TIME cities

Ferguson Protests Erupt Again After Fire at Michael Brown Memorial

Looting resumes in Ferguson
A Missouri Highway Patrol trooper looks inside the vandalized Beauty Town store on West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson late Tuesday, Sept. 23. Robert Cohen—AP

Gunshots reported at gathering that formed after memorial was destroyed in blaze

At least two protesters were arrested Tuesday night after protests returned to Ferguson, Mo. following a fire at a memorial to the unarmed teenager shot by police there in August.

The unrest harked back to sometimes violent demonstrations that took place amid days of protests over the summer in the St. Louis suburb after a police officer shot 19-year-old Michael Brown on Aug. 9. Police Tuesday responded to a reported break-in of a beauty supply store in the area, and witnesses reported hearing gunshots, USA Today reports.

About 200 people had gathered in the area where regular demonstrations were held in the wake of the shooting, and some said they were in the streets to protest the burning of the memorial, which they said they believe was intentional.

The fire started around 6:45 a.m. on Tuesday on the street where Brown was shot. Firefighters investigating how the fire started found candles used at the memorial in the debris.

[USA Today]

TIME justice

Ferguson Protesters Attempt to Shut Down Highway

Ferguson City Council Holds First Meeting Since Police Shooting Death Of Michael Brown
Residents shout out during the Ferguson city-council meeting on Sept. 9, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo. Scott Olson—Getty Images

Some demonstrators appear to have been arrested by police while attempting to march near I-70 entrance ramp in the St. Louis suburb

Protesters in Ferguson, Mo., attempting to shut down a local highway on Wednesday were reportedly blocked by a phalanx of police officers, in a confrontation that risked turning violent.

The demonstration was planned as an effort to get Missouri Governor Jay Nixon to appoint a special prosecutor in the case against Darren Wilson, the Ferguson police officer who shot dead unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown last month.

Local reports indicate that protesters were planning to shut down a part of Interstate 70, but were stymied by the large police presence. News station KMOV reports the Missouri Highway Patrol warned protesters, “Attempting to block an interstate highway is unsafe and unacceptable.” Live streams of the protest showed several demonstrators being arrested.

The protest comes just one day after the Ferguson city council held its first meeting since Brown’s shooting. According to CNN, the meeting was met with protests and calls for justice for the dead teenager. One of the agenda items was reportedly to consider creating a citizen-review board that would work directly with local police.

TIME Music

‘Don’t Shoot': Rappers, R&B Singers Release Mike Brown Tribute Song

Money from the sale of the song will go to the Mike Brown Memorial Fund

A slew of rappers and R&B singers released a song Wednesday that pays tribute to Michael Brown, the 18-year-old unarmed black teen shot in Missouri by police officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9.

The song, entitled “Don’t Shoot” features artists including The Game, Rick Ross and Diddy, all of whom speak passionately about the need for justice in the wake of the teen’s death. Its release comes only two days after Brown’s funeral and two weeks after his hometown of Ferguson exploded in protest of the police.

The Game told Rolling Stone he wanted to release the song because the issues surrounding Brown’s death really struck a chord.

“I am a black man with kids of my own that I love more than anything, and I cannot fathom a horrific tragedy like Michael Brown’s happening to them,” the rapper told Rolling Stone. “This possibility has shaken me to my core. That is why this song must be made and why it was so easy for so many of my friends to come together and unite against the injustice.

The song is available for purchase on iTunes. Funds from the song’s sales will to the Mike Brown Memorial Fund.

