African-Americans ‘are not going to the back of the bus’ on police brutality issue
Last year the Pentagon donated more than $400 million of military-grade equipment to police departments in the US, Mason claims.
The initially peaceful protests in Ferguson, Missouri, were prompted by the police shooting an unarmed teenager over a week ago. The Ferguson demonstrators faced heavily armed police who at times trained weapons on them from armored trucks. After tensions flared again late Friday Missouri Governor Jay Nixon announced a state of emergency and a curfew and later extended it. Nixon did not mention if authorities were planning to cancel the curfew any time soon, adding it depends on the community.
RT:Are these protests an isolated event or part of something bigger happening across the United States?
Mark Mason: This is really big. This is the most important political statement, political uprising in the US since the Occupy Movement in 2011-2012. There is no question that the energy for social justice and human rights is centered on the activities, and this uprising in Ferguson as we are watching it day by day.
RT:Can you see the protests in Ferguson snowballing into something bigger? Or will they die down after some time?
MM: We will have to watch. The real leadership is coming from the African-American community. They understand police oppression, they understand the oppression of the 1 percent, and they understand that the police work for the ruling class, for the 1 percent. The police protect the Wall Street bankers, who own the City Hall, the City Council, the State House, the Federal government, the President of the US and the Congress. They own the US. And nobody understands political oppression better than the African-Americans. We have heard a lot of talk about looting in Ferguson, but we have not heard a word about the biggest looters in the US, and that is the Wall Street bankers. They looted the public treasury of $16 trillion, and that is a bit of change, and they are now out to try and loot the whole economy of Ukraine. So this is what the real political context is here, it is very important and we may see other activities far beyond Ferguson. We have to watch it very carefully. Because the governor instituted a curfew again, he is basically poking a stick in the eye of the African-American community, because they came out last night very carefully and I heard their cheers from the street saying "No justice - no curfew."
RT:Do you think that the militarization of the police force across the US was spontaneous or were the authorities prepared for this unrest?
MM: It radically changed the status quo. The corporate media in the US was giving one message about how bad and poor the middle class were, how bad the firefighters and teachers were, and then we heard the message breaking through about the criminal activities of the one percent on Wall Street. I think that is a very significant message that got out from the Wall Street Occupy movement. And that movement was suppressed in the same way that the police are trying to suppress the uprising in Ferguson - through police violence.
RT:The Occupy movement brought a lot of attention to some of the issues at the heart of these protests, but did little to change the status quo. Will anything come of these protests in Ferguson?
MM: This began in early 1990s with the Democratic administration of Bill Clinton. What we have now on the streets are not police, these are paramilitary troops. You go to Central America and you are sure to find the same thing. I am old enough to see a very frightening transition in the US where the militarization of the police is a movement by the owners of this country, to suppress reasonable, rational dissent that they [the protestors] need jobs, housing. It is really breathtaking to me that we have paramilitary troops on the streets. Only last year the Pentagon donated more than $400 million of military-grade equipment to the police departments in the US. That is one year alone. They are not trained to use this material, they do not know what they are doing with it, and we should not have it in the streets of Ferguson and not in the streets of Central America either. This is a clear violent state suppression of dissent.
RT:Are the measures brought in by the authorities in Missouri infringing on the constitutional rights of the American people?
MM: Absolutely yes. The task of the police is to protect private property. On the face of it sounds like a reasonable job. But if we talk about who owns America - that is the one percent. They own the workplace, they own the small convenience stores, they are gouging overpriced goods in the stores, and they are ripping off the poor African-Americans through fraudulent mortgage lending practices. So we see political oppression and the economic oppression. The task of the police is that when people go into the streets and say "No, I'm committing civil disobedience" this goes back to the long history of civil disobedience used appropriately to advance social justice. In 1955 the Montgomery Alabama bus boycott - people were saying that they were not going to the back of the bus anymore. So everyone in America understood that going to the back of the bus is degrading, racist and economic oppression. Today, as we see Ferguson we see African-Americans coming out to the street saying "We are not going to the back of the bus on this police brutality issue." A recent study has shown that every 28 hours a black male in the US is killed by the police somewhere.