, and it is not sustainable. We have to fix that.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

FOR THE RECORD: Two responses at the end of this article were changed at the request of interviewee Steve Soboroff to better clarify his intended meaning. The original response taken from the spoken interview also is included here, in strikethough mode. 

More than 400 arrested as Ferguson protests spread to other U.S. cities


National Guard troops and police aimed to head off a third night of violence on Wednesday in Ferguson, Missouri, as more than 400 people have been arrested in the St. Louis suburb and around the United States in unrest after a white policeman was cleared in the killing of an unarmed black teenager.

There have been protests in Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Atlanta and other cities decrying Monday's grand jury decision not to indict officer Darren Wilson in the Aug. 9 shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in a case that has touched off a debate about race relations in the United States.

Ferguson, a predominately black city, has been hit by two nights of rioting, looting and arson with some businesses burned to the ground, but authorities say an increased security presence on Tuesday night helped quell the violence.

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has deployed about 2,200 National Guard troops in and around Ferguson. Police made 45 arrests in Ferguson in the Tuesday night protests, down from 61 in aftermath of Monday's grand jury decision.

“The ramped up presence and action of the Missouri National Guard has been helpful,” Nixon said on Wednesday after facing criticism for not deploying enough guardsman in the hours after the grand jury's decision.

Tensions between police and black Americans have simmered for decades, with many blacks feeling the U.S. legal system and law enforcement authorities do not treat them fairly. In Washington, President Barack Obama has tried to keep a lid on anger that has spilled over to other cities and garnered international attention.

Obama remained cautious in his comments in the immediate aftermath of the Ferguson shooting, but has been more expansive in recent days including remarks at the White House after the grand jury's decision. On Monday he said deep distrust exists between police and minorities and that “communities of color aren't just making these problems up.”

Russia on Wednesday pointed to rioting in Ferguson and the other protests across the United States as evidence that Moscow's detractors in Washington were hypocrites and in no position to lecture Russia on human rights.

St. Louis police said three people were arrested at a protest near City Hall on Wednesday in which activists staged a mock trial of Wilson, who told the grand jury he shot Brown because he feared for his life.

Ferguson's mayor, James Knowles, is white, as are most of its city council members. A 2013 state attorney general's report found more than 85 percent of motorists pulled over in the city are black, and the arrest rate among blacks is twice the rate among white residents.

'SAD FACT'

Obama's Justice Department is probing the Ferguson shooting as it considers whether to bring federal civil rights charges against the officer and the police department.

“The sad fact is that it brings up issues that we've been struggling with in this country for a long, long time,” said Matthew Green, an associate professor of politics at the Catholic University of America.

“These are not problems and issues that are going to get resolved by one president in the remainder of his term.”

Wilson said his conscience was clear. He told ABC News that there was nothing he could have done differently that would have prevented Brown's death. But the parents of the slain teenager said they did not accept the officer's version of the events.

“I don't believe a word of it,” Brown's mother Lesley McSpadden told “CBS This Morning” on Wednesday.

The crowds in Ferguson were smaller and more controlled than on Monday, when about a dozen businesses were torched and others were looted amid rock-throwing and sporadic gunfire from protesters and volleys of tear gas fired by police. More than 60 people were arrested then.

“Generally, it was a much better night,” St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar told reporters on Wednesday, adding there was little arson or gunfire, and that lawlessness was confined to a relatively small group.

A Conoco gas station and convenience store in Ferguson has escaped looters with armed, black local residents guarding the white-owned store.

Protests over the Ferguson decision in several major cities on Tuesday night shut highways and led to some arrests.

Police in Boston said on Wednesday that 45 people were arrested in protests overnight that drew more than a thousand demonstrators. In Dallas, seven were arrested for blocking traffic on Interstate 35, a major north-south U.S. roadway.

In New York, where police used pepper spray to control the crowd after protesters tried to block the Lincoln Tunnel and Triborough Bridge, 10 demonstrators were arrested, police said.

Protesters in Los Angeles threw water bottles and other objects at officers outside city police headquarters and later obstructed both sides of a downtown freeway with makeshift roadblocks and debris, authorities said.

Let’s be thankful for our imperfect legal system


Imagine being the mother of one of the 200,000 people murdered in Syria over the past few years. As you grieve for your lost child, you empathize with the countless others who have suffered untold massacres in your chaotic and lawless country.

One day, in a rundown local café on the outskirts of Damascus, you see television images of riots going on in America– in a little town called Ferguson.

Police cars are being burned. Bricks and tear gas canisters are flying through the streets. People are enraged.

You wonder: Where does this rage come from?

The T.V. announcer explains that it’s because a grand jury decided not to indict white police officer Darren Wilson for the shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American 18-year-old.

A man named Robert McCulloch shows up on screen. He’s the prosecuting attorney explaining the decision to reporters. The jury had engaged in an “exhaustive review” of the evidence, he says, including numerous witness statements and forensics. Several witnesses—all of whom were African-Americans—said that Brown had charged at Wilson when the shots were fired.

At that moment, you go into into a dreamlike state. The T.V. images are a blur. You don’t notice anyone around you. Even the sound of machine-gun fire in the distance doesn’t register.

You can’t stop thinking about that man on the screen. Exhaustive review of evidence? Numerous witness statements? Forensics? What kind of crazy fantasy is this? You amuse yourself by imagining 200,000 grand juries in Syria doing an exhaustive review of evidence to decide whether or not indict the countless murderers roaming your land.

