From Readers in Chicago: Report from Ferguson—Occupied Territory

August 28, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper |


On the weekend of August 23-24, a group of people from Chicago went to Ferguson to stand with the struggle for justice for Michael Brown. We received the following two correspondences from readers who were part of that trip.

Resistance…and the Feel of Revolution

From a reader:

There is a passage in The Joy Luck Club, a book (and later a movie) by Amy Tan about safe houses for runaway women organized by communists in pre-revolutionary China. It describes how you could feel the revolution coming in the way these women would overturn heaven and earth to be free of their oppression. I thought about that when I was in Ferguson August 23-24, responding to a call in Revolution to come to Ferguson to stand with brave protesters demanding justice for Michael Brown, murdered by the police.

Ferguson, August 23. Photo credit: Kaigh Walsh, Kaigh Walsh Photography

Ferguson is indeed occupied territory. As we were driving in and stopped at a Target store, it turned out that the whole mall was a staging area for the National Guard and state police, strutting around with their military weapons. As we walked to the corner where people were gathering and marching, there were tank/trucks like the Hippos used against the anti-apartheid demonstrators in South Africa, behind the buildings. The street was lined with cops, including the "kinder and gentler" State Police armed to the teeth. Only a few days before, the artist Talib Kweli and poet Jessica Care Moore were in a group that was chased, forced to the ground and told by Ferguson police pointing guns at them not to move or they would be killed.

Ironically, even under this police-state repression there is an aspect of the scene in Ferguson that felt like liberated territory. One of the most moving aspects of the night march we joined in Ferguson was a speak-out where people most "under the guns" of the system from all over the country shared horror stories of police violence and murder and expressed their love and support and admiration for the people of Ferguson.

Our Chicago crew included several family members of young people murdered by police. They carried big pictures of their loved ones in the march. They spoke about how Mike Brown's murder in Ferguson had revived the pain of their loved one's murder, but how the inspiration was even stronger and they came to stand with the people of Ferguson and to say, "This must stop." One woman said "We are so proud of you. We desperately want to see people in our city stand up like you have." There was a crew from Albuquerque fresh from a struggle against a killing spree by police including the murder of a homeless man which gave rise to weeks of protests. They raised money to come stand with the people of Ferguson. They urged everyone to get involved in building for the October Month of Resistance to Mass Incarceration, Police Terror and the Criminalization of a Generation. The mother of Kajieme Powell, murdered by police in St. Louis only days after the murder of Mike Brown, was also there that night.

They were in the midst of the fearless, relentless people of Ferguson who have been marching for two weeks, braved tear-gas, arrests and the threat of death by openly racist, vicious cops pointing guns at them. Teenagers in their "I am Mike Brown" tee-shirts up in the face of the police, chanting "Hands Up, Don't Shoot." Gang members who before Mike Brown's death would have been killing each other, coming together to demand justice for Mike Brown. Middle aged women marching, like one who told us she had to step back for a few days, sick from tear gas, but seeing people come from all over the country had re-energized her and she was back out there. Older people, cooking food for protestors, and marching, even with canes.

And joining them, rebels from all over the country, including students and alienated youth of all nationalities, and radical artists of many kinds, who are being drawn to stand with the resistance in Ferguson.

And you can see elements of new social relations, from gang members joining together, to the support coming from people of all strata for the courageous resisters of Ferguson. During the march a young Black homeless man invited us to an encampment where out-of-town protesters and local homeless were staying with tents and food provided by supporters. "Everyone is welcome," he said.

It is not surprising that in this beautiful mix people start to raise their sights to the possibility of a whole different way the world could be. The Revolutionary Communist Party is in the middle of this mix, providing "on-site" leadership of people to continue to fight for justice for Mike Brown, at the same time indicting the whole system, like their popular chant: "Indict, convict, send the killer cops to jail, the whole damn system is guilty as hell." And finding many ways to spread the vision and strategy for revolution leading to communism of Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party.

At a program at the Ferguson Public Library where revolutionary leaders Carl Dix and Joey Johnson spoke, again people shared horror stories of the system's vicious oppression: wrongful incarceration, police murder, abuse of the mentally ill. At the end of the program, a young Black man got up and said, "They are hiding from us that we could live better and have our human rights in a socialist society." A very lively discussion followed over that and other questions.

The way police murder people has led to questions about the legitimacy of this system's use of force and violence. Especially after St. Louis police fired many shots killing Kajieme Powell, who was mentally ill, and allegedly had a knife, a broad spectrum of people were asking, "Isn't there a better way to handle this? Why do they always have to kill people?"

