If John Brown Were Alive, Could He Help in Ferguson?

 This year marks the 155th anniversary of John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. Although he isn’t the most revered figure in American history, he most certainly is honored as a revolutionary and a hero ranging from the likes of Malcolm X to Quentin Tarantino. A contemporary of Brown, famous author, poet, naturalist and abolitionist Henry David Thoreau, wrote an essay called “A Plea for Captain John Brown” and recited it publicly many times before the execution of Brown. He pleaded abolitionist supporters to remember him as a true hero, a martyr, and not as a fool for giving his life for what he believed.

If John Brown, abolitionist, insurrectionist, and self-proclaimed martyr, who called for the immediate end to chattel slavery in the United States were still alive, he most certainly would be of great help in Ferguson, Missouri. His enthusiasm, passion, and belief that no person should be subjugated to slavery or injustice is what people of color in the United States need from the white majority. Although what is happening in Ferguson isn’t slavery, John Brown’s call to action during his lifetime motivated members of the white community in the 1800’s willing to support direct action efforts of achieving equality and justice for the African-American community.

John Brown was born in 1800 in Torrington, Connecticut, where he grew up in a religious household. His father, Owen Brown, was not only an abolitionist by belief, but also an active participant in the Underground Railroad, a network of people, safe houses, and pathways that helped fugitive slaves escape to free states and Canada.  John Brown’s name has been etched into American history for his famous raid on Harper’s Ferry, Virginia (now part of West Virginia). On October 16, 1859, John Brown along with 20 other men attacked an arsenal in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia with the intent of stealing enough weapons in order to start a slave revolt. His plan failed and he was eventually captured by local soldiers and U.S. Marines led by Colonel Robert E. Lee. John Brown was tried, convicted of treason, and executed by hanging on December 2, 1859. His legacy lives on as a polemic character in American history whose martyrdom is honored by some members of the black community and condemned by others who described him as simply a terrorist.

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So where does John Brown fit into contemporary American social issues? One can argue that a person like John Brown hasn’t existed in the white community since his death.

When white Americans says,  “there is a lack of leadership in the black community” they must recognize that there is also a lack of leadership in the white community regarding racial equality and the call to justice for all people living in the United States. John Brown would be a perfect example of a leader for the white community who could command them in their efforts to combat institutionalized racism and injustice.

The shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American, has sparked a new wave of protests condemning not only the use of excessive police force, but also racial profiling, the criminal justice system, and the apparent apathy white Americans have for the plight of minorities in the United States. Michael Brown was shot by Darren Wilson, a white police officer on August 9, 2014. Although there is overwhelming evidence and witness testimonies conveying that Michael Brown had indeed tried to surrender to the police officer with a “hands up” motion, he was shot multiple times by Wilson. At an estimated distance of 35 feet from the police cruiser, and no visible weapon possessed by Brown, witnesses heard Wilson fire approximately 10 shots. Based on the evidence present, one can conclude that officer Darren Wilson did not act in self defense, and that Michael Brown was murdered in cold blood.

Two months after the shooting of Michael Brown, Darren Wilson is still on paid administrative leave and has not yet faced charges or arrest. The state and federal investigations are taking a long time to reach a conclusion. Protesters believe this is deliberate, concluding that the local government is hoping that protests in and around the Ferguson – St. Louis area of Missouri will die down. The fact that charges haven’t been formally brought up against Darren Wilson is just the tip of the iceberg for the African-American community as they can foresee the murder of Michael Brown going unpunished. Below the murky waters of American race relations there is a lot of racist backlash against African-Americans coming from the white community with respect to demonstrations and vociferous opposition to unpunished white-on-black murders.

The fundraising efforts of people who support Darren Wilson was one of the first things outside of the investigation that struck a nerve within the African-American community in Ferguson. There were wristbands that read “I am Darren Wilson” being worn by members of the Ferguson police (as if to say that they also supported extrajudicial killings of suspected criminals). There were online fundraisers that had raised more money, about $400,000 for Darren Wilson and his family than for the family of the Michael Brown.