That’s a fantasy you know will never happen in your country. In fact, in many parts of the world, the very idea of a grand jury is a fantasy.

As much as I was fuming at the Ferguson police when I first learned of the Brown shooting, it was hard for me to stay angry after seeing the legal process unfold.

Maybe it’s because I was raised in the Middle East, where things like “exhaustive review of evidence” are foreign objects. Whatever it is, the American legal system, however imperfect and unfair and infuriating it can be, is still a marvel of justice for most people on the planet.

For that mother grieving in Syria, a country where people feel free to be enraged at the law after an exhaustive review of the evidence is a miracle country.

For that imperfect country, I feel thankful.

U.N. chief urges peaceful Ferguson protests, rights protection


United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday urged protesters in Ferguson, Mo., and elsewhere in the United States to refrain from violence and called on law enforcement to protect the rights of people to demonstrate peacefully.

A grand jury on Monday cleared a white police officer in the fatal August shooting of an unarmed black teenager in suburban Ferguson, sparking a night of violent and racially charged rioting.

“(The Secretary-General) appeals to all those in Ferguson and throughout the United States who felt disappointment at the grand jury's decision to make their voices heard peacefully and to refrain from any violence,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters.

“He also calls on law enforcement authorities, whether at federal, state, or at the local level, to protect the rights of people to demonstrate peacefully and to express their opinions peacefully,” Dujarric said.

Protests also were staged on Monday night in New York, Chicago, Seattle, Los Angeles, Oakland, California, and Washington, D.C., over a case that has highlighted long-standing racial tensions not just in predominantly black Ferguson but across the United States.

Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Tom Brown

Missouri governor orders more troops to Ferguson after riots


Aiming to head off more looting and rioting, Missouri's governor on Tuesday ordered National Guard reinforcements into the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson following overnight violence ignited by the clearing of a white police officer in the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager.

Attorneys for the family of Michael Brown, the 18-year-old who was shot to death by officer Darren Wilson in August, condemned the grand jury process that led to Monday's decision not to bring criminal charges against the officer.

About a dozen buildings in Ferguson burned overnight and 61 people, mostly from the St. Louis area, were arrested for crimes including burglary, illegal weapons possession and unlawful assembly, police said on Tuesday. Shops were looted during the unrest.

The case underscores the sometimes tense nature of race relations in the United States. The St. Louis County grand jury's decision also led to protests in other major U.S. cities. The people who took to the streets in Ferguson seemed to disregard calls for restraint issued by President Barack Obama and others.

Police fired tear gas and flash-bang canisters at protesters on Monday night. Police said protesters fired guns at them, lit patrol cars on fire and hurled bricks into their lines.

Brown family lawyers Benjamin Crump and Anthony Gray said in a news conference the process had been unfair because the prosecutor in the case had a conflict of interest and Wilson was not properly cross-examined. They said a special prosecutor should have been appointed.

“This process is broken. The process should be indicted,” Crump said.

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon said he was meeting with law enforcement and bolstering the National Guard deployment to ensure that people and property are protected in the days ahead.

“Violence like we saw last night cannot be repeated,” Nixon said on his Twitter feed. His office said “the Guard is providing security at the Ferguson Police Department, which will allow additional law enforcement officers to protect the public.”

While news channels aired Obama's live remarks calling for restraint from the White House on one side of the screen, they showed violent scenes from Ferguson on the other.

“This is going to happen again,” said Ferguson area resident James Hall, 56, as he walked past a building smoldering from a blaze set during the street protests in the city that is predominately black and the police force is mostly white.

“If they had charged him with something, this would not have happened to Ferguson,” he said.

Although no serious injuries were reported, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said the rioting on Monday night and early Tuesday morning was “much worse” than the disturbances that erupted in the immediate aftermath of the August shooting.

The smell of smoke hung in the air along a stretch of West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson. The street was closed by police but heaps of broken glass and piles of rubble accumulated in front of the few buildings that had not been boarded up ahead of time.

“We see that Michael Brown's death has been spit upon by the criminal justice system here,” said the Reverend Michael McBride, an activist from California.

“Now is the opportunity for the president to really be my brother's keeper,” said McBride.

TWO SIDES OF TRAGEDY

In the city of St. Louis, where windows were broken and traffic was briefly stopped on a major highway overnight, Police Chief Sam Dotson vowed a stronger response on Tuesday night.

Schools in Ferguson and its surrounding cities said they planned not to open on Tuesday and city offices in Ferguson were also closed.

Officials disclosed the grand jury's ruling well after sunset and hours after saying it was coming, a set of circumstances that led to protesters taking to the streets well after dark.

Wilson could have faced charges ranging from involuntary manslaughter to first-degree murder. Brown's family said through their lawyers that they were “profoundly disappointed” by the grand jury's finding.

Wilson offered thanks to his supporters, saying “your dedication is amazing,” in a letter attributed to him posted on Tuesday on a Facebook page for those who have rallied to his side.

Attorneys for Wilson, who was placed on administrative leave and has avoided the spotlight since the shooting, said he was following his training and the law when he shot Brown.

Wilson told the grand jury that Brown had tried to grab his gun and he felt his life was in danger when he fired, according to documents released by prosecutors.

“I said, 'Get back or I'm going to shoot you,'” Wilson said, according to the documents. “He immediately grabs my gun and says, 'You are too much of a pussy to shoot me.'”