TIME Crime

What Anonymous Is Doing in Ferguson

Ferguson Anonymous
Ron Johnson of Missouri State Highway Patrol speaks to a protester wearing a Guy Fawkes mask while he walks through a peaceful demonstration in Ferguson, Mo., on Aug. 14, 2014 Lucas Jackson—Reuters

What the "hacktavist" group does, how it dealt with the affiliated member who misidentified Michael Brown's killer and how many members are involved in Operation Ferguson

On Aug. 12, Ferguson City Hall’s website went black, its phone lines died and officials had to communicate by text, according to the St. Louis Dispatch and the New York Times. Self-identified members of the amorphous, hard-to-define hacker community Anonymous had struck again, according to the papers, this time in response to the shooting of a black teenager, Michael Brown, by a white police officer. A Twitter account allegedly associated with Anonymous — @TheAnonMessage — threatened Jon Belmar, the St. Louis County police chief, with publicly releasing his daughter’s information “in one hour” unless he released the name of the officer who killed Brown. While Belmar didn’t give in, and @TheAnonMessage dropped the ultimatum, the account and other self-identified Anonymous members would post two days later the home address, Social Security number and phone number of Belmar, telling him to “run, Jon, run.” While that practice, known as doxing, is a common Anonymous cyberattack, @TheAnonMessage would go on to wrongly accuse a citizen of killing Brown. Twitter subsequently shut down the Twitter account @TheAnonMessage without much uproar from the Anonymous community, which prides itself on fighting censorship.

A week later, Anonymous is still at work, marking Thursday as a nationwide “day of rage” to protest police brutality. To better understand why Anonymous, whose targets have been varied (including MasterCard, a Tunisian dictator and Kiss singer Gene Simmons), is interested in the Brown shooting, TIME spoke with Jay Leiderman, an attorney who includes among his clients Anonymous hackers, and Gabriella Coleman, a McGill University anthropology professor who is writing a book on the loose-knit community. We also spoke about how many people were involved in Operation Ferguson and how the organization dealt with one of its own after falsely accusing someone of murder.

Why is Anonymous involved in the Ferguson protests?
Anonymous’ “main demand” is “justice” for Brown and his family, Leiderman says. They can grab the attention of the Ferguson police and “let them know that they’re serious,” he says. Operation Ferguson falls in line with previous Anonymous efforts to unmask alleged perpetrators, like the 2012 Operation Red Roll, which released private information about people allegedly complicit in the rape of a 16-year-old girl in Steubenville, Ohio.

The “whole reason why” Anonymous got involved was a local rap artist — Tef Po — who called out for help on Twitter, according to Coleman, and the affiliated members responded. A day after the Brown shooting, Anonymous, through Operation Ferguson, released a statement asking Congress to pass a bill to set “strict national standards for police conduct.” It also warned the Ferguson government and police department of cyber-counterattacks if the protesters were abused, harassed or otherwise harmed.

“If you attack the protesters, we will attack every server and computer you have,” wrote the Operation Ferguson author. “We will dox [document trace] and release the personal information on every single member of the Ferguson Police Department, as well as any other jurisdiction that participates in the abuse. We will seize all your databases and e-mail spools and dump them on the Internet. This is your only warning.”

Coleman says that there isn’t unanimous support within the hacker community nor Anonymous on shutting down websites. “It’s a big contentious debate between hackers who have a purist, free-speech view, and others who have a more contextual one,” says Coleman. “There’s also a debate within Anonymous itself where a lot of hackers who really do the work of intrusion are not fans of doxing for two reasons: a) it’s technically uninteresting and b) sometimes they’re actually trying to gain access to those sites to hack them.”

“Really the main point is to gain media attention,” she says. “That’s kind of why that’s done more than anything else.”

How many Anonymous members are involved in Ferguson?
Anonymous is by definition a secretive group, one without leaders, an agenda or a set list of members. “No one has any idea” how many people are involved in Operation Ferguson, according to Leiderman, who called Anonymous a “nebulous and decentralized collective.”

“It’s impossible to say who is and who isn’t a member of Anonymous,” says Leiderman. “There is now way to disprove it.”

But Coleman says you can see which causes are more popular than others.