The amount of money raised for Wilson is nothing compared to the vitriol and racial hatred perpetrated by television news pundits and online social commentators. Young black men, who dress, act, or look a certain way are victims of verbal abuse in the media when they are all referred to as “thugs” “gangsters” and “hoodlums”. There has been an additional racial polarization in the United States regarding white America’s negative perception of young black males, hip-hop culture and whether they are innocent/guilty in the eyes of the law. As if the election of Barack Obama, the first African-American president of the United States, wasn’t enough to cause deep-seated racism to surface, the killings of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and John Crawford, by white men has opened up old wounds in the African-American community, reminding them of lynchings and unpunished murders, which lasted from since the end of the American Civil War up until the Civil Rights Acts of the 1960’s.

The American prison system is disproportionately filled with African-Americans compared to white Americans. It is estimated that “one in three black males will end up in prison”. Similarly, African-Americans, along with other people of color, make up approximately 30% of the U.S. population, but represent 70% of all arrests and 60% of the prison population.

Constant police surveillance, police brutality, harsher punishments and longer sentences for people of color is akin to modern-day slavery and social injustice. John Brown would condemn the American prison system and fight tooth and nail until all unlawfully imprisoned people of color were released. Missouri is one of the states continuing the tradition of disproportionately sending people of color to prison.

John Brown definitely could be of good help in Ferguson in order to show other white people what true support for justice looks like. After a few weeks of protests and demonstrations in Ferguson, Governor Jay Nixon deployed the Missouri National Guard. Protestors were met with excessive force in the form of tear gas, flash grenades, riot police and soldiers with high-grade military equipment. It basically looked like a war zone in Ferguson during the Governor’s “invasion.”

A parallel can be drawn between how white Americans feel about social injustices, whom they support, and how the media portrays key players during a controversial event. One example comes from the Cliven Bundy standoff. Bundy is a Nevada rancher who has been disputing with the United States Bureau of Land Management over unpaid grazing fees. With the threat of government repossession of Bundy’s cattle, protests ensued and armed militias, mostly right-wing white Americans, came out to support Clive Bundy in an armed standoff against federal agents. Although those who supported Bundy were armed and aggressive, the government agents didn’t fire cans of tear gas, flash grenades, nor did the Governor of Nevada send in the Nevada National Guard. Conservative news media personalities like Sean Hannity were quick to support Bundy and his anti-government crusade, but soon realized how racist Bundy was when he made comments like “are black people better off as slaves?”.

How would John Brown respond to Cliven Bundy’s remarks about black people being “better off as slaves”? He would have killed Clive Bundy and all who attest to racist ideology. John Brown would have joined the protestors in Ferguson, Missouri to support the African-American community against the local police, the state police, the National Guard, and federal agents. He would have mounted his own militia of fellow whites to help protect the African-American community from white aggression.

The importance of having white people fight alongside people of color in Ferguson is tantamount to how the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s was such a success. In the same way, John Brown represented the ideologue of vengeful justice through direct action since before the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln, well known for upholding his abolitionist beliefs and declaring war upon the Confederacy for breaking up the Union, later paid for his beliefs with his life. Later on, during the 1960’s, John F. Kennedy was killed for unknown reasons, but speculation has it that he was killed for trying to end the Vietnam War, and for trying to give civil rights to African-Americans.

Although John Brown’s personality and legacy as a Christian religious fanatic and insurrectionist can be seen as somewhat of an ethical dilemma for pacifists, atheists, and the United States government, it would be interesting to see how much could been achieved as far as civil rights in America if a person like John Brown were around. John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry on October 16, 1859 is said to have been one of the key factors in polarizing the country so much that it started the Civil War, which restored the Union and ended slavery. The positive aspects that came after the most devastating war in United States history is difficult to justify on both sides. In the spirit of the 155th anniversary of John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry, there is Ferguson October, which is a call for action and civil disobedience pleading for justice not only for Michael Brown, but all American citizens victimized by the prison-industrial complex. There are some things that aren’t as simple as being labeled as liberal or conservative. Morality, liberty and justice have no political party, and therefore, more people should abandon party affiliation and fight injustices for all people regardless of race, class, or gender.