Missouri grand jury has made decision in fatal shooting of Michael Brown


A Missouri grand jury has made a decision on whether to indict a white police officer in the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, a killing that sparked angry protests in the St. Louis suburb, the Washington Post reported on Monday.

St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch's office was due to make an announcement on the grand jury, the Post and CNN reported, citing sources.

A spokesman for McCulloch did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Activist groups have pledged fresh street protests if officer Darren Wilson is not indicted in the Aug. 9 shooting death of Michael Brown, 18, while the state has been planning a massive police presence to quell violence.

President Barack Obama urged protesters to remain peaceful following the grand jury announcement, a White House spokesman said. Brown's parents, ministers and community leaders have urged sympathizers to remain peaceful, whatever the outcome.

Ferguson, a predominantly black town with a white-dominated power structure, has been on edge for weeks as residents await the grand jury's decision. Shop owners in the city, which faced weeks of sometimes violent protests following Brown's death, have boarded up their windows, and students in one area school district began an extended early Thanksgiving break on Monday.

Protesters have said they plan to demonstrate at the Ferguson Police Department and at the county courthouse in Clayton, about 8 miles (13 km) to the south, following the grand jury's decision.

Police in Clayton have placed large barricades around the courthouse and placed locks on mailboxes to prevent them being opened ahead of the announcement.

Lawyers for Brown's family say the teen was trying to surrender when he was shot, while Wilson's supporters say he feared for his life and opened fire in self-defense.

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has declared a state of emergency in anticipation of the ruling and called in the National Guard, a move that some activists called unnecessarily heavy-handed.

Nixon was en route to St. Louis on Monday afternoon, a spokesman confirmed. The spokesman declined to comment on the reasons for Nixon's trip.

NATIONAL SPOTLIGHT

The August shooting touched off a national debate about race relations and ignited nightly street demonstrations where police in riot gear, flanked by armored vehicles, fired rubber bullets and deployed tear gas to break up crowds.

Obama in the aftermath of the shooting dispatched Attorney General Eric Holder to Ferguson to investigate and try to restore calm in the community, where much of the population is black and the police force is mostly white.

Local and state authorities scrambled to keep a lid on the protests in the face of criticism their heavy-handed tactics were only making the situation worse.

McCulloch declined to file charges directly and instead had a grand jury hear evidence over recent months, which kept tensions simmering. In a move aimed at transparency, the prosecutor's office has pledged to release publicly evidence heard by the grand jury, where proceedings are usually kept secret.

Three autopsies were performed on Brown, who was shot at least six times. A private autopsy indicates Brown was trying to surrender, lawyers for Brown's family said. The St. Louis County autopsy indicated a gunshot wound at close range to Brown's hand.

The Justice Department has yet to release the findings of its autopsy.

Additional reporting by David Bailey in Minneapolis, Carey Gillam in Kansas City and Will Dunham in Washington; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Jim Loney

Grand jury decides against charges in Ferguson shooting, unrest erupts


Violence flared again in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson on Monday, with gunshots heard and tear gas fired, after a Missouri grand jury decided not to indict a white police officer over the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager in August.

Angry crowds took to the streets around the Ferguson police department after the grand jury determined there was no probable cause to charge officer Darren Wilson with any crime for the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

St Louis police reported heavy automatic gunfire late on Monday in the area near where Brown was shot and killed on Aug. 9. The Federal Aviation Administration issued temporary flight restrictions for the city.

Protests were also staged in New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Seattle and Oakland over a case that has highlighted long-standing racial tensions not just in predominantly black Ferguson but across the United States.

“They determined that no probable cause exists to file any charge against officer Wilson,” St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch told reporters in Clayton, Missouri, the St. Louis suburb where the grand jury met.

Wilson could have faced charges ranging from involuntary manslaughter to first-degree murder, McCulloch said.

Storefront windows were smashed near the Ferguson Police Department, and at least one police cruiser and another vehicle on the street were set on fire. Gunshots were heard and police responded with volleys of tear gas and flash-bang canisters.

Brown's family said through their attorneys they were “profoundly disappointed” by the grand jury's finding.

“While we understand that many others share our pain, we ask that you channel your frustration in ways that will make a positive change,” the family said in a statement.

Attorneys for Wilson, who has avoided the spotlight since the shooting, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

President Barack Obama called for protesters to remain peaceful and for police to show restraint.

“We are a nation built on the rule of law and so we need to accept that this decision was the grand jury's to make,” Obama said in a televised news conference. “We need to recognize that the situation in Ferguson speaks to broader challenges that we still face as a nation. The fact remains that in too many parts of this country a deep distrust exists between police and communities of color.”

SHOTS HEARD

Ahead of the news, a crowd of several hundred people gathered outside the Ferguson Police Department, and many began to scream angrily as word of the grand jury's decision spread.

“Murderers, you're nothing but murderers,” one woman shouted through a megaphone at officers clad in riot gear. “Stinking murderers.”

A group of protesters briefly mobbed a police car, throwing rocks and knocking out its windows, prompting a group of officers clad in riot gear to advance. Sounds of gunshots briefly caused police to take cover behind their vehicles. A Walgreens drugstore was set alight.

“They need to understand that when you put your son in the ground, that's a pain that you can never overcome,” said Paulette Wilkes, a 40-year-old teacher's assistant. “People are trying to process it. I think once they process it they will continue to burn and loot because they're angry.”

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon called up the National Guard ahead of the announcement to protect against the kind of rioting that flared in the weeks after Brown was shot and killed.

