Monday, November 10, 2014

Ferguson Police Impound the "Accountability Truck"

The Color Of Change "Accountability Truck" in Ferguson, MO
Police in Ferguson, Missouri may not have shot any unarmed people lately, but they're still up to some pretty sketchy tactics.

The mainstream media attention of the past summer has faded, but hundreds of citizens, activists and clergy members have been engaged in ongoing peaceful protests in Ferguson, Missouri to end police brutality - and hold the department accountable for the death of Michael Brown.

As part of their peaceful protest strategy, the activist group Color Of Change uses a small truck (pictured above) that serves as a mobile billboard with an open message painted on the side to Missouri Governor Jay Nixon.

They've nicknamed it the "Accountability Truck" and it drives alongside protesters when they march along the streets of the community, or parks near stationary protests etc. The words imprinted on the side pose a pretty simple question to Governor Nixon: "What will YOU do in this moment with the world watching?"

According to an online article by Lindsey Toler, editor of the River Front Times blog, the incident happened last Wednesday night November 5th when a larger than usual number of protesters turned out in Ferguson for the Million Mask March organized by Anonymous - the activist hacker collective that openly warned Ferguson police weeks ago that they would undertake actions to support the protesters.

As Toler reported, the Million Mask March takes place on Guy Fawkes Night, the anniversary of the failed 17th century Gunpowder Plot.

Guy Fawkes was a member of a group of Catholics who planned on assassinating the Protestant English King James I by blowing up the House of Lords in London back in 1605. Fawkes was arrested on November 5, 1605 while guarding the explosives.

The March organized by Anonymous takes place in cities all over the world and in a way this story is reflective of how fiction inspires reality - and a determination to seek the truth.

Fawkes' real-life aborted explosive political statement was widely popularized in the 2006 Warner Brothers film "V For Vendetta" by the title character "V" (played brilliantly by Hugo Weaving), who wears a Guy Fawkes mask throughout the film.

In the story (based on the 1982 graphic novel of the same name written by Alan Moore and illustrated by David Lloyd) V inspires thousands of people in England to don identical masks as a form of mass protest against a bleak totalitarian English government in the future after war has devastated the planet.

While protests in Ferguson had been peaceful for weeks, the appearance of large numbers of outside protesters on Guy Fawkes night last Wednesday elevated the energy of protesters who'd gathered in front of the Ferguson police department. 

According to witnesses at the scene, when the group decided to march towards I-270 to block traffic, police moved to block the protesters. Apparently an unmarked Ferguson police car followed the truck and literally pulled the driver out of his seat, arrested him, towed the truck away and detained him for several hours.

According to various media accounts of the incident including the St. Louis Post Dispatch, police claimed they arrested the driver and impounded the truck because it was "blocking traffic".

A police spokesman said the Accountability Truck blocked an ambulance from responding to an emergency call, but witnesses dispute that; claiming the ambulance flashed it's light as the truck went by and protesters immediately gave way to let the ambulance through. 

Police are getting increasingly anxious with the approaching decision of the grand jury on whether or not to indict Darren Wilson, the Ferguson police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown.

The decision is expected soon and is causing anxiety amongst local residents of all races. Some are worried of the aftermath if the grand jury decides not to charge Wilson; gun sales have increased even though the protests recently have been relatively peaceful.

People on the scene in Ferguson sharing live updates on Twitter are reporting a large increase in media presence preparing to report the grand jury decision; some have reported seeing up to three tanks parked in the area.

Regardless of the decision, the case has created anxiety in many police officers; not just in Ferguson but around the nation as well. There have been rallies around the country to support Darren Wilson even before all the facts of the shooting have been determined.

But police arresting the driver of a truck with a message painted on the side is troubling.

As if the mere expression of the idea of the Governor being asked how he will handle the most controversial event of his political life is something to be feared. And arrested. Removed from view.

Speaking of the Freedom of Expression, did you hear about the mural of Michael Brown that was painted on a security gate in Trenton, NJ?

Back in October the Trenton Downtown Association removed the image of Brown in his high school graduation cap at the request of Trenton police who said they were concerned an image of Brown sent the wrong message about community relations between local residents in Trenton and the Trenton Police Department.

Actions like that remind us that the shooting of Brown is indicative of much deeper problems that affect the entire nation; Ferguson just happens to be the focal point.

In the coming days the media coverage of Ferguson will intensify as the grand jury reaches it's decision, but in the meantime the Accountability Truck is back on the road carrying its message to Governor Jay Nixon around town.

Organizations like Color of Change are continuing to pressure Nixon to appoint a special prosecutor to the case. But whatever the result, let's just hope it leads to a deeper understanding of what led to the events that left Brown dead in the street; and better communication and interaction between Ferguson police and members of the community.

Above all, let's hope the grand jury decision doesn't provoke the same kind of explosive protest that Guy Fawkes and his rebellious Catholic co-conspirators were seeking in England back in 1605.

Speaking truth to power works a lot better than explosives. Plus you can't arrest the truth, or impound it in a fenced-in lot; or sand blast it off of a wall. Or shoot it.

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