After the arrest of WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange in 2010, and Anonymous disrupted the websites of MasterCard, Visa and PayPal for declining to serve WikiLeaks, around 7,000 people logged onto the Anonymous chat channel and downloaded hacking tools, according to Coleman. That ad hoc association was “probably the largest ever,” Coleman says, and by her estimates, much more than the current Operation in Ferguson. (Anonymous distanced itself from Assange in October 2012 after he asked supporters to pay money for access to documents.) The Ferguson channel is used by up to 160 people, she says, although “thousands and thousands” are “within the orbit” supporting the cause through Twitter.

“It is really hard to tell in terms of the numbers,” says Coleman. “You do get a sense of which ones are bigger and smaller and I would probably put this in the definitely not small, [but] definitely not as big as something like WikiLeaks. Probably in between.”

How is the Anonymous community dealing with the member who misidentified the officer who shot Michael Brown?
The Twitter account @TheAnonMessage was not a very well-respected one within the Anonymous community, according to Coleman and Leiderman, despite the fact that it had been around for awhile.

“People had suspicions, but because he was being really active and contributing a lot to the operation,” says Coleman, “they kind of put their skepticism aside in some ways until it was too late … This is something that in some ways is perennially a problem and just has to do with the kind of architecture of Anonymous where you can’t really control what people are doing. There are norms and rules and ethics that definitely push behavior towards certain areas and not others, but by no means [are they] foolproof.”

After Twitter took down the account, an Anonymous member wrote a post to show a detailed ticktock “that this was the work of an Anon who was acting against the advice of others.” Other Twitter accounts associated with the group, like Operation Ferguson’s account, declined to name the Brown shooter as it looked for additional sources.

Coleman says that with the exception of a few cases, Anonymous has “generally been correct” in uncovering the right information. She calls @TheAnonMessage a “loose cannon” that had earned “skepticism” because of erratic actions in the past. Coleman says there “was no outcry” when Twitter shut down @TheAnonMessage despite Anonymous being “so famous for hating censorship.”

“Anonymous attracts people who are willing to push the envelope,” she says. “But there is always a hope that people who are doing it are getting the right names and information … I think that there was this expectation that people are doing that work carefully so when they’re not, people in Anonymous get really pissed off.”

When asked if Anonymous’ reputation was hurt after @TheAnonMessage released inaccurate information, Leiderman first blamed the media for going with an untrusted source before saying that Anonymous usually does a better job of establishing a correct verdict.

“Really you can’t pin that all on Anonymous,” he says. “The media that ran with it [failed] to confirm or deny the veracity of the statement … If the older and larger accounts run with something, it usually has a better chance of being more accurate.”

“You really want to see more consensus in the collective before you run with something like that,” he adds. “People that identify with Anonymous are really good at asking, ‘Are you sure?’, ‘How do you know?’, ‘Can you share the data with us in a secure way?’… and I’m not sure that happened in this case.”

TIME Ferguson Riots

Paul Ryan: Don’t Rush to Judgment on Ferguson

The Wisconsin congressman cautions against jumping to conclusions

Former vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan is not joining his Republican colleague Rand Paul in calling to demilitarize the police in light of events in Ferguson, Mo. Ryan, who’s currently on a tour promoting his new book The Way Forward, is calling instead for a note of caution.

The Wisconsin congressman said it was too early to “jump to prejudging conclusions before evidence is in.” He added that he didn’t exactly know what Sen. Paul meant when he called for a demilitarization of the police.

“I think it’s more important to be respectful of what’s happened, try to get to the truth and let the investigation take its hold,” Ryan said during an interview at Time’s offices. “Our police tactics, do they need to be reviewed? That’s something we should look at when the dust settles on all of this. But the rush to judgment with some broad brush assessment on all law enforcement tactics with respect to this particular incident, I think it’s a little premature to do that.”