Some activists described the decision to preemptively activate the guard as unnecessarily heavy-handed, particularly following complaints that police inflamed crowds in August by responding in a heavily militarized posture with tear gas and rubber bullets.

The grand jury, with nine white and three black members, began meeting in late August and heard evidence that included witnesses called by the prosecution as well as a private pathologist hired by the Brown family to review the shooting. Nine jurors needed to agree to bring charges.

McCulloch declined to say if the jury's decision was unanimous, noting that grand jury proceedings are completely secret and that only the jury members themselves know the details of the proceedings.

A federal probe into the shooting is continuing, and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder emphasized in a statement that the Justice Department investigators had not yet reached any conclusions.

“Though we have shared information with local prosecutors during the course of our investigation, the federal inquiry has been independent of the local one from the start, and remains so now. Even at this mature stage of the investigation, we have avoided prejudging any of the evidence,” he said.

CONFLICTING ACCOUNTS

McCulloch described a tangled mass of conflicting testimony from 60 witnesses about what happened during the incident that led to Brown's death, but said much of it did not square with the physical evidence.

“Many of the same witnesses acknowledged that they did not see the shooting,” McCulloch said. “The grand jury worked tirelessly to examine and reexamine the testimony of all the witnesses and all the physical evidence.”

Lawyers for Brown's family say the teen was trying to surrender when he was shot, while Wilson's supporters say the officer feared for his life and opened fire in self-defense.

Witnesses disagreed on whether Brown's hands were up at the time he was shot, McCulloch said, adding that Wilson shot at Brown 12 times. The final shot hit Brown in the top of his head.

Brown is suspected of having stolen cigars from a nearby convenience store shortly before the incident. He and a friend had been walking down the middle of the street when Wilson approached them. Police said in August that Wilson was not aware of the robbery at the time.

In Chicago, demonstrators walked up Lake Shore Drive carrying banners that read “Justice for Mike Brown,” while protesters in Seattle lay on the street in a “die-in” protest.

In New York, civil rights activist Al Sharpton called the decision “an absolute blow to those of us who wanted to see a fair and open trial.” In Boston, dozens of protesters chanted to demand “justice for Mike Brown” in front of the state house.

A crowd of about three dozen protesters gathered outside the courthouse in Clayton where the grand jury had met, and many stood in stunned silence following the news.

“That's just how the justice system works. The rich are up there and the poor are down here,” said Antonio Burns, 25, who lives in Clayton. “They think they can get away with it.”


A grand jury declined to bring murder charges against Darren Wilson, a Ferguson, Missouri, police officer who killed Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager. 

For live updates, click here.

Gunshots ring out, tear gas fired as violence returns to Ferguson


Gunshots rang out and police lobbed tear gas at an angry crowd that threw bottles outside the Ferguson Police Department in suburban St. Louis after a grand jury decided not to indict a white officer in the shooting death of an unarmed black teen.

Outrage over the decision fueled what had been mostly peaceful protests across the United States on Monday, including in New York City where marchers chanting “Black lives matter” snarled traffic on Broadway through Times Square.

In Chicago, demonstrators walked up Lake Shore Drive carrying banners that read “Justice for Mike Brown” – the 18-year-old who was shot and killed in Ferguson on Aug. 9.

Police in Ferguson used smoke canisters and trucks to force waves of violent protesters down the street away from the police building soon after sporadic gunshots were heard. Flames from a burning car rose into the night sky.

Whistles pierced the air as some of the hundreds of protesters tried to keep the peace, shouting, “Don't run, don't run.”

Police who formed a wall of clear riot shields outside the precinct were pelted with bottles and cans as the crowd surged up and down the street immediately after authorities said the grand jury had voted not to indict Officer Darren Wilson.

“Murderers, you're nothing but murderers,” protesters in the crowd shouted. One woman, speaking through a megaphone said, “Stinking murderers.”

Dozens of police and military vehicles were poised for possible mass arrests not far from the stretch of Ferguson streets that saw the worst of the rioting after Wilson shot Brown in August.

“They need to feel the pain these mothers feel at the (expletive) cemetery,” shouted Paulette Wilkes, 40, a teacher's assistant who was in the crowd at the police department.

A smaller, calmer crowd of about three dozen protesters gathered outside the courthouse where the grand jury had met. In that crowd, a white woman held a sign that read: “Black Lives Matter.” Many of the protesters looked stunned.

“That's just how the justice system works – the rich are up there and the poor are down here,” said Antonio Burns, 25, who is black and lives in the Ferguson area. The police “think they can get away with it,” Burns said.

A handful of Amnesty International volunteers in bright vests tried to maintain the peace. Brown's family quickly urged a non-violent response to the grand jury's decision.

Officials urged tolerance and assured residents that the National Guard would provide security at critical facilities like fire houses, police stations and utility substations.

“I do not want people in this community to think they have to barricade their doors and take up arms,” St. Louis County Executive Director Charlie Dooley said before the grand jury's decision was announced.

FBI arrests 2 suspected Ferguson bomb suspects; later charged with federal firearms offenses


Two men suspected of buying explosives they planned to detonate during protests in Ferguson, Missouri, once a grand jury decides the Michael Brown case, were arrested on Friday and charged with federal firearms offenses, a law enforcement official told Reuters.

Word of the arrests, reported by a number of media outlets Friday, came ahead of the grand jury's widely anticipated decision on whether the white police officer who fatally shot Brown, an unarmed black teenager, should be indicted on criminal charges.