I couldn't help thinking of the quote from Bob Avakian about Tyisha Miller from BAsics 2:16:

"If you can't handle this situation differently than this, then get the fuck out of the way. Not only out of the way of this situation, but get off the earth. Get out of the way of the masses of people. Because, you know, we could have handled this situation any number of ways that would have resulted in a much better outcome. And frankly, if we had state power and we were faced with a similar situation, we would sooner have one of our own people's police killed than go wantonly murder one of the masses. That's what you're supposed to do if you're actually trying to be a servant of the people…"

After the march in Ferguson, some of us were talking—family members of police murder victims from Chicago and a woman from Ferguson who said she'd been waiting her whole life for these protests. We read that quote from BAsics. She said, "I have to have that book." That night, in the hot Missouri air and right up under the guns of the state, you could feel the revolution...

Driving home, we got text messages that police had killed people that very night in Chicago and that people in one neighborhood were protesting. Even though people were exhausted, a crew including family members went right to the neighborhood to join the protests. (See "Learning from Ferguson: People Stand Up to Police Murder of 19-Year-Old Roshad McIntosh") As one woman said, "We just got back from Ferguson and Chicago police kill someone, how could we not go?" One of our crew and 2 people from the neighborhood were arrested. At least 3 people were killed by police in the Chicago area that night, and in the media the stories were all the same: the deceased "pointed a gun at the police." Where have we heard that before?

The dogs are still in the streets. And we have much work to do to fight for justice for Mike Brown, build the October Month of Resistance to STOP all this police terror, and build the movement for revolution with the party at the core so that the need and inspiring potential for revolution you could feel in Ferguson contributes to it becoming reality.

* * * * *

"This is what everybody all over the country should do"

From a reader:

A large group from Chicago went to Ferguson on August 23-24 in response to "A Call to Action: Come to Ferguson this Weekend" at to protest and stand with the people who had risen up. Among those who went were two groups of family members of people shot and killed by the Chicago police. There were also members of the Revolution Club on the trip (a couple of the Revolution Club members were already on the ground in Ferguson).

The relatives who had experienced the murder of a loved one by the police were tremendously inspired by people in Ferguson standing up and refusing to back down. One of the relatives said, "This is what everybody all over the country should do, this is what we should have done in Chicago, this is how we can put an end to police murder." They were going to Ferguson to stand with the people and to protest with them against the murder of Mike Brown. They brought that firm determination with them, whatever the obstacles (the weather was dangerously hot), this is what they were going to do.

A white college student also came. He had first met us a week earlier at the National Moment of Silence for Mike Brown because he was outraged by the murder of Mike Brown and the military-style attack on the people and saw Ferguson as a highlight of police brutality, but also was inspired by the response of the people. He said, "This is the first time in my life I've seen people challenging the boundaries, the first time the people rose up." He was also determined to go to Ferguson to protest with the people.

There were other people who really wanted to come and weren't able to, three from the new Stop Mass Incarceration Network chapter. One man texted several times over the weekend, asking how it was going and saying, "You are part of making history."

The Protest

The Chicago group met up with other people from around the country who had answered the "Call to Action…" We all gathered after 9 p.m. a few blocks from the main area where the protests had been going on for 2 weeks. We were oriented by revolutionaries who had come to town earlier and then we walked to the main street. We brought the Stolen Lives banner from Chicago with the photos and names of 25+ people killed in Chicago by police. The families carried individual posters with the names and photos of their loved ones and "Indict, Convict, Send the Killer Cops to Jail, the Whole Damn System is Guilty as Hell," and "" There were Three Strikes posters and other posters, and Revolution newspaper. There were palm cards for the October Month of Resistance called by Stop Mass Incarceration Network and palm cards for BAsics.  

When we arrived on the main street there were maybe 200-300 people scattered in small groups mainly near the street in the parking lots down a long block. Cops stood in the same parking lots closer to the stores. The only group marching was a little multinational group of about 8-10 young people going up and down the sidewalk chanting "hands up, don't shoot" and "no justice, no peace." There were older people in lawn chairs holding signs, there was a tent for voter registration handing out free water, there was a food truck, and there were knots of the youth I recognized from photographs as the "defiant ones" hanging out together, anarchists, a proud group of local junior high age girls.

We later found out that there were a lot of people from around the country who came alone or in small groups on their own because they felt they had to be there. A Black man from Springfield, Illinois, handed out free water all night. A group of young white men from Omaha who were outraged at the stripping of Constitutional rights in the crackdown on Ferguson, a muralist from Washington, DC, who came to paint "something positive" on the boarded up stores. There were also a few duos of Black men in "peacekeeper" t-shirts.

When we arrived some of us immediately started getting out Revolution newspaper and the palm cards to the various groups of people hanging out. From the people in our group that I talked to they were able to get the newspaper out to over 200 people, especially after people saw the cover (Ferguson) and the back page (Three Strikes poster). I saw a lot of people with it rolled up in their hands by the end of the night. Other people got out the palm cards about the October Month of Resistance against Mass Incarceration, Police Terror, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation. We noted in general people were welcoming, and there was little hostility except from the "peacekeeper" types.

