How Ferguson Prepared the Protesters

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S1: Following program may contain potty talk.

S2: No guarantee, but it just may be.

S1: It’s Thursday, June 4th, 2020, from slated to the gist. I’m Mike Pesca. I get an email. I’m on a list for the Gothamist Web site. Their stories of the day Gothamist. It’s New York City News. It’s taken over by WNYC a few years ago. Pretty good. Here now, presented without comment. These seven stories that are headlined in today’s Gothamist Corona virus statistics tracking the epidemic in New York. What New Yorkers need to know about the city’s historic curfew. NYPD officers shoot knife wielding suspects in two separate incidents in Brooklyn and Manhattan. More than 400 current and former members of the de Blasio administration say the mayor is failing at his job. And finally, here is the plan to bring outdoor dining back to NYC. Because when the moon hits, your eye could have done an L.A. version of this, which would have also had protests. Corona virus. Mayoral dissent. Police aggression. But then the last one would have been Richman woman discovered her nephew cannibalizing her grandmother. Police say. Guess that would be his great grandmother had dairy. But actually, what where I want to go is the middle of the country. Omaha, Nebraska. A young man named James Scurlock was shot and killed by a bar owner there as protests were going on, but not as part of the protest, per say. Scurlock was caught on tape entering some office buildings and ripping equipment out, according to prosecutors. So after that, he encounters a bar owner named Jake Gardner, who is protecting his bar because its windows had been smashed. Gardner had a gun on him. The Douglas County attorney, Don Kline, did this long presentation where he used all the different pieces of video from CTV to different cell phones to document why he was not charging Gardner in the killing of Scurlock.

S3: Here is some of the press conference where he played some of the video and then commented the bar owner did display that he had a firearm on his person at the time, that he’s talking to these individuals, flooding them. The other thing in this video we don’t hear. There’s there’s also things on social media about racial statements or slurs being made. There isn’t any any audio that we have that shows any racial slurs.

S1: Maybe not. Those Scurlock was black and Gardner is white and race played a role. We know this because of an interview that Ilana Menendez gave to Omaha, Channel seven. Menendez was part of Spurlock’s group. And she says that as soon as she saw or heard that Gardner had a gun, she acted. And by the way, it was clear in the video that people knew he had a gun. Hey, he got a gun on Menendez, literally, literally jumped into action, jumped onto Gardner’s back, as she described in the TV report.

S4: Soon as I hear she’s like, there’s a gun I run over in the video, you can see Melendez grab Gardner from behind and tackle him. She says she was trying to keep Gardner in the gray T-shirt from firing that weapon.

S5: And as soon as I pulled into the ground, like people gathered around us and he got his hand. Like, I don’t know, positioned in a way and then just shot.

S1: Those were described by the D.A. as warning shots. But Gardner soon got up after being tackled by this 19 year old woman. Then he was tackled again by the somewhat larger Scurlock and Scurlock was shot to death by him. That’s as the interview was going on. The Kyron, the label under Menendez on TV said tackled gunman, which is normally and heroic deed. Only this time it’s what set off a chain of events that ended in a killing. Or did it? Maybe bringing a gun and showing a gun was the precipitating action. Or maybe before that the words and shoves exchanged between members of Scurlock Group and members of Gardner’s group were what set things off either way. Even the D.A. who chose not to charge. Called it senseless. He also called it justified. But the update is this that due to pressure from Scurlock family, others in the community. The D.A. says he will at least bring the case to a grand jury. Now, the odds of it coming out of a grand jury with the D.A. who isn’t really behind prosecution, not high, but that at least is, let’s say, some progress and trying to figure out this perplexing and troubling story on the show today, I actually shall not spiel. Maybe it’s time for me not to do all the talking. That does sound pretty grand. People are saying that. Right. But in reality, I just loved my long conversation that I had with my colleague Joel Anderson over Zoome. We compared his notes from covering Ferguson to what’s going on today. We talked about if there is a right way or a wrong way to protest on these issues of policing and excessive force.

S6: See, in the credits, here is Joel Anderson and myself.

S7: I wanted to talk to especially wanted to talk to Joel Anderson, who is my colleague from Slate, is the host or was the host of Season three of Slow Burn. And he worked for ESPN and he worked for BuzzFeed News a while with BuzzFeed. Joel covered the Ferguson protests after the killing of Michael Brown. And I wanted to do a little compare and contrast and get his perspective as someone who was on the ground then and is looking at the broad scope of what’s going on in America now. Hello, Joel. Thanks for joining me. Thanks for having me, Mike. Could you give me the timeline of when you were in Ferguson from the house, you know, after the killing of Michael Brown and when did the protests really start to become very severe?