The Aug. 9 slaying of 18-year-old Brown under disputed circumstances became a flashpoint for U.S. racial tensions, triggering weeks of sometimes violent protests in the St. Louis suburb by demonstrators calling for officer Darren Wilson's arrest.

He was instead placed on administrative leave, and Ferguson has been bracing for a new wave of protests, especially if the grand jury chooses not to indict Wilson. An announcement was believed to be imminent.

Against this backdrop of heightened tensions, according to a law enforcement source, two men described as reputed members of a militant group called the New Black Panther Party, were arrested in the St. Louis area in an FBI sting operation.

As initially reported by CBS News, the men were suspected of acquiring explosives for pipe bombs that they planned to set off during protests in Ferguson, according to the official, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly discuss the case.

The official said the two men are the same pair named in a newly unsealed federal indictment returned on Nov. 19 charging Brandon Orlando Baldwin and Olajuwon Davis with purchasing two pistols from a firearms dealer under false pretenses.

Both men were arraigned on Friday in federal court, the law enforcement source said.

The FBI and other federal agencies were reported to have stepped up their presence in the St. Louis area in recent days in anticipation of renewed protests after the grand jury's decision in the Brown case is made known.

An FBI official in St. Louis declined to comment except to say that the two men named in the indictment had been arrested. Officials from the U.S. Attorney's Office for eastern Missouri were not immediately available for comment.

Officials make preparations for Ferguson grand jury decision


Prosecutors made preparations to announce the eventual decision by a grand jury on whether to charge a white police officer who shot dead an unarmed black teenager and some local schools said on Friday they would close next week in anticipation of unrest.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder urged police to show restraint in handling any protests that flare after the grand jury's decision as tensions simmered in Ferguson, Missouri over a case that has become a flashpoint for U.S. race relations.

The grand jury deciding whether to indict Darren Wilson in the Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown, 18, in the St. Louis suburb met behind closed doors. Three protesters staged mock lynchings outside the courthouse, calling for Wilson to be indicted.

The St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney's Office said it was preparing for a news conference – the first time it has disclosed such plans – but added that it had no date or time for the decision announcement. Officials have said a decision is expected before the end of the month.

The nearby Jennings School District said it would close on Monday and Tuesday due to the possibility of unrest in neighboring Ferguson. The district was already scheduled to be closed the rest of the week for the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday.

The Ferguson-Florrisant school district is planning to have its schools open on Monday and Tuesday.

Police in riot gear arrested three people in overnight protests that led to scuffles, police said. Police said they doused one demonstrator with pepper spay for resisting arrest.

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has already declared a state of emergency and called in National Guard troops to back up local police in anticipation of protests. Groups from across the country have said they would take to the streets again in large numbers if charges are not brought.

Holder said the Justice Department was providing new guidance to law enforcement authorities about how to maintain public safety while still safeguarding the free speech rights of protesters.

“The Justice Department encourages law enforcement officials, in every jurisdiction, to work with the communities they serve to minimize needless confrontation,” Holder said in a video address released by the Justice department.

Holder also sent a message to protesters that “the most successful and enduring movements for change are those that adhere to non-aggression and non-violence.”

Lawyers for Brown's family say he was trying to surrender when the officer shot him. Wilson's supporters say he shot Brown in self-defense.

Can Ferguson’s black leaders gain power next April?


This troubled suburb of St. Louis is warily awaiting the decision of a grand jury that could indict a white policeman for the killing of black teenager Michael Brown.

But African-American leaders are casting one eye beyond the decision to an election next year that might, finally, tip the balance of power in their favor.

In April, three of Ferguson's six city council seats are up for grabs and African-Americans have a chance to end decades of white domination. Two-thirds of the town's 21,000 population is black. But the mayor, more than 90 percent of the police, and all but one of the council members are white — an imbalance that has stoked racial tensions in Ferguson long before Brown's shooting in August.

In recent days, police stockpiled riot gear and businesses are prepared for trouble if the grand jury does not indict policeman Darren Wilson. A decision is expected soon. No matter what the outcome, black leaders said there is an opportunity to change police conduct and discrimination through the ballot box, despite a long tradition of low black voter turnout at local elections in Ferguson.

“People are awake now. They know who the mayor is and what kind of person he is, and they know who the council members are,” said Tory Russell, 30, a leader of Hands Up United, a local activist group.

Based on last Tuesday's turnout, winning council seats might difficult: there was little sign of an uptick in interest in local politics. Forty-two percent of registered voters in Ferguson took part in the highest profile race — the election for St Louis County executive, which was a drop of 10 percentage points from the last such vote in 2010.

That frustrates Patricia Bynes, a local African-American official in the Democratic Party.

“Every time there's an election we have to show up. I don't care if we are voting what color the trash cans are, we need to show up,” she said.

Putting up good candidates of its own will be crucial for the African-American community, added David Kimball, a political scientist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Russell and other organizers of street protests in the town have spoken to possible candidates to try to persuade them to run in April.

“We've been working on some. There are random people who we've said, 'You've got it. You don't know you got it but I know you got it,' ” he said.

THE CANDIDATE

Ella Jones, a cosmetics saleswoman, earlier this month became the first person to collect her papers from Ferguson town hall to register as a candidate for the city council next spring. Jones, who is black, will file as a candidate when the electoral process begins fully in mid-December.

A Ferguson resident for decades, Jones has hardly any experience in politics and is not linked to the street protest movement. But if elected, black council members like her might make life difficult for James Knowles, the mayor who has been pushed to the brink of quitting by African-American criticism of his police force. He does not face re-election again until 2017.

