"This Country Values Property over People": Ferguson Activist Speaks Out as Protests Spread

November 26, 2014
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Tory Russell

one of the founders of the group Hands Up United and a member of the St. Louis-based Organization for Black Struggle.

Protests are set to begin for a third day in a row in Ferguson, Missouri, over a grand jury’s decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for killing unarmed black teenager Michael Brown. On Tuesday, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon deployed more than 2,000 National Guardsmen to patrol the St. Louis area. Police repeatedly fired smoke bombs and tear gas to scatter protesters gathered near Ferguson City Hall. Police said 44 people were arrested. Meanwhile, demonstrations over the Michael Brown case spread across the country from Los Angeles to New York. We go to Ferguson to speak with Tory Russell, one of the founders of the group Hands Up United and a member of the St. Louis-based Organization for Black Struggle.


TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Protests are set to begin for a third consecutive day in Ferguson, Missouri, over a grand jury’s decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for killing unarmed black teenager Michael Brown. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon deployed more than 2,000 National Guardsmen Tuesday night to patrol the St. Louis area. Police repeatedly fired smoke bombs and tear gas to scatter protesters gathered near Ferguson City Hall. Some property damage was reported, but far less than Monday night. Authorities said 44 people were arrested. Demonstrations over the Michael Brown case spread across the country to over a hundred cities. People took over interstate highways and held sit-ins and marches across the country.

AMY GOODMAN: In Los Angeles, nearly a hundred people were arrested. In Oakland, protesters blocked Interstates 580 and 980 in both directions. Around 40 people were arrested. In New York, thousands blocked traffic across the city, including at the Lincoln Tunnel, Manhattan Bridge, Williamsburg Bridge, Queens-Midtown Tunnel. At one point over a thousand protesters were marching on the FDR Drive, shutting down traffic in both directions. On Monday, a protester threw fake blood on New York Police Commissioner William Bratton. At least a thousand demonstrators also marched in the nation’s capital Tuesday, having marched the night before from the White House to the steps of the Supreme Court.

PROTESTER: What do we want?

PROTESTERS: Justice!

PROTESTER: When do we want it?

PROTESTERS: Now!

PROTESTER: What do we want?

PROTESTERS: Justice!

PROTESTER: When do we want it?

PROTESTERS: Now!

THOMAS EYBL: Nobody is asking that we be treated specially. We’re asking to be treated the same. Young white men aren’t killed by police in the same rate. So, if we’d be treated the same, be treated as Americans, then this wouldn’t be a problem.

PROTESTERS: Don’t shoot! Hands up, don’t shoot! Hands up, don’t shoot!

TERRANCE LANEY: Going forward, I would like to see black people and communities that are marginalized, communities that face aggression by police officers and the state, I would like to see us take control of our communities. I would like to see us really envision a society where we don’t have to do this every year. Last year I was here for Trayvon Martin, in this very spot, in this very city.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: At the D.C. protest, Barbara Arnwine of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law criticized St. Louis Prosecutor Robert McCulloch’s handling of the case.

BARBARA ARNWINE: Well, I would say that I was profoundly disappointed. I think that even when you heard Prosecutor McCulloch lay out what he called the presentation of the facts of the case, you realized that there were enough contested facts regarding this whole incident that this should have gone to a court and should have gone to a regular jury to make a decision whether or not there had been a crime committed here.

We’re going to absolutely be insistent and persistent in making sure that the Justice Department does a thorough investigation and takes into consideration everything possible in its investigation of Officer Wilson, also in its pattern and practice lawsuit that it has against the Ferguson City Police Department for a pattern and practice of violating the civil rights of African Americans in that city.

AMY GOODMAN: On Tuesday, The New York Times published an editorial criticizing Prosecutor McCulloch, saying he handled this sensitive investigation in, quote, "the worst possible way." The editorial went on to say, quote, "For the black community of Ferguson, the killing of Michael Brown was the last straw in a long train of abuses that they have suffered daily at the hands of the local police. ... In this context, the police are justifiably seen as an alien, occupying force that is synonymous with state-sponsored abuse."

On Tuesday, Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson spoke publicly for the first time since he fatally killed Michael Brown. He was interviewed by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Is there anything you could have done differently that would have prevented that killing from taking place?

DARREN WILSON: No.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Nothing?

DARREN WILSON: No.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: And you’re absolutely convinced, when you look through your heart and your mind, that if Michael Brown were white, this would have gone down in exactly the same way?

DARREN WILSON: Yes.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: No question?

DARREN WILSON: No question.

AMY GOODMAN: We go now to Ferguson, Missouri, where we’re joined by Tory Russell, one of the founders of the group Hands Up United and a member of the St. Louis-based Organization for Black Struggle. Tory, I was just with you yesterday at the Greater Saint Mark’s Church, where Reverend Sharpton and others held a news conference. You then were out in the streets through the night. Start off by telling us about your response to the no-indictment decision of the grand jury and how the protesters were dealing with this last night.