S8: So if I remember this correctly, Michael Brown was killed on August 9th of 2014. And so there were a lot of reports coming out of there. It made it seem different because, I mean, obviously, would they call officer involved? Shootings are not uncommon experiences throughout this country, like it happens all the time. But this one just seemed to generate a lot more buzz. And I just remember I was observing it on Twitter and you just saw people, activists that were, you know, very upset. And there’s like this more to the story than what we’re hearing here. And, you know, I was tweeting about it like I was just sitting at home. I if I remember this correctly, I was a sports reporter for the for BuzzFeed. I was not really in my room to cover anything outside of that. And so I had a new editor, Mark Shoes. He was the new investigative editor. And he they put me under him because they had nowhere else to put me because they had collapsed. Sports, political, BuzzFeed. And so he just saw my tweets and he said, I think a couple days later he was like, hey, you really seem interested in this. Do you want to go there and cover this and write something about it? And how do you say no to that? So I, I, you know, I think I got there on maybe August 13th, maybe 14th and, you know, just kind of drove right in, flew into St. Louis, drove over to Ferguson, which is about 20 minutes north of St. Louis. And, you know, just went to the main thoroughfare, which is West Florissant Avenue, which is, you know, right down the street from Canfield Drive where Michael Brown was killed by Darren Wilson. And he sort of drove right in. And it was, you know, I’ve never covered anything like this. You know, I didn’t. There wasn’t a blueprint. Nobody could explain to me how to do it. You know, I obviously got a coverage sports. I covered news, all sorts of things. But nothing could have really prepared me. So what awaited me and everybody else than Ferguson.

S9: Right. So there to the extent that there are serious seasoned reporters who’ve probably been in areas of unrest, possibly throughout the world, maybe there were some members of the press corps who could give you tips and tell you what to do if you want to wash your eyes out, if you’re gassed or even to, you know, put you in good with certain people who are protesting. But I think we have to acknowledge that. Fine. You having covered a protest? I mean, for America, for the for the cops and the National Guard who were called out. This was uncharted territory as well. There was a whole, even if you would, covered a protest or a riot or looting or unrest somewhere in the world before this. Here in America, this had not been seen for years and years and years.

S8: And so I’m a little less clear on, you know, the Occupy protests were like.

S10: Because I’m sure that, you know, there was some element of, you know, this conflict between protesters and activists and police.

S9: Right. Right. But it was all and it was all in, you know, clearly defined areas. Zuccotti Park or different different encampments in Boston. Yeah.

S10: Right. Right. Right. So, yeah. So it did seem I had a professor in college who had covered the L.A. riots in the early 90s. All right. So he’d talk to us about what that experience was like. And it was very soon within my time in Ferguson that I was like, oh, I guess this is what that it was like. You know, I had nothing else to compare it to. And I think maybe the first couple of nights that I was in Ferguson, you’re out there really late at night. You know, you’re there all day until, you know, eleven, eleven, thirty at night. You know, you’re exhausted. It was hot. You’re right in the middle of the summer. And tensions were were really high, but nothing really happened yet. And so I think maybe one of the you know, around August 14th, the 15th was maybe the first time that, you know, police and law enforcement agencies were using black tear gas at that point and using pepper spray. And that was the first time that it was like, oh, wow, this is this is totally unlike anything that I’ve ever experience before. So we actually had to have our editors send us a helmet and a gas mask. And that was that was at the point where you’re like, OK, this is really scary. You I have not. You know, before I got there that my life would ever be in danger or that, you know, things could ever get so bad that people would be checking on me and be like, are you OK? Are you OK? But, you know, within a few days, things really broke down and you could just see that, you know, we have no idea where this is going to go. And if somebody does a guy in the middle of this, it’ll be a miracle.

S9: So while you were in Ferguson, did it strike you that the protesters had tactics? And if so, were they just tactics they invented during those days? Or was there a more thought out plan of attacks, attack in terms of tactics and strategy?