“The best thing I can say about him is that he is a work in progress,” Jones said in an interview with Reuters.

The three council members whose seats are up for election next year are all white.

Like many others in the black community, Jones sees reforming the police department as almost the only political issue in town and seeks more training for cops and an “an end to racial profiling.”

Knowles' administration has bought body cameras and dashboard cameras for police to increase transparency and announced a scholarship to help recruit more black officers since the Brown shooting. He was not available from comment about the police or next year's election.

Meanwhile, angry demonstrations are likely if Wilson is not indicted. But, ultimately, such a decision would prove the need for African-Americans to vote in strong numbers next spring, said protest leader Russell.

“It's even more reason to win power and put some checks and balances in there,” he said.

Autopsy of slain Missouri teen shows close-range gunshot


A government autopsy of the unarmed black teenager whose killing by a white police officer set off months of protests in Ferguson, Missouri, suggests he suffered a gunshot to the hand from close range, according to a copy of the autopsy published by the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

The autopsy results could buttress claims by supporters of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson that the Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown, 18, was justified.

Activists said the leak of the report to the newspaper was adding to tensions in the community, which has been the site of numerous protests, some with clashes between demonstrators and police, in the 10 weeks since the shooting.

The report comes days after the New York Times, citing federal government officials briefed on a civil rights investigation, reported that Wilson told investigators he feared for his life and battled with Brown in his vehicle over his gun.

A grand jury is considering charges against Wilson, who has not spoken publicly about the shooting. Protesters have said they expect widespread unrest if he is not charged and local and state authorities have said they are preparing for that possibility.

“There is a lack of trust. That is why people are protesting every single night,” said Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change, a civil rights organization. “They have a fundamental belief that the system is stacked against them. These continual leaks raise a lot of suspicion.”

Ed Magee, a spokesman for the St. Louis County prosecutor's office, said a decision is expected sometime in mid-November.

Brown's death has sparked protests across Ferguson, a primarily black community with a mostly white police force and city government, and has drawn global attention to race relations in the United States.

The St. Louis County medical examiner's autopsy indicates that Brown's hand was close to Wilson's weapon, according to forensic experts interviewed by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The autopsy said a microscopic examination of Brown's hand tissue showed particles “consistent with products that are discharged from the barrel of a firearm.” The medical examiner also found that Brown tested positive for marijuana.

A representative for the county medical examiner verified the authenticity of the autopsy report the newspaper posted and said the office did not provide the report to the Post-Dispatch.

The shooting happened shortly after noon on Aug. 9 when Brown was walking down the middle of a neighborhood street with a friend and Wilson, who was driving by, ordered them out of the street.

Accounts differ but witnesses and law enforcement officials have agreed that Wilson and Brown became embroiled in an altercation through the window of the Wilson's vehicle and Wilson exited his vehicle and shot Brown several times.

Rabbis bearing witness in Ferguson


Early last week, national faith leaders called rabbis, pastors, priests and imams to Ferguson, Mo., a city rife with racial violence and pain. Along with my rabbinic colleagues from Truah: The Rabbinic Call for Justice, I responded to the call to the people of Ferguson that their struggle for justice is a timeless spiritual struggle. I went with the intention of teaching protesters and police alike a new path for justice, a promise of racial healing.

I realized I had the wrong idea: This wasn’t about clergy teaching anyone anything but about our bearing witness to a movement. After 18-year-old Michael Brown’s death at the hands of a police officer, the youth of Ferguson are demanding that he, and they, not be forgotten.

We rabbis went to Ferguson to hold ourselves accountable. We participated in an interfaith prayer service calling upon community leaders to advocate for racial justice; we stood before the Ferguson police station demanding that they, and we, atone for standing idly by when Michael Brown and so many other young people of color are harassed, jailed and killed. We left the sukkot in our home communities, eschewing comfortable meals and the joy of the festival, and went to Ferguson to build a different sort of sukkah: a sukkat shalom, a “shelter of peace.”

Here is what we learned:

Our children are angry. They are angry that young men of color like Michael Brown are being shot on our streets. They are angry that police caused Brown further indignity by leaving his body in the street for 4 hours and 32 minutes, forcing parents to hide their children’s eyes. They are incensed that even in death, the police did not show his corpse that modicum of dignity.

Our children are committed. For 65 days, these young leaders have shown exquisite leadership, organizing nightly protests, confronting police, demanding answers, crying out for justice.

Our children are hopeful. They believe that with the power of their voices, the gathering of their feet and the sacred work of their hands, they can bring about justice and dignity for all people in this nation.

Our children are righteous. As we stood in front of the police station at Ferguson, one young African-American woman stood face to face with a police officer in riot gear, a sign in her arms held high: “Black Lives Matter!” She testified to him, staring deeply into his eyes: “What you all did to Michael Brown makes me want to hate you. But I won’t have hatred in my heart. I will only have love. And I know you all want to repent for what you’ve done, for creating a system that lets my sisters and brothers of color die. I won’t hate you. I want to hug you.” And she did. With fierce tears, she treated that officer like a human being. And she asked — she demanded — that her humanity be seen.

Our children are capable. I thought they needed the rabbis and ministers and imams and priests who came to Ferguson to “show them the way” to make justice happen. But they don’t need us to do it for them. They need us to amplify their holy work, to bear witness to their righteous anger and their anguish and their longing to be treated with compassion and with dignity and affection.

