A Momentary Interlude to Discuss Violence in America

“Hands up, don’t shoot,”—a modern mantra.

Before the events of Aug. 9, it was a phrase that we all knew, a classic plea of self-defense. It shows surrender, peaceful surrender. Yet in Ferguson, that phrase has become a rallying cry, precisely because of how it did not work.

When you look at pictures on the news, it’s everywhere. On t-shirts. On posters. It is a jab at the police force there where, according to witness reports, Michael Brown, who raised his hands in surrender, was shot regardless by a white officer.

The end result hasn’t just been a slogan, though. Protests, riots, and an indefensible police response have been at the heart of news circuits over the course of the last week. Some outlets have come to refer to this St. Louis suburb as “Fergustan,” a not-so-veiled reference to the fact that we expect this sort of behavior more overseas—we just don’t expect to see it on the streets of what our leaders regularly proclaim, “The Greatest Nation on Earth.”

I write this message not because it’s not being covered. Lord knows, there’s round the clock coverage of this mess, both at home and abroad. Amnesty International is sending a team to its first ever American investigation for goodness sake, and it’s no longer unusual to see war correspondents on the scene. People are tense. People are watching. I’m writing this message as an appeal, and as an airing of details.

Last night, after the Missouri State Police finally relieved the Ferguson Police Department of their duties—following endless criticism of their overhanded efforts to dissolve protests—and hopeful speeches throughout the day, things took their darkest turn yet. Hours before a governor-imposed curfew, things turns violent when police attempted to disperse the crowds and “restore calm.”

The stated reasons: reports of gunfire, a protest a little too near to a police command center for their liking. The end result? Molotov cocktails, lines of riot police, tear gas, and as of this morning, a call for the National Guard.

Yes, that’s right, the National Guard. The people that are deployed against disasters have now found themselves in a situation they haven’t had to deal with since the 1960s—a need to quell raw, simmering rage, and restore order for those whose sole job should be to do so. Gov. Jay Nixon signed an executive order this morning deploying the U.S. state militia to the area, effectively dubbing Ferguson a disaster zone.

“Tonight, a day of hope, prayers, and peaceful protests was marred by the violent criminal acts of an organized and growing number of individuals, many from outside the community and state, whose actions are putting the residents and businesses of Ferguson at risk,” Nixon said in a statement on his website.

In contradiction, you have residents saying things like, “The smoke bombs were completely unprovoked,” said Anthony Ellis, 45. “It (the protest) was led by kids on bikes. Next you know they’re saying, ‘Go home, Go home!’” (Reuters)

State Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson explained, in turn, that while most protesters were peaceful, the trouble came from “a few people bent on violence and destruction.” Elevating the level of the police response was, in his opinion, simply par for the course. Following that example, the state has now raised theirs, even as the Federal government steps in to autopsy Brown’s body (a third time it’s had to go through this, mind you), and supporting protests spring up in other cities.

In Ferguson, they’ve even closed schools today.

It’s out of control

So let’s break this down:

A week of protests.

Brutal police tactics, from start to finish, including the shooting of a man they later released criminal details on, but which they knew nothing of at the time. Journalists have been arrested for nothing more than reporting on the details, and there has been a determined effort to keep the information gatherers out.

Local, state and federal agencies scrambling for a response.

Autopsy after autopsy after autopsy.

Those people taking the streets say there often is no other outlet for their objections, that they have no alternative but to protest until they are listened to. It’s a sad state to find oneself in, not just as an individual, but as a community. Young and old alike, they’ve put up with a lot, for a very long time—the thing breaking here in Ferguson is not a single man’s poor decision, but the latest in a long-running sense of one versus the other, of an outlook on a community that does no one any favors.

It wasn’t even until a few days ago that the police finally caved to Civil rights activists’ demands for the name of the officer who shot and killed Mr. Brown—ostensibly out of concern for his safety, and probably logically so, but nonetheless, a poor move which only served to fan the flames in the community.

Conclusion?

Police, Politicians, and fellow Citizens, we need to rethink how this whole society thing is working. Because if this is how things turn out, it’s not. We don’t want the United States of America to be the land of freedom under which terms and conditions may apply. None of us signed a terms and licensing agreement.