S11: I think all three, to be honest. So when I first got down there, you know, it was not quite as organized. Right. You know, people were still just sort of figuring their way through what they wanted to do, what they wanted to say, who should be involved. And I think pretty much within a week, you know, experienced activists, experienced organizers got down there and helped to help, you know, coordinate action. In fact, if I recall correctly, I I set through one of those trainings, like one of those, you know, organizers trainings for what to do when you’re confronted with police and you know how to, you know, keep up with people if they did get arrested or assaulted or something like that, or, you know, if somebody within your organizational ranks, you know, you suspected that they were actually the opposite or something like that. So there were they there was a lot of wisdom, a lot of experience within those ranks. But also, you know, you had a new generation of people that just sort of popped up there. So, you know, you had like DeRay McKesson, you know, Netta Britany, passionate covering him. You know, they were younger than, you know, unknown people, but they had some experience in leadership. And you know that, you know, their activism led them into, you know, and in the experience led them into being organizers of some sort. So they were all kind of came together organically once they hit the streets, once they had some time to understand what even the police were going to do. Because I you know, I don’t think the police had like they were following some sort of a blueprint. They didn’t you know, it kind of came together in time, like when they said, OK, this is what the protesters are going to do. So this is how we’re going to respond. So everybody is like a football game, you know, in a way like, OK, we should we shut down the run. Now they’re opening it up or they’re doing a little play action or whatever. So it was it was a lot like that. It is kind of evolved over the those weeks.

S9: Well, let’s expand the sports metaphor. Do you think the protests now are like the evolution of the game, that what protesters learned in Ferguson or maybe, I don’t know, perfected but refined? We’re seeing those tactics and strategy show up across the country on a grand scale with the protests that are occurring right now.

S11: Absolutely. I mean, I didn’t even think about something like Bell Fund that you see circulating online. Like that wasn’t something that was all that common in 2014 in Ferguson. You know, people have learned those lessons. And so they say, hey, look, you know, this is probably the way the police are going to respond. So we’ll show up here and we’ll have these sort of organizers here and, you know, don’t do these sorts of actions. You know, you can see that they’ve learned a lot from that time because, I mean, you know, people can say that these are, quote, riots and that there’s been, quote, looting, but relatively speaking, for the scale of these protests and how many, you know, there have been and where they are and the, you know, hundreds of thousands of people that have been involved in them. Largely, we’ve avoided, you know, real big, real big problems. There haven’t been there been a handful of deaths, but which is, you know, unfortunately, which is sort of expect when people come out to the streets and fighting and there’s weapons out there. Right. I think that the organization, the activism of the last few years sort of informed how people have responded to this.

S9: And on the whole, you know, I think they’ve been really affected in the Ferguson protests. Was there as much because I don’t seem to remember as much act of sort of misinformation. It’s not just rumors on the ground, but using Twitter to advance this notion of which may be true to some extent, a wildly exaggerated, purposeful black placing an anti fire and outside agitators. Was that as prevalent then?

S11: Well, so back then. In 2014. Ferguson officials, local officials in St. Louis, throughout Missouri. There was a lot of the outside agitators talk, right. And whether or not, you know, I mean, sure, some people came from out of town because they were so moved and they wanted to protest. But I think they were trying to implies that there were people that joined these movements solely for the purpose of fucking shit up can occur. There’s a lot. Yeah. Place. OK. Yeah. Right. I’m upset. I, I’m upset that you haven’t. That’s ok. I’m OK. I’m a person. I’m just. I’m trying to be restrained but. So. So there was this idea that there were people that came from out of town so solid flex it up, which was not necessarily true. There were a lot of people that came from out of town because they were so moved by what happened to Michael Brown that they wanted to be a part of it. And sure, there were some people, again, like I said, we’re trying to take advantage of, you know, you know, this mass of people and that there was opportunities to actually flex it up. But this time, I think that public officials have really tried to undermine the legitimacy of the, you know, the anger and the protesters by making that a much more prominent argument here that they’re saying, oh, you know, none of these people are from here, right here, Minneapolis. You know, these are people that have come from all over the place. And then, you know, we find out, looking at the arrest logs that most of the people were from within the Minneapolis great area. Right. So I think that there’s a little bit more experience, misdirection on the part of public officials, because they don’t want they don’t openly want to undermine the protesters because they. What happened to George Floyd was just so ugly, so gruesome that they cannot deny that it was bad. And so they they want to acknowledge that people are angry, but they also want to say, hey, look, the reason this is going on is because people are coming out of town and they just want us. They want us to be mad at each other. And I think that is a little bit more of a tactic this time than it was back in 2014.

S9: Why do you think the protests this time are national in scope? Or maybe the better question is, why do you think the Ferguson protests. There was then Freddie Gray afterwards. But that was in a specific town where a specific misdeed, let’s just call it that occurred. Why do you think those protests that didn’t expand outside the parameters of those towns?