Our children are impatient. After all, they are children. They should be dreaming of a world unfolding in front of them. They should be impatient with how they’ve been treated. What does it say about us when we ask them to be patient?

And finally, our children are here. Did we need to show up and stand for 4 hours and 32 minutes in the pouring rain to face off with police officers in riot gear? We did. We did so to show that this movement is for repentance: for the police who fail to serve and to protect; for all of us who have allowed this to happen; for each one of us who needs to commit to the hard work of dialogue and social change.

What the mainstream media show are neighborhoods in chaos. What we saw were young people full of passion, skill and moral courage demanding that America live up to its national promise: that we are all created equal, that dignity is not for some of us but for all of us.

(Rabbi Michael Adam Latz is the senior rabbi at Shir Tikvah Congregation in Minneapolis.)

Cops, race and violence


The recent death of Michael Brown has elicited strong reactions across the political spectrum—from Bill O’Reilly to Louis Farrakhan—everyone seems to have an opinion on how law enforcement interacts with young black males and the likelihood of black males being shot by cops.

In fact, despite all the opining, there simply are no good data to conclude that the use of deadly force by law enforcement unfairly targets Blacks. While Congress authorized the collection of such information decades ago, it doesn’t exist. Most of today’s discussion is based on surmise and anecdotal incidents and is impossible to generalize from.

Nevertheless, for all too many advocates, even the suggestion that Ferguson was not an open and shut case of police abuse and reflects a nationwide problem are anathema and evidence of bias in itself.

There is an assumption, in no small measure a function of America’s fraught history of police-minority relations that cops harbor suspicion and hostility towards young black males and as a result are prone to be trigger happy and more likely to shoot suspects that fit that profile. Given Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and numerous other cases over the years that conclusion has some anecdotal basis.

Yet, the reality is not only that there are no data to support that assumption, there seems to be new evidence for the exact opposite conclusion—that black suspects are LESS likely to be shot at by cops than either white or Hispanic suspects.

In a surprising conclusion to an ingenious experiment, two researchers at Washington State University have found that “there was significant bias favoring blacks where decisions to shoot were involved.”

In the WSU experiment, the participants were asked to shoot a laser gun if he/she thought it appropriate (as opposed to prior experiments where there was a “shoot” button) as they faced a suspect in a realistic simulation of a confrontation. The experiment ran through 60 scenarios from real life encounters projected in life size videos. The experimenters controlled for variables such as suspect clothing, hand positions, threatening stance and race while providing exact data on response times, etc.

The study concluded that “participants were more likely to shoot white and Hispanic suspects than black suspects.” There was a significant bias favoring blacks where decisions to shoot were concerned. When confronted by an armed white person, participants took an average of 1.37 seconds to fire back. Confronted by an armed black person, they took 1.61 seconds to fire and were less likely to fire in error. The 24-millesecond difference may seem small, but it’s enough to be fatal in a shooting.

Clearly, the study is subject to doubters who will question the laboratory setting, the fact that the participants reflected the general population and not just police officers, etc. Nevertheless, the findings of this study are startling—the bias when it comes to shoot or not shoot seems to tilt in favor of black suspects, not against them.

This study and its precursor experiment by the same authors, Lois James and Bryan Vila, should give ardent cop critics some pause.

Also of interest from this study is that the disinclination to shoot at black suspects was among a cohort of participants who “demonstrated significantly greater threat responses against black suspects than white or Hispanic suspects.” This suggested to the authors that even though the participants “held unconscious biases associating blacks and threats” that did not translate into acting out those biases.

In fact, the authors note, that the participants’ greater fear of black suspects “could cause him or her to tend to take more time to make decisions to shoot people whom they subconsciously perceived as more threatening because of race or ethnicity. This behavioral ‘counter-bias’ might be rooted in people’s concerns about the social and legal consequences of shooting a member of a historically oppressed racial or ethnic group.”

This latter finding has profound implications beyond the police setting. The “unconscious bias” and the “implicit bias test” proponents who purport to have insight into the bigotry and stereotyping that animates us at the unconscious level (these are the new touchstones of those who argue that “society hasn’t changed, bigotry has just gone underground”) are now severely challenged. This study reveals that no matter what we may unconsciously assume (e.g. young black males are a larger threat than others) those inchoate thoughts may not promote hostile acts but may, in fact, temper our actions in a positive way.

This study, although only one, reveals, once again, how complex and fraught the field of police-citizen interactions and inter-group relations are. There are no simple answers, no obvious causal links that can be easily drawn; people are complex and their motivations equally so.

Patience, facts and more study should guide us all in this difficult area.

What Ferguson can learn from Los Angeles


For students of Los Angeles history, the tragic saga of Ferguson, Mo., rings bells. A brutal police department, accountable to no one and backed by a hostile white mayor and police chief, faces off with a black community that seemingly has little recourse. A largely white City Hall has very little minority representation. It could be Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty, Police Chief William Parker, and a largely white city council all over again.

But the difference is that political change in L.A. long ago upset the applecart of racial injustice. For Ferguson, sadly, that political change has yet to come. Los Angeles, a city with an 18 percent black population in 1970, made changes that would have been unthinkable a decade before, when not a single African-American held public office. By 1973, the city had elected a black mayor, Tom Bradley, to the first of his five terms. Bradley appointed a police commission that regularly confronted the Los Angeles Police Department. Since 1963, when three African-Americans were elected to the council, 20 percent of the city council has been African-American, even as the city’s black population has declined to 10 percent. Near the end of Bradley’s tenure, he led a successful charge to reform the governance of the police department, through a ballot measure that stripped the chief of civil service protection and set term limits on the position.