Quickly our group organized a rally on the sidewalk. The Stolen Lives banner was unfurled and the families whose loved ones had been murdered by police stood next to it with the posters of their relatives. As the rally went on new people stepped up to help hold the banner. A young revolutionary started off with a good, sharp speech about why we were here. The loud sound system projected the speeches to the farther parking lots and many people came in closer.

Soon one of the family members from Chicago took the mic and spoke powerfully about the murder of her 15-year-old nephew by the Chicago police and how nothing had happened to the cop. She said these police murders happen all over the country and what a big difference it made that people in Ferguson fought back, and that this is why she had to come to Ferguson—to stand with them. She ended by saying she was so proud of them for standing up and setting an example for everyone. The mother of another young man killed by the Chicago police at a routine traffic stop made a similar hard-hitting statement, ending with how proud she was of the people of Ferguson. They were both so strong and clear. They had a big impact on setting the tone for the rest of the night—that people have to stand up, that they have right on their side, and that people all over the country should come together and rise up and keep fighting until justice is done. The fact that the cops who had killed their loved ones had never even been indicted also had a big effect on a number of people there. People came up to them throughout the night and asked about this.

Then a 14-year-old took the mic and said it was his brother that had been killed by police. He said everyday when he walks down the street, the cops give him a hard stare and this makes him feel he is not safe from the police and this has to stop. Other people came up and testified. There was a fiery revolutionary speech that went into the fact that this national oppression of Black people is built into the foundation of this capitalist system and won't be ended until this system is ended through revolution. He told people there is a strategy and a leadership for this revolution in BA and his vision of a radically different world where police would rather sacrifice their own lives than wantonly murder one of the masses. He called on people to join with the revolution. A woman from Albuquerque exposed police murders there. She exposed how this epidemic of police murder is nationwide and systemic and the system has to be ended. The banner from Albuquerque was brought up to the front.

All this righteous testifying had the effect of elevating and uniting the crowd about why it is a great thing that people from all over came to Ferguson (vs the idea about this being for local people and "outsiders" should stay away). This rally was really uniting people that the only way to get justice and put a stop to this is to keeping fighting and not calm down. It put right on the side of the defiant people who are rebelling and drew in many of the people in the immediate vicinity. Lots of people were taking pictures and video and reporting on this. I was surprised to find out afterwards that there little media coverage of this rally and march.

And then we started marching. There was an electricity, a militancy, a determination. The Stolen Lives banner led the way. There were well over 100 people and maybe even double that when the march set off. Chants were "Hands Up, Don't Shoot," "Indict, Convict, send the killer cop to jail, the whole damn system is guilty as hell" and "Justice for Mike Brown," among others.

There were knots of youth in the parking lots down the street—some joined in, some were waiting to see what happened. Meanwhile the cops were mobilizing, many more police SUVs were arriving. Semi-hidden at a car wash was a 2-story-high armed vehicle with two police on top. There were more of these armored vehicles behind the McDonalds and a bunch of cops in military gear. The march crossed the street at a point where there were very few people and many cops. As the march passed in front of a bunch of pigs a youngish white guy went down on his knees in front of the cops and said, "Hands Up, Don't Shoot." The march stopped, people started to chant, cars started honking in support, the tension was thick. That's when I saw two Black men in suits and bow ties, two guys in t-shirts with "Clergy" on the front, and 2 with "peacekeepers" on their t-shirts come running into the scene from across the street and a bunch of cop SUVs pull up in the street.

According to people in the heart of this, the men in suits and at least 1 clergy in a priest collar physically tried to instigate a fight right in front of the cops. Our people took this on politically and the provocateurs were not able to turn the crowd or get a fight going that the cops could use to attack. No one was arrested and the march resumed marching. After that a whole bunch more pigs arrived. This had the effect of bringing some of the people on the other side of the street, who were supportive but had not been marching, to their feet, and a few into the march, while other people who had been in the march separated from it. The march kept going till about 1:30, no one was arrested. Throughout this time we were talking to people in the march and outside of it.

It was over 90 degrees even at midnight, and some of the family members of people killed by the police could not keep marching in the heat. But their enthusiasm for being there did not flag. I walked around with one of these women who told everyone she met how much she loved them for standing up and for setting the example and how proud she was of them. She said how the 15-year-old had been killed by the police in Chicago. Many people who had heard the aunt talk at the first rally asked what had happened to the cop. People were shocked and shaken to find out that nothing at all had happened, he was still on the force. This woman told them the police and justice system are set up to do nothing, that's their job to repress the people. That the only way to get real justice is to do what they did and keep doing it.

The family members whose loved ones were murdered by police were really emboldened by the stand of people in Ferguson and they, in turn, had a big impact on everyone they encountered. Nobody told them that they were "outsiders" who should go away, not even the two "peacekeepers" one woman talked to in the wee morning hours who had played a really piggy role earlier. They felt that everyone had shown them tremendous love. They carried these lessons over to a police shooting that happened Sunday night in Chicago on their way home from Ferguson.

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