S11: Well, I think there’s a few things. One of them is that we didn’t have video. Of somebody actually dying on camera like we do with George Floyd. It’s like it’s such a sadistic viewing experience. No, I haven’t. I should just say, you know. You know, in all fairness and honesty, I have not watched that video because I just can’t. Like, I just I’ve I’ve watched so many of those over the years. It just wouldn’t be good for me to watch it and not trust reporting and people that have seen it who say that is as bad as I think it is. Right. So, you know, we didn’t have that with, you know, Michael Brown. We didn’t have that with Freddie Gray. We had video of Freddie Gray. Right. You know, in the moments before he, you know, was fatally injured. But we don’t have him actually dying on camera. So I think that’s one thing that people looking at are looking at that like, oh, my God. But this is this is actually very real. The things that people have been saying is that you really can’t argue with them. Everything that people have been saying about police is, you know, about the concerns about aggressive policing, racist policing, whatever. You can look at it right there and say, oh, wow, well, I can’t really argue with that. Even Rush Limbaugh says that it’s beyond the pale. So, I mean, if you if you if you have if you have to go one better. Even Donald Trump says it, right? Yes. Even right. Exactly. Yes. Even Donald Trump says it’s unacceptable. Right. So people aren’t even arguing over that. So that’s one thing. But I also think that, you know, Black Lives Matter and a lot of the activists from two thousand fourteen or fifteen, they created the they created the framework for this protest movement. And while, you know, we sort of lost track of it in the middle of our ongoing national crisis. You know, we’ve had a lot of things going on in the last three or four years. People sort of turned away from issues of racist policing or whatever. Black Lives Matter and a lot of other activists are still been working. It’s still been compiling data, still pressing local police departments to be more transparent and to reform themselves. And so I think you’re seeing is a lot of that work bearing fruit this time around. And I mean, it’s really inspiring. I mean, you see a very big multicultural movement out there in the streets, you know, but I mean, this is a really easy one, man. This is a really easy incident to protest and to be upset about. So I think that, you know, those two things are particular to come to mind when I’m like, OK. That’s why this is different. You nobody saw Michael Brown die. We just saw his body. This is you know, this is beyond that.

S7: I heard DeRay McKesson, who was giving prominence in the Ferguson protests the other day, and he was making the point that in Ferguson there was so little we knew in terms of information, in terms of statistics, in terms of knowledge of how policing works and who is affected by it. And now we have that knowledge. So we needed to go through Ferguson in that period to get to now. Do you agree with that?

S11: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I mean, people would just not even compiling, you know, most police departments because they had no they have no reason to keep that data about, you know, you know, officer involved shootings, right? They did. They just did not know there was no standardized practice. And not that there is now. But there are people that are keeping tabs on it at least. Right. So we’re getting a sense of the scale of the problem. Well, maybe we didn’t have it before. So, yeah, I definitely agree with Gray Van. And it just it seems like in retrospect, it’s not it wasn’t unchartered waters because we had, you know, 1968, we had the awesome MacDuffie riots in Miami. In 1980, we had Rodney King. We had all these other incidents. But like that, really, you know, that moment, you know, it seemed unprecedented. And we didn’t have a lot of background or a lot of memory and have been so many years since something like that, it happened that, yeah, people just didn’t you know, we sort of came to it unaware, you know, it was sort of my first I’ve been you know, I’m gonna say I’m forty two year old black man. You know, I’ve been stopped by the cops a lot in my life. And even it took me a long time. I was much older, say to think of it as like a structural problem and not like, man, why did the cops keep stopping me? Problem.

S9: Do you think that there’s any missteps that protesters can make that will discredit the protest? Or I sometimes wonder if even if they do things you know perfectly or within the realm of perfectly people who don’t want progress, we’ll find something to point to in saying this is why the progress is denied.

S11: Yeah, I think that’s it right there, Mike. I think that it’s the latter that, you know, any form of protest is going to piss people off. And so, you know, if you’re going to be out there in the streets, you kind of have to get past that, you know, or, you know, if you’re if you’re somebody that is inclined to believe that policing is a problem and that they need to be answers and that people need to be serious about reform, you get out there and you do is going to have to overlook the fact that a lot of people are eventually going to people. Some people are going to start out pissed and that the longer you’re out. Are gradually more people are going to get pissed. You just have to kind of get past that. But it could could they discredit themselves? I mean. Yeah, I mean, you know, if there’s just indiscriminate violence against people out there.

S9: Right. Right. Hypothetically. But it doesn’t seem like the masses of protesters. That’s what they’re about. If they were, we would have seen that, right?