TORY RUSSELL: Second straight night, what we saw was grieving, hurt people. I think the people are more politicized than ever. In these last 100-something days, we had opportunities to do political education, to [inaudible] opinion of what’s going on. And what’s going on is the [inaudible] echoing. We’re just out in the streets chanting in front of the police. They sent in more National Guards. I’ve seen people snatched up, is what we call it. The police are just grabbing people that are standing there. When on the sidewalk, they push us back into the parking lot. People want to walk down the street, and they just pick someone. Most of the time, those people are not even chanting or yelling at the time. They’re not breaking the law. And so, I think that’s what’s keeping this thing going. People are hurting, and then people are being abused every day. We’re not even being allowed to even peacefully assemble or protest, that’s backed by the Constitution.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Tory, this whole decision of the governor to bring in the National Guard on the second night, what impact has that had?

TORY RUSSELL: More National Guard makes it more of a police state. It’s more intimidating. I think it’s a ploy or some kind of scare tactic to deter us from what we want. We’ve been basically asking for the same needs since we got off the plantation. We want education. We want proper housing. We want economic industries. And we want to be able to control ourselves and be a part of this American dream. But they sold us a lie. The people have to go out in the street just to march and protest and do civil disobedience just to get a non-indictment. We’re upset. We’re hurting. And they don’t send counselors. They don’t send psychiatrists. They don’t sit down with the leaders and say—or even with the people, and say, "What do you guys need?" They sent in a more National Guard. So, that lets you know what they care about. And I don’t think they—and I’m almost certain they don’t care about the people.

AMY GOODMAN: Tory, we were discussing this yesterday in the church, but the issue of the first night—one, the decision being handed down. There was a big discussion before, for quite a number of days, whether the decision would be held onto, MuCulloch would release it later, to give people time to prepare. But in the end, they released it in the dark at night, which many people said led to much of the unrest. Then there’s the issue of the National Guard. When we were in the streets on Monday night, that first night of the decision, in front of the Ferguson Police Department, there was National Guard, there were riot police. They were really going after the protesters there. They tear-gassed them. They went after them. But down the road in West Florissant—that’s the white area of Ferguson. Down the road on West Florissant, where the buildings were burned, the businesses were broken into, we didn’t see police, we didn’t see state troopers. It was free rein. What are your thoughts about that?

TORY RUSSELL: That lets you know not only does this country value property over people, they even put a special caveat on whose property. If you go to Clayton, you go to Kirkwood, you go to some of these affluent places in the city, National Guard and all these people are already there, they’re stationed. You go to the black communities, you go on West Florissant, where they’re mostly black small businesses—they did a press conference here talking about they cared about the community and people were destroying, you know, their dreams. Their dreams weren’t being protected. Meanwhile, on South Florissant, where the white property is, their dream was protected with National Guards and all kinds of things. So, I know it was disrespectful to the people, and they took their anger out, and we have to find channels for that, but there was also—to me, it was disrespectful to the family. I talked to Mike Brown Sr. yesterday. He said they called him 20 to 25 minutes before they had made the announcement to even tell him about his son. He said it felt like they killed my son twice. So that lets you know how they value black people and black property in America.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what is your hope from here on in, either in the possibility of the Justice Department stepping in with its own investigation and potential indictment, and also the call at the press conference yesterday for a systemic reform of having police outfitted with cameras through out the country?

TORY RUSSELL: 'Cause I'm with Hands Up United and I’m also with OBS, we sat in a room with the Department of Justice, and it was a lot of community leaders. And OBS handed them a 19-point police reform initiative, not just for Ferguson, but around the country. They said they don’t even know if they can agree to all those demands. But what we’re saying is, you police our communities, you serve us; we should be allowed to tell you what policing should look like. Clearly, it is a problem with policing and police brutality, police abuse and police killings.

I have to make the point to say that Darren Wilson went on the TV, and he said that he felt like a five-year-old boy up against Hulk Hogan. I will tell you this: You don’t give a five-year-old boy a M-16, a gun and some riot gear and let him patrol my community. So, if Ferguson PD is not properly training people, and they have everybody making everybody seem like if you’re a black person, you look like Incredible Hulk when you walk down the street, then there needs to be a serious reform. It needs to come from the people.

The people have spoken. We don’t always have to vote. We vote, we don’t get what we want. So poor people go out in the street, and we vote with our feet. We’re tired of it. You see it across the country. I’m getting calls from places I have never talked to. I had the weirdest phone book ever, because people are tired of it. We’re going outside. We refuse to be silenced, and you must hear us. President Obama, you must hear us. We’re outside. Please have some sympathy for us. Please care about the people who voted for you and got you in.

AMY GOODMAN: Tory Russell, we want to thank you so much for being with us, activist fighting for justice in the killing of Michael Brown, organizer with Hands Up United. This is Democracy Now! When we come back, the lawyer for the Brown family speaks out. Stay with us.


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