By: Opton A. Martin

If I Buy Freedom and It Doesn’t Work, Can I Return it and Get My Money Back?

“We know that freedom isn’t free, but how much does it cost? Is there a discount on freedom? Can I use a freedom coupon? Where is my buy 2 countries, get 1 free card? If I buy freedom, and it doesn’t work, can I return it and get my money back…I have the receipt!”

I as a former resident of Torrington, Connecticut, United States of America, since 2001 would have contributed about $6,812 to the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and beyond. The website nationalpriorities.org has been tracking the U.S. cost of war since 2001 and allows Americans to see how much of their tax dollars, down to local populations, have been contributed to the efforts overseas.  Torrington’s citizens since 2001 have paid out $119,212,900 (15-aug-2014) to a multiple-front war. Since there are about 35,000 residents in Torrington, and about 1/2 are working or paying income taxes, 1/2 of all Torringtonians have contributed over $6,000 to the war on terror. But the real question is are we safer now because of the war on terror? Have we made the world safer? Is the war on terror actually producing more terrorist organizations? How long until it’s finally over?

Since September 11th 2001, there has been a liquidation sale on “freedom” worldwide when then president of the United States, George W. Bush and his administration, soon announced a global war on terror. At first the cross hairs were focused on Afghanistan, Al Qaeda, the Taliban and their sympathizers. Then, Bush decided to put Osama Bin Laden on the back burner and continue what could be seen as a Bush family legacy – Iraq. The American military’s focus switched rapidly to Iraq, where the regime of Saddam Hussein was suspected to have had weapons of mass destruction and links to Al Qaeda.

Before, during, and after the deposition of Saddam Hussein, investigators claimed that Iraq did not possess high caliber (nuclear material) weapons of mass destruction nor had been working with Al Qaeda. In fact,  Al Qaeda and other extremist groups were natural enemies of Saddam’s regime. If Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein had been working together, why would they have kept it secret? Their unity would have been seen as a sign of strength in the region. Luckily, their distinct ideologies did not allow for a military or political union – their conflicting personalities and dislikes were greater than their hatred for the United States.

Under current president Barack Obama, who more or less has been progressive concerning local and social matters within the USA, has not only continued the legacy of Bush-era military campaigns, but has amplified a seek-and-destroy, extrajudicial drone program that could be considered crimes against humanity. Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan are what I would like to call “Drone Zones” in that no real formal declaration of war has been made, but are part of a continuous bombing campaign in which civilians are unfortunately part of the casualties.  These bombing campaigns are simply not effective in changing hearts and minds. Whose ideology is going to favor Westerners when their neighbor, perhaps a civilian, had been killed by them?  Spreading democracy doesn’t come from without, but from within.

So what is freedom in 21st century terms? Which country is most free? Is freedom being able to do literally whatever you want? Or is freedom being able to have social and economic mobility in the form of one’s access to a good education, housing, food, medicine, and other facilities or amenities that First World inhabitants encounter with less difficulty.

Spreading freedom and democracy as part of a bombing campaign can be seen as a vice, like any other, freedom is aggression, anger, addiction, greed, censorship, gluttony, hatred, hysteria, lust, perversion, vanity and wrath. Although this may not be our ideal of what freedom is, the countries that suffer from “American Freedom” by way of military operations, heavy policing and lengthy occupations, fear cultural infiltration or annihilation.

Freedom, by way of material objects, is in a sense purely economical, in that freedom is for the rich; oppression is for the poor. If you live in a conflict zone, and you are rich, you might have more freedom to leave, through legal means or not, than a poor person. If you live in a country where women’s access to reproductive services are restricted, as a rich person, you might have the freedom to travel to another country where women’s reproductive laws are different. This is not to say that a poor person cannot escape a conflict zone or access healthcare, but the pyramidal structure of modern and post-industrial human society shows that the upper echelon of society, the wealthy and powerful, are the ones who make and break the laws.  Materialistic freedom in terms of commodities is not universal.