What’s more, this should be a wake up call. With the militarization of police forces across the USA, the buying of surplus military arms, and, if a concerted effort is not made to rein in what exactly is “the law,” what exactly is “right and wrong,” the capacity for what is happening in Ferguson could happen anywhere, and that’s a truly dark thought.

Communication, people. It makes the world go round. Let’s engage before we disintegrate.

Farewell Friday

Sphinx smiles fleeting riddles,

Salām from limestone peaks cry

shifting sands; banners fly.

Image Copywrite Suhaib Salem/Reuters.

Today was to be Farewell Friday, and never before has a name been so true to form – in Egypt, the roar of the crowd echoes through streets up and down the country as President Hosni Mubarak, who as lately as last night declare he would not step down, he would not leave until September, has now, finally, been removed from office.

Much remains to be seen in the days to come. Amidst the celebrations, Egyptians must remember that he is but the face of all that they are rallying against – that it is an institution, of governors and officials that are all his men, who remain where they are. Until they are addressed, their revolution, which has come so far, is not truly won.

But another question remains as well in the wake of all of this: what does this mean for the rest of the Middle East? Many have asked it all along – Tunisia, and now Egypt, have deposed decades-old power structures. Jordan forced their King to restructure his government and give in to their demands. Will the protests spread? Is this the beginning of a great Democratic sweep through the Middle East? And what form will it take in the conclusion?

Today, for many, is a day of celebration, but as always, I temper caution – cheer, but never lose your wits. Keep one eye always on the horizon, that you might never lose your way…

The Day Egypt Bled

“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”
~John F. Kennedy

“When dictatorship is a fact, revolution becomes a right.”
~Victor Hugo

I have spoken before of Egypt. Now, the journalist and the human in me bades me speak again. There are other voices. I pray you go to them as read them as well. Many are more informed than I, I will admit. I am simply one American, who sees what is going on far from his own home, and touched and stricken by the force behind it, am compelled to dwell on it for a time.

Pain has come to Egypt. Last night was the breaking point, in many ways. After millions of protesters flooded the streets of Cairo, and many other cities across Egypt, President Mubarak came on state TV to address their concerns. True to form, the man fell short in his appeasement. He said he would not run again in a year – but that is a year from now. One can change their mind easily when the pressure shifts away from them again. He would not step down until then, however. He even went so far as to say he would die on Egyptian soil. That just seems like poor foreshadowing to me.

Image from/by Al Jazeera.

The crowds erupted. There was a cry for a march on Mubarak’s palace for Friday. Through it all, the army stood by, maintaining neutrality, defending the property and the rights and the history their country adored. Then today, violence erupted in the streets.

Pro-Mubarak protesters, be they thugs of his or acting of their own accord, rode into Tahrir Square in Cairo, the heart of the protests. They beat anti-government protesters, to the tune of hundreds injured. From buildings above, they showered them with rocks and molotovs. Gunfire echoed through the streets and on the cameras of Al Jazeera’s live-cast. It was reported these crowds were howling for blood – that they were hunting Al Jazeera reporters, attacking others – Anderson Cooper among them (for my fellow Americans). The army, which had ringed the square, has effectively trapped protesters. Even if they wanted to leave, they could not, and that has left them easy pickings for the pro-Mubarak mobs. The Egyptian Museum was firebombed. The army struggled to put it out. Their own history, and culture, was suddenly at risk.

Revolution, as so often is the case, has led to blood. Even those with peaceful intent seem to be forced to it. Faced with a peaceful resistance to their reign, wicked men oft-turn to violent ends, to undermine their peace, or destroy them utterly. There are reports an army APC has now fired tracers into the air, and that the pro-Mubarak mobs are retreating…but for how long? Will the army finally get involved…and if so, how?

There are many questions left unanswered.

Most importantly: do the Egyptian protests hold a chance? They have already accomplished much – but can they force the dictator from his seat? I fear we may see a case here of what happens when people without guns challenge those that do. And it’s never good. With Tahrir Square, my mind keeps snapping to images of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, when British troops slaughtered Indian protesters during their own push for independence. Terrifying to think of, but is it beyond Mubarak?

So why do protesters not simply go home?

  • Because we have seen that their efforts can work. Recently. Look at Tunisia. The Jasmine Revolution. They rose against a strongman. They won.
  • Because of what it means to the region. The surge of democratic sentiment in Egypt is not solitary. Protests have also rocked the Sudan, Yemen and Jordan. Jordan’s King has capitulated with protesters, firing his cabinet and ordering a new prime minister for the people. Even in Syria, where the powerful President Assad reigns, there is growing talk of anti-government protests. Turkey is supporting protesters. Saudi Arabia has vehemently called for Mubarak to quash protesters.

