Weeks ago when the initial uprising in Ferguson was not yet an international news story, a white person whom I follow on Twitter declared that ‘Nothing like Ferguson has ever happened before‘. My response was one of bafflement. I asked how one could say such a thing. The dialog that followed was less than constructive, to say the least. No conclusion was forthcoming, yet I can’t seem to get their assertion out of my head.
Obviously Twitter is a terrible place for discourse. Without having the time and space to fully understand their point of view, I’m left to ponder a couple different assumptions listed below in regard to what makes Ferguson unique, having ‘never happened before‘ in the mind of this person.
Possible construed meanings:
1) Racist cops killing black men without provocation has never happened before.
2) The overwhelmingly violent militarized response from police to the subsequent uprising in Ferguson following Mike Brown’s execution has never happened before.
3) The nation’s attention has suddenly been focused on systemic racism, which has never happened before.
4) The wave of social media exposing the truth about Ferguson and systemic racism is proving the obsolescence of corporate media in ways that have never happened before.
Obviously Mike Brown’s execution by police is not isolated. Black men are murdered by law enforcement in America every 28 hours, so the first interpretation is clearly false. The response by police to Ferguson’s collective mourning – which included potentially lethal weapons like rubberized metal bullets and tear gas – have been used relentlessly in the past. Only the suburban-sprawl setting of this police violence on such a scale could be considered a first, as just years ago the evictions of Occupy encampments, especially in Oakland, make Ferguson look like a police training video. The U.S. has obviously been galvanized by police violence against people of color, inarguably much more so than right now. Hopefully, that attention will continue growing. It needs to.
So with those first three angles debunked, there’s only the last to consider: was the ‘Nothing like Ferguson has ever happened before’ line of thought a reference to social media’s role in exposing social injustice in unprecedented ways?
Maybe yes, maybe no.
Twitter, Facebook, Vine, Vimeo and other social platforms have certainly played a key role in crafting a narrative in recent years in places like Madison, Istanbul, New York City, Cairo, Kiev, Hong Kong, and Moscow. This is certainly not new.
— Chris (@MastaOfMp3s) October 12, 2014
If “A riot is the language of the unheard.” (MLK, quote BTW) It isn’t b/c folks didn’t try. It’s b/c you don’t fucking listen.
— TrillNPresent Danger (@_Roxie_) August 22, 2014
— Unity & Struggle-NYC (@UandSNYC) October 12, 2014
What is new, perhaps, is a public perception of what an uprising is and represents. So sanitized and without historical context are most so-called ‘liberal’ news sources that it becomes hard to have an actual conversation about race, class, gender, or state violence with somebody whose political views have been so painstakingly shaped by MSNBC or CNN. What is daily referenced as ‘progressive’ policy are actually the talking points of capitalist Democrats like Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and Elizabeth Warren – all of whom unabashedly support endless warfare against civilian populations in places like Gaza and Syria.
Coming from that war-hawk realm, it’s probably easy to ignore the centuries of imperialism and genocide, it’s easy to imagine senators like Jeff Merkley as progressive, it’s easy to falsely believe Ferguson is something new.
Those historians who’ve studied uprising know about the Bonus Army, the Flint Sit-Down Strike, the women of the Silent Sentinels repeatedly attacked outside the White House for demanding the right to vote, the Camden 28, the riots after MLK Jr was executed, the riots after the police who attempted to murder Rodney King were acquitted, the communes in Paris in the 1870’s and 1960’s, Watts in 65‘, Italy in 77‘, Brixton in 81‘, Spain in 36‘, or to dip way back: the Diggers Rebellion of 1649 in England. Just here in the United States alone, major race riots have occurred on average every two years since the early 1800’s.
Ferguson is nothing new.
Sincerely, I hope that Ferguson does become the catalyst for something new. As we struggle towards a global society free from totalitarian oppression, free from systemic injustice, free from the violence of police entirely – I hope we can someday look back on Ferguson as a flashpoint from which a great many abolitions took place.
Nothing short of perpetual rebellion will get us there. From Ferguson to Palestine, occupation is a crime.
See you in the streets.
Police wage war on Occupy Oakland citizens, October 2011.