S11: Yeah. Right. Exactly. Like, we don’t we don’t see that, you know, that hasn’t been happening. So I think I mean, a lot of people make this point on Twitter all the time. And I’m going to be, you know, that very basic bit. She brings it up right now that when when Martin Luther King died in 1968, I mean, most people most Americans, you know, by polling disagreed with his tactics. Like he was not a he was not a very popular person. And, you know, the same tactics that he was using today that people say, oh, I wish the protesters would use those tactics. Those were the same tactics that people hated back then and disagreed with. And they said he was divisive. So it just goes to show that you really can’t you can’t worry about, you know, people are going to be upset if if something is if something moves you to get out to the streets, you just can’t worry about it. People are going to be mad about it because they’re going to be mad about it regardless.

S9: Right. Just to complicate that, though, what people thought of John Brown was similar to and I think probably people still think of it today. You know, murder, murdering babies in their beds. So it’s not as if there isn’t there. It’s not as if there is such a thing as too far. And it’s easy to reach for the MLK example, but I don’t I don’t see that’s where we are in America. And I think recognizing that about recently about MLK is true. But there is, I suppose, out there something that would be seen as tactics that were too far, that really are too far.

S11: Well, yeah. I mean, of course, there would be tactics that people could see too far. But I guess, you know, and maybe maybe I’m not the person to ask this, but I haven’t seen it yet. You know, I mean, like I mean, I think you just have to you know, even when people burn down, it’s, you know, I hate to say it, but if we had protests where people, which is very calm and marching order and had the police escort them around the city and, you know, there was no conflict at all. I don’t think people would take it very seriously at all. I mean, we have protests like that all the time there. You know, whether it’s about violence in communities, whether it’s about, you know, any, you know, particular injustice in any municipality. You know, we have protests going around this country every year and most of them are not covered. But conflict in, you know, anger showing people, hey, man, we are sick of this shit and we need to get your attention. Sometimes you know that that’s the only thing that will get people’s attention. And, you know, maybe that’s not the best way to do it. But it also appears to be the only way to get people’s attention a lot of the time.

S9: Yeah. I don’t know if this matters. I have a slightly different view and I’m not a hundred percent wedded to it. But I think it’s more like when people really masses of people really want change. It’s likely they’ll bring along a bunch of people who are very polite and a bunch of people who are more radical, and that’s just because they’ll bring along a bunch of people. So when we start seeing fires or whatever breaking shit in the street, it’s just indicative often of how wide the sentiment is. So maybe it’s easy to confuse. Oh, we saw these scenes of chaos. That’s what got people to pay attention. Maybe it’s easy to confuse that to the causation with the correlation. Then again, you’re right, there are lots of, you know, peaceful protests about environmentalism. And, you know, I still don’t see adequate moving on those fronts.

S11: Right. And I mean, I think the thing that you mentioned about, you know, people that are polite, they’re like, OK, I can get behind this peaceful protest. I think the issue is, will they be there when the circumstances are more murky? You know, when you don’t I mean, because, like, anybody can look at this and say this is bad and something should be done about it, but are people committed, those same polite people, are they committed to the sort of action and the sort of discomfort and activism that is required to deal with, you know, disproportionate, you know, racial discrimination within policing? You know, just just last week, I was talking to an attorney at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. And, you know, in the middle of this, while police chiefs all around the country are saying this is abhorrent, this is horrible, and we need to be more accountable. And this attorney, she was one of the people that won these landmark concessions from NYPD in terms of stock, you know, the stop and frisk method. Right. And and so they were following up just last week on the way the NYPD was policing people in the midst of the pandemic about, you know, social distancing summonses is right. And it’s shown that, you know, I think something that 80 percent of the people that were cited for violating social distance. Were black and brown in New York and, you know, so they were going back to court and asking the court to look at the NYPD and NYPD. It was, you know, not responsive. You know, sort of, you know, making it difficult to get data and saying, hey, we don’t need to be under monitoring women. I mean, that is a real persistent problem within policing. And like the same people that are mad about George Floyd. Will they be mad about that in three weeks? I guess, you know, we’ll find out.

S9: Joel Anderson writes for Slate hosts podcast on Slate. And he’s one of the three panelists on Hang Up and listen. Thanks so much, Joel. Hey, Mike. Thank you, man. It’s a pleasure.

S12: And that’s it for today’s show, Margaret Kelley is the Gests associate producer she heard with Drew Brees, had to say he’s desperate to know where Gardner Minshew stands on these weighty matters. Daniel Shrader, just producer, knows me well enough to know. I think Gardner Minshew is the Blake Bortles of amusingly named Jacksonville Jaguars quarterbacks VA. Just like to note, we’ve not been publishing the musings of Tom Cotton since 2014. Some credit for Deborah Dupré. And thanks for listening.