Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Movement of the People

When throngs of people take over highways and bridges and  tunnels in one unified national mobilization, there is reason to both celebrate and hope.

In one fell swoop, the media meme of civic apathy has been destroyed. Those "disengaged" people who didn't turn out to vote in the mid-terms a few weeks ago are far from apathetic. They simply realized that representative democracy is no democracy at all. They finally took to the streets to protest a police killing that has become the symbol of the punishing oligarchic state. People took to the streets, took back the public spaces, took back democracy.... if only for one brief shining moment, until the Powers That Be inevitably lose their limited patience and declare that it's time for a national conversation about healing. And the now-restrained police batons will inevitably be raised again, once the official paternalistic magnanimity wears off.

It's not for nothing that the kangaroo court trial of Michael Brown, resulting in the acquittal no-bill of the cross-examination-exempt Ferguson police officer who shot him, was orchestrated for Thanksgiving week. Officials no doubt hoped that the restive crowds, after proving the absolute need for a police state through some state-instigated TV prime-time rioting, would quickly disperse, turning their attention to family gatherings and Black Friday orgies of consumerism. And then there's the lousy weather to keep protesters indoors and out of sight. Remember, it was during the same late autumn season three years ago that the Occupy camps were disbanded in a coordinated national police mobilization.

The actual plot didn't exactly go according to script this time around. After the first night of looting and burning and CNN infotainers sanctimoniously complaining about marijuana and F-bombs in the air, the crowds turned peaceful. The crowds displayed some good old fashioned solidarity.

The plutocrats and the politicians might have all the money and the power, but we have the bodies and the voices. The more that people of disparate backgrounds can all get together and refuse to be cowed by the divide and conquer tactics used since time immemorial by the ruling class to maintain control, the harder it becomes for them to ignore us. 

This is more than a spontaneous national movement against police brutality. It's part of a vibrant global movement against the all-encompassing brutality of neoliberalism (aka the free market fundamentalist god.) A mass epiphany, a collective realization that the deck is stacked against the vast majority of people, is breaking out all over.

Over the past couple of nights, ordinary people have managed to shut down interstates, block bridges, disrupt commerce, and render the police state mute. The acceleration of capital has been slowed down. People have finally had enough, and are just saying No.

It's not so much the goals that are important, but the movement itself. People are refusing to sit still any more. If there is anything to be thankful for this week, it's for the courage of protesters who have rediscovered their own power and taken their lives back into their own hands.


Pearl said...

Karen: This is a very important column and the increasing reactions of citizens to try and stop the continuing unacceptable behavior by police to black people is among other awakenings like the developing fight against WalMart policies. Those of us who feel despair need reminders that the battle against injustice is not dead and there are signs of real stirrings going on beneath the surface. Every petition we sign, every comment we make to the news media, every action we take in our communities is vital now. Obama is being exposed by his own party members and the reaction of citizens to endless wars is becoming stronger.
It will be a long hard battle but there is hope for change, especially among the young people who see all too clearly the handwriting on the wall.
Let us all be examples of speaking truth to power and not giving up. Your columns and comments Karen help make a difference and the changing responses in the NyTimes by readers indicate this.
We can be very effective in guiding the thinking of others especially when evidence is mounting of the injustices happening all around us. I think this Congressional election has galvanized many formerly silent people. So fasten your seat belts. I predict some very interesting developments on the horizon that we can become part of.

Zee said...


Did the Ferguson grand jury proceeding really represent a “kangaroo court?”

I know little about grand juries save that they are a legitimate office or function of the American judicial system at the Federal level and in many States, and are specifically mentioned in the Fifth Amendment. (Though I gather that the right to a grand jury “screening” for indictment has not been incorporated down to the State level.)

It does seem odd to me that Darren Wilson was allowed to testify at some length without (as I understand it) questions/cross-examination from either the prosecutor or the members of the grand jury, but neither have I seen expressions of outrage from criminal law scholars that this somehow represented some egregious violation of due process.

Still, I confess that I haven't followed that issue in any detail. I've only read a couple of recent op/ed pieces by Jonathan Turley on the general topic of events in Ferguson, who seems not to have expressed any serious concern at the process followed by the Ferguson grand jury.