There is a precedent being set here, and all the Middle East is invested. Change is on the move – but what will come of it?

These are among those rare moments – where things move all too quickly, and the world is set to spinning. One knows not where things will lead. But we can hope this isn’t a fleeting dream. We can hope hope doesn’t end in blood.

The Egyptian Protests

Forgive me. On Fridays, you normally see me post poetry, and originally, I had planned on posting a little more of my short story.

Today, that seems unimportant to me, however, as I have been captivated by something else entirely. Allow me to don my journalist hat for a moment…if you’ve been reading Twitter, you’ve undoubtedly already seen it in action. Mine, and thousands of others. Today, is a day of news. It is a day of political upheaval. Of great social movements. Of change. Of people.

”]”]Today, if you hadn’t heard, is a day of protest.

 

Look anywhere on the internet, and you’ll find it. Egypt is in turmoil. It all began, in many ways, with Tunisia. They were the first, a ground-breaking movement that set the Arab world spinning – no one saw it coming there, but the “Jasmine Revolution,” as it is known, showed the potential power of the people in Africa…as well as revealed the truly tenuous hold that even the most established and ingrained dictators possess. There, they set a precedent, and the Arabic world has been roiling with it since.

Protests have since erupted in Jordan, in Yemen, and, most prominently, in Egypt.

That is what I have been watching today. All day. Revolution. Tens of thousands have taken to the street in Egypt, and for the past few days, they have battled the police for control of the streets. Curfews were ordered. Internet and mobile phone services have been cut. President Mubarak, the target of the uprising, ordered everyone off the streets and made it clear he would take whatever measures necessary to quell the movement. More than 800 people have been wounded in Cairo alone, according to Reuters, some with gunshot wounds.

But it goes on. And the American news services have been woefully behind. They are doing their best, I realize, but Al Jazeera has beaten them. It has had live feeds directly from the country, its information is top notch, its reporters are in the know and on the go. Through their eyes, we can truly see the revolution unfolding, and it is astounding to behold.

You can see their live feed here.

My eyes have been darting back between their coverage, Salon.com’s, and CNN’s, though. Diversity. Diversity of news. It’s very important. You can’t get everything from one source or you’re not really getting anything at all. But all seem to be leading to the same end…people on the move, and a government crumbling.

(Copywrite: Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images; Care of Al Jazeera)

Attempts to enforce curfew on the protesters have failed. In many places, police have given up altogether. Some have stripped badges and joined ranks with the protesters. In other places, the extensive riot police are still fighting a pitched and losing battle. Plain-clothes security officers have been said to be dragging off protesters where they can, and some of the images coming out of this mess are breathtaking. Some, chilling.

Mubarak announced several hours ago that he would make an address to the nation. He has not done so. He has remained silent, and in hiding…no one seems to know exactly where he is.

The army has now been sent in. But it’s not going exactly as planned, I’m sure. Al Jazeera and Salon have both cited reports that protesters are cheering the army’s arrival, even shouting, “The people and the army — we are one.” The army is taking control of police stations across the country, and it is being reported that in some cases, the military and the police have been fighting. Helicopters have been spotted over Cairo as fires burn. The ruling NDP (National Democratic Party) party’s offices have been reported attacked and burned in Cairo and several other cities, yet firefighters are nowhere in sight, according to Al Jazeera. People have been sighted riding tanks and cheering.

We are seeing revolution live, people. But we mustn’t forget the danger behind it either. As Salon reports:

“At least 410 people have been injured and two people have died today in Cairo. Al Jazeera reports widespread beatings of journalists, and apparently, foreign correspondents are being targeted. One BBC reporter said he was beaten badly with steel bars by security forces. A CNN also tweeted that he’d had his camera equipment destroyed by police.”

To all those journalists in Egypt right now, thank you for all you are doing. Thank you for bringing this struggle, this movement to the attention of the world, and not letting it be smothered in misinformation, cut off by government efforts. But please, be careful. The information highway is a dangerous road to walk.

I will be updating my Twitter throughout the day to reflect the movement of events. For more, see: http://twitter.com/#!/Aurinth