The Morning After Ferguson: Empowerment By Building Our Own


Fifty years ago Malcolm was talking about economic and political empowerment to counter police brutality

[Publisher’s Commentary]

So where do we go from here the morning after Ferguson even as the ashes from the ruins are still smoldering —  and the smell of more explosions in the air?

When the St. Louis county grand jury decided not to indict Darren Wilson it drove another stake in the heart of Michael Brown’s heart.

Wilson’s actions are so unbecoming a law enforcement officer that I won’t refer to him as “Officer Wilson”. This only lends a veneer of legitimacy around his unlawful action of killing Michael Brown on August 9; in cold blood, in Ferguson, MO.

In an earlier column I rejected his improbable and incredible contention that after his encounter with Michael Brown near his car, he was still engaged in self-defense when he emerged from the car and chased him and shot him to death from a distance.

The Grand Jury proceedings were tainted because it was directed by the pro-St. Louis law enforcement prosecutor Bob McCulloch.

Since Darren Wilson violated Brown’s civil rights the Department of Justice should bring charges against him and have him present his preposterous defense to a trial jury; it boils down to Wilson killing Brown because he thought the teenager was a “demon” as he testified.

The lives of Black males have no value to the American establishment; certainly not to police officers –White and Black– who take their lives with impunity knowing that they will never pay the price for their actions. Black men are routinely shot by police.

Outrageous cold-blooded killings such as Michael Brown’s or Trayvon Martin’s always brings needed focus on the abuses and injustices Black males face from so-called law enforcement institutions.

But, as a beloved friend of mine pointed out in a conversation Wednesday, such incidents are symptoms of the deeper horrendous  challenges Black communities face.

The crises includes:  11% unemployment rate, more than double that of the White population; and, abysmal schools, discriminatory policing and judicial processes that steer Black people into the prison industrial system, while creating jobs as “custodians” of these inmates for suburban White communities.

The insidious system destroys Black families and neighborhoods while supporting, sustaining, and nourishing White communities. 

So, while we must agitate and demand justice for Michael Brown and other victims, we must also think of how to tackle these daunting challenges.Where do we start?

My friend pointed out that every community in America, except African Americans, have a “haven”. A place where they can “catch their breath”; where they control the businesses, the schools, the homes, the food supply and availability; and, where they can guide their destiny.  “Where is ours?” she asked.

That is the question we must answer this morning after Ferguson. “No one will respect you if you don’t control anything,” my friend said.

As we spoke, I was reminded of the Ballot or the Bullet, Malcolm X’s brilliant presentation about Black political and economic empowerment. 

Fifty years ago, Malcolm was also dealing with the problem of police brutality. He said the police commissioner at the time, Thomas  Murphy had given the police the impression that they could “take whatever measure is necessary to hold the Negro in check” and therefore “whenever something happens 20 police cars converge” on the scene.

Many people are familiar with the iconic photograph of Malcolm X holding a rifle and peering through window curtains. Yet, fewer know about the Malcolm speeches that dealt with economic independence and how it anchors everything else.

Let’s look at three issues that Malcolm X felt strongly about and whose understanding goes a long way towards addressing my friend’s question about “Where is ours?”

Understanding The Media

Malcolm X knew the importance of media and how they shape public opinion. During his appearance at the Oxford Union Debates, in the U.K., he offered a succinct presentation that showed his masterful understanding of media and its functions.

He offered his own experience as illustration. He was referred to as controversial; which was a strategy to marginalize him or cast him as someone who was at odds with acceptable opinions; or establishment views.

Malcolm also demonstrated how global corporate media shaped public opinion towards overseas conflicts such as in the Congo: He showed how the Western-backed and mercenary-supported Moise Tshombe regime enjoyed favorable media coverage even though Tshombe was instrumental in the overthrow and murder of the elected prime minister Patrice Lumumba. Tshombe was happy to maintain the exploitative pre-independence mining concessions enjoyed by Western corporate interests.

On the other hand, Lumumba’s supporters were demonized. “They’ll take  a victim of the crime and make it appear he’s the criminal” Malcolm said of the media.

In Ferguson, MO., we saw how media was used to destroy Michael Brown’s chances of getting Wilson to pay for his crime. It all started when the Ferguson police chief Tom Jackson, during the heated period shortly after he was killed, held a press conference to announce that Michael Brown had been involved in a “strong arm robbery”; a reference to the shoplifting of cigarillos by Brown.

Soon afterwards, The New York Times contributed to the narrative when it published an article looking into the dead teenager’s “character” as if it was relevant to the cold-blooded killing.

By the time the Grand Jury started hearing evidence into the shooting its members knew from The New York Times’s article that they were dealing with a person who was “no angel”; this may have made it easier for those who supported Wilson to let him walk.

Knowledge Of Self And History

Malcolm also knew that self pride comes from knowledge of one’s history; he spoke eloquently and with pride about his African ancestry. The title of one of his short presentations speaks for itself: “You can’t hate the roots of a tree without hating the tree.”

Malcolm discussed how it was important for Africans in America not to feel any shame about their appearance; their color, hair and shape of the nose. “You can’t hate Africa and not hate yourself,” he said.

He noted that popular media had turned off many Black people from the African continent by constantly presenting the image of jungles, savages and cannibals as epitomizing the meaning of Africa. “We didn’t think a Black man could” create anything, as a result, Malcolm said.

Economic Independence

Malcolm X understood the importance of owning the businesses in the community where a person lived. This is the Malcolm that more people need to know. He believed in Black entrepreneurship and outlined the steps towards achieving economic independence in “The Ballot or The Bullet.

Malcolm said Black people needed to learn how to create and to operate businesses in order to create jobs instead of “ignorantly” and “shamefully” picketing and begging for jobs.

With ownership of businesses, and with the increased financial clout, Black people would also be able to control the housing and the schools in their communities. Malcolm pointed out that even Woolworth’s started out as “a dime store” and General Motors as “a little rat race” and then grew. He spoke of the need for “supporting Black business.”

These are some of the answers to the question “where is ours?” 

We can’t bring Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Ramarley Graham, Kimani Gray, Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, and the many other victims back to life.

But we must strive to create a better world for the present and future generation of young people, many of whom will eventually have a fatal encounter with a police officer as well.

We can start this by economic and political empowerment — creating and owning our own businesses and organizations as advocated by many Pan Africans — including Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X.

This means part of the agitation must be focused against the discriminatory lending practices that continue to deny access to capital for African Americans.

In 2013 Black –owned businesses received only 2.3% of the federal Small Business Administration’s-backed 54,000 loans; down from 11% in 2008, according to an article in The Wall Street Journal. The amount was $382.5 million, a mere 1.7% of the $23 billion in total SBA loans.

Alternative sources of capital — such as support from wealthy African Americans must also play a major role in building the “havens” that are critically needed.

Economically and politically empowered Black communities would be able to guide their destiny.

They’d be able to stop a man such as William Bratton, who advocates discriminatory stop-and-frisk as well as “broken windows” harassment of the Black community from becoming police commissioner, as he did in New York City.

They wouldn’t tolerate a Black-majority community such as Ferguson having two Black officers on a police force of 50.

And a depraved killer like Darren Wilson, who said he would do it all over again, would never dare to shoot an unarmed young Black man in cold-blood and expect that he could get away with it; he was so confident that he got married shortly before his enabler the prosecutor Bob McCulloch announced the decision not to indict.





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