Human beings are political property of the state in which they were born, reside or had resided. A stateless person is one who has no rights, and paradoxically has total freedom, yet no freedom. On the other hand, something like spiritual freedom is closer to universality in that one’s beliefs and thoughts are tangible within one’s mind, where no one else can truly restrict their beliefs, whether they practice them or not.

Spreading democracy and freedom after the Second World War was a bit different than how it is done today. After Mussolini, Hitler, and Hideki Tojo were disposed of, and the war had been won by the Allied Forces. After obliterating the Axis Powers, the Allied Forces wanted to help their former enemies rebuild and prosper – and they did.  Italy, Germany and Japan became stable economic powerhouses in which their citizens currently enjoy high personal income, well developed infrastructure, universal healthcare, stable borders, and relatively few internal conflicts that lead to deaths or executions. The citizens of these counties are generally considered to be free.

The Second World War cost the United States more than 4 trillion dollars (in 2014) according to some estimates. After about a five-year campaign, the U.S. and its soldiers were treated like true liberators, like “winners” of WWII. They are still considered the greatest generation of humans to ever walk the Earth. As we fast forward to 2014, after 10+ years of war in the Middle East, combining the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, all military operations, and  everywhere else terror resides, 4.4 trillion dollars is the current cost of war (total cost of all services related to conflicts), and Americans are not treated as liberators, nor winners, and things are worse now than when we started.

What does the future hold now that Hussein, Bin Laden, Hosni Mubarak, Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi, and other life-term dictators have been disposed of? Will the countries of Libya, Egypt, Afghanistan, and Iraq become economic powerhouses like Germany, Japan, or even South Korea? Not likely. The reason: the war economy. Peace and stability is just as important a factor to the global economy as war and conflict zones.

Now that there are currently more heavy conflict zones since before the U.S. and Allies’ invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, defense contractors are making more profits and bigger sales than ever. For the profit-driven industry of arms dealing, shame from not being able to reduce violence and bring about stability after a military campaign is less important. As long as the guns are firing and the bombs are dropping, there is profit to be made. Therefore, it is conducive to the industry to provoke or procreate areas of conflict. It is even better if they could sell arms to both sides of the conflict through conspiracies and inside deals. If both sides have the same weapons, one will be forced to upgrade.

With respect to dark-horse terrorist organizations with plenty of cash, the rise of ISIS or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is currently driving a wedge in concurrent conflict zones in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. They plan on taking over territories that roughly stretch from Morocco to India, to eliminate all borders between “Islamic” countries – high hopes for a group with few allies and many enemies.

Current conflict zones: Somalia, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Syria, Nigeria, Mali, Columbia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Turkey, Kurdistan, Pakistan, India, North & South Korea, China, Japan, South Sudan, Mexico, Egypt, Ukraine, Russia, Central African Republic, Libya, and many more, including the United States.

As military hardware reaches a level of surplus, state and local police forces worldwide have been either given or have been purchasing this equipment. In the before mentioned conflict zones, it is not uncommon to see the military acting as a civilian “peace-keeping force” (like what we have seen in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt). Yet in recent years, many countries like Spain, Italy, Malaysia and the United States have riot police or S.W.A.T. (Special Weapons And Tactics) who use military equipment on a regular basis to intimidate and scare local populations from demonstrating, protesting, and having their voices heard. This is an undemocratic way of maintaining social justice and order in that people will get the sensation of an authoritarian police state – people will stay home, be complacent and compliant, and be afraid to speak ill of the government for fear of persecution. This makes the U.S.A no better than the countries it invades to “spread democracy” if it continues to terrorize its citizens.

As the world has recently seen how the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri rang out and connected with other oppressed people as distant as Palestine, it is important for all people to try and invest in other industries, besides the arms trade, that aim to save lives, not take them.