Are there analyses by other legal scholars that I'm missing?

On a different note, I recognize that there have many things that have been done badly—even terribly —over the history of this country. It is important that we never forget or casually dismiss our failings and failures.

Yet “there it is”—as an East Indian friend of mine would put it—and without that history, we wouldn't be here to understand it, criticize it, and perhaps change its trajectory for the better.

Tomorrow, I will be trying to celebrate Thanksgiving Day with friends in the spirit of hope for the future, and a measured respect for the past.

I hope that such a prayer for my fellow Sardonickistas is not too far off the mark.

But be that as it may, Best Wished to All.

Zee said...


Inquiring further using Google, here's a start to an answer to my earlier question. And an answer from a surprising source:

"It is the grand jury’s function not ‘to enquire … upon what foundation [the charge may be] denied,’ or otherwise to try the suspect’s defenses, but only to examine ‘upon what foundation [the charge] is made’ by the prosecutor. Respublica v. Shaffer, 1 Dall. 236 (O. T. Phila. 1788); see also F. Wharton, Criminal Pleading and Practice § 360, pp. 248-249 (8th ed. 1880). As a consequence, neither in this country nor in England has the suspect under investigation by the grand jury ever been thought to have a right to testify or to have exculpatory evidence presented."

OK. Interesting.

It appears to me now that the Ferguson grand jury's process may have been improper, once under way.

But the question still remains, "Did the prosecutor have to choose to pursue an indictment at all?"

Perhaps not. If he didn't suspect any culpability on Wilson's part, then he shouldn't have convened a grand jury at all and let the guy off Scot-free.

Instead, he convened a grand jury, tilted the process in favor of Wilson, and then let the grand jury take the fall, no matter the outcome.

Got it.

Pearl said...

Zee: Thank you for that explanation by Judge Scalia. Sends chills to one's spine. No matter how these trials are set up, the beliefs and attitudes of jurors always influence their decisions. Remember the Zimmerman trial and two of the jurors regretting their decision when his true character was revealed later.

A Happy Thanksgiving Holiday to everyone from Canada.

Denis Neville said...

Thanksgiving Day wish for America:

“Whenever any American's life is taken by another American unnecessarily - whether it is done in the name of the law or in the defiance of law, by one man or a gang, in cold blood or in passion, in an attack of violence or in response to violence - whenever we tear at the fabric of life which another man has painfully and clumsily woven for himself and his children, the whole nation is degraded…

Yet we seemingly tolerate a rising level of violence that ignores our common humanity and our claims to civilization alike… Too often we honor swagger and bluster and the wielders of force; too often we excuse those who are willing to build their own lives on the shattered dreams of others. Some Americans who preach nonviolence abroad fail to practice it here at home. Some who accuse others of inciting riots have by their own conduct invited them…

For there is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly, destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night. This is the violence of institutions; indifference and inaction and slow decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor, that poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is a slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books and homes without heat in the winter.

This is the breaking of a man's spirit by denying him the chance to stand as a father and as a man among other men. And this too afflicts us all… When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies - to be met not with cooperation but with conquest, to be subjugated and mastered.

We learn, at the last, to look at our brothers as aliens, men with whom we share a city, but not a community, men bound to us in common dwelling, but not in common effort. We learn to share only a common fear - only a common desire to retreat from each other - only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force. For all this there are no final answers.

Yet we know what we must do. It is to achieve true justice among our fellow citizens. The question is now what programs we should seek to enact. The question is whether we can find in our own midst and in our own hearts that leadership of human purpose that will recognize the terrible truths of our existence…We must admit in ourselves that our own children's future cannot be built on the misfortunes of others. We must recognize that this short life can neither be ennobled nor enriched by hatred or revenge…

But we can perhaps remember - even if only for a time - that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short movement of life, that they seek - as we do - nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.

Surely this bond of common faith, this bond of common goal, can begin to teach us something. Surely we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men and surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our hearts brothers and countrymen once again.”

- Robert F. Kennedy, "On the Mindless Menace of Violence," City Club of Cleveland, April 5, 1968, the day after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.