Ferguson, a city with a two-thirds black population, shows few signs of similar political mobilization despite years of minority alienation. Writing in the Washington Post, urban and public policy experts Peter Dreier and Todd Swanstrom argue that “suburban ghettos” like Ferguson suffer from a combination of bad social conditions and few resources comparable to those that help organize minority populations in big cities. While black voters in Ferguson turn out for presidential elections, they barely participate in city elections. Many of these suburban minority communities are built on relatively new arrivals, who are less likely to vote than longtime residents.

By contrast, a recent study by the Pat Brown Institute at California State University, Los Angeles found that Los Angeles’ black voters are quite active in the city’s elections, compared to other groups in the city. (All groups, however, turn out at much lower levels for municipal elections than for presidential ones.)  Because the black community continues to be active and attentive to what happens at Los Angeles City Hall — a legacy of the historic struggles to advance civil rights and elect Bradley and support his policies — it has retained a powerful voice there.

There is a lesson in all this for the midterm elections of 2014 nationally, as well as for the future of Ferguson, Mo.

The American political system is nearly unique in the world. While most democracies use some version of a parliamentary system that vests most power in a representative body chosen in a national election, with the majority party or parties selecting the prime minister, the American system sets up a blisteringly exciting presidential election that allocates only part of the power to the winner. (Some democracies have a combined presidential and parliamentary model.) Separate votes are held for both the Senate and the House of Representatives, for governors, for state legislatures, and, if you want to get technical about it, for local offices, school boards, water boards, mosquito abatement districts, and so on. For a nation that doesn’t much like to vote, we sure do schedule a lot of elections. And we set them at all sorts of odd times sure to perplex voters. 

American voters pay close attention to the presidential election. The majority of eligible voters, and a much larger majority of those registered to vote, show up to vote for presidents. Naturally, expectations are always very high for the newly elected president, who then gets a wonderful “honeymoon” period, followed rather quickly by disappointment and disillusionment. Midterm elections, which don’t have the president on the ballot, are a great chance for the opposing party to increase gridlock, as happened in 2010.

Pundits tell the president to “get along” with Congress, or if that doesn’t work, to “boss them around like Lyndon Johnson did.” But the president faces a Congress whose election he or she may not control, or even be able to influence much. Each of the 50 states pursues its own policies under the direction of governors and legislators who have won their own elections. Counties, cities and towns have their own election schedules, with their supervisors, mayors and councils often elected in odd-numbered years when fewer working-class and minority voters come to the polls. This is the case in both Ferguson and the City of Los Angeles.

As we go down the ladder of government, voter turnout tends to decrease and skew further away from minorities, from youth, from the working class and other struggling Americans. And as these governments not under the president’s control pursue policies that frustrate or contradict those of the popularly elected president, people become frustrated and alienated: “I told you it was a waste of time to vote for that guy.”

The truth is that the people who are the most likely to become discouraged and not vote are those who most need the help of government to make things right. Like the disenfranchised African-Americans in Ferguson, or the young people who are telling pollsters that they are extremely unlikely to vote in November’s midterm elections, they drift away. The 2010 midterm elections added a new wrinkle, as state legislatures newly under Republican control began efforts to systematically disenfranchise minority and younger voters through new voting laws. This assault may be unprecedented in modern America, but it certainly underlines that when it comes to voting in non-presidential elections, the best advice is “use it or lose it.”

The particular coalition that brought Barack Obama to victory in 2008 and 2012 is precisely the most likely to both avoid non-presidential voting and to feel disappointed that Obama has not done everything they had hoped for. 

It doesn’t much pay to berate people for not voting. They already feel pretty crummy about things and believe they don’t have an impact on what happens to (not by) them in the public arena. They are often overwhelmed financially and in other ways, and may consider the time and effort it takes to vote a luxury they don’t have. To rebuild the kind of civic participation we need in order to have a fairer and more inclusive society, we need to go to the root of the problem, which is the deeply held belief that nothing can be done collectively to solve our problems. An increased level of voting is probably the result of fixing that problem.

So let’s go back to the Ferguson and Los Angeles comparison. Los Angeles, like other big cities, had a strong and assertive civil rights movement that emphasized political action to change policy at the local level. It had the attention of such civil rights leaders as Martin Luther King Jr., who came to the city in the 1960s to bolster the progressive side. And Bradley forged a durable and historic biracial coalition with Jews and other liberal whites, which helped make up for the smaller black population share. Changing police practices and opening up City Hall to diversity became driving forces for change, and but it was only the election of new people to office that could make change happen.

Ferguson, like many suburban communities with large minority populations (think Bell and other southeastern Los Angeles cities), until now has not had the kind of media attention and broad mobilization that could help connect its suffering neighborhoods to wider political action. It does not appear to have a large white liberal population with which to form coalitions. But there will be city elections in April 2015, and if ever there were a time to develop a sense of political efficacy — to identify candidates, to unify disparate local forces, to build whatever coalitions are possible, to draw on any outside resources that will support and not interfere with local organizing, to mobilize and inform the community — this is it.

When it comes to voting, showing people its value is much more powerful than talking about it. Let people see that their votes can change who leads them, and can influence the practices of police and other public servants. If that happens, there will be no going back to the days of hopelessness and alienation. 

 

Raphael J. Sonenshein is executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at California State Univerisity, Los Angeles.