Asked if he can offer any insight on the situation in Ferguson after spending time in several poor urban neighborhoods, Ryan did not miss the opportunity to make his oft-stated case against government-led solutions to the issues faced by people in poor neighborhoods in America. “I think a lot of taxpayers, a lot of people in America have been basically given the sense inadvertently from the government that the government’s going to fix this problem,” he said. “You pay your taxes, and we the government will take care of this. That’s not good enough. That’s not going to cut it. That’s actually the wrong impression.”

Instead, Ryan, echoing one of the themes of his book, called for a return to a more civil society. “People need to get involved in their communities. People need to get involved not necessarily with their money but with their time, with their talent, with their patience, with their love. And so the way I think we ought to approach this is we’d better be thinking about how to fight poverty eye-to-eye, soul-to-soul, person-to-person and reintegrate our communities instead of isolating people in our communities.”

A fuller interview with Ryan will be in the magazine’s 10 Questions page in the next issue.

TIME Ferguson protests

Gov. Nixon Sent The National Guard to Ferguson. What Will It Do?

A primer on America’s oldest military force

On Monday, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, seeking to control a nine-day protest in Ferguson after the shooting of a black teenager, Michael Brown, by a white police officer, announced that he would deploy the National Guard to the St. Louis suburb.

Here’s a very brief primer on the National Guard, America’s oldest branch of the armed forces, and how it will be used in Ferguson.

What does the National Guard do?

The National Guard works under three frameworks: mobilization overseas that is federally controlled and funded (think Iraq and Afghanistan); missions funded by the federal government but led by the states (Hurricane Sandy and the 2009 Obama inauguration); and state funded and controlled responses to emergencies (2011 Joplin and 2013 Moore tornadoes), according to Rick Breitenfeldt, a National Guard spokesman. Nixon is working under the third framework, directing the Missouri State Highway Patrol to oversee the National Guard’s work protecting citizens from violence.

When was the last time they were deployed?

Last week 40 National Guard personnel monitored a Hawaii neighborhood after reports of looting followed a tropical storm, according to a local ABC affiliate. Near the end of July, Texas Governor Rick Perry announced he would deploy the National Guard to beef up border security after record-high numbers of unaccompanied minors crossed into the state from Mexico.

The last time the Guard was federalized for a civil disturbance was 1992, when President Bill Clinton sent in thousands of National Guard personnel to quell Los Angeles’ Rodney King riots. There are major differences between that deployment and this one, though, including the size of the protests (the King riots were much more costly in blood and treasure) and who gave the order to deploy federal troops.

How will the National Guard be used in Ferguson?

In his announcement Monday, Gov. Nixon said the mission would be “limited” to protecting the police’s Unified Command Center, which he called the target of a “coordinated attack” during the preceding violence. Unless the federal government appropriates money, Missouri will have to pay for the additional troops, which will be acting essentially as policemen even if they are wearing military gear. Lawrence Korb, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and an assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan Administration, says the “perception” of an overly brutal, militarized police may be strengthened by the deployment of the National Guard.

“The Ferguson police obviously didn’t seem to be up to the job,” says Korb. “If [Missouri State Highway Patrol] Captain [Ronald] Johnson says well I can’t handle this anymore then you’ve got to go to the next step to stop the violence. But then you get into the whole other question of what kind of signal are you sending… Most people were complaining that the police look like the military, now the military is there. These guys wear military uniforms.”

TIME

The Difference Between ALS and Ferguson Is That One Ill Can Be Cured

Tampa Bay Rays' David DeJesus gets a bucket of ice dumped on his head from video coordinator Chris Fernandez as part of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge before a baseball game against the New York Yankees on Aug. 17, 2014, in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Tampa Bay Rays' David DeJesus gets a bucket of ice dumped on his head from video coordinator Chris Fernandez as part of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge before a baseball game against the New York Yankees on Aug. 17, 2014, in St. Petersburg, Fla. Chris O'Meara—AP

The road that led America to Michael Brown's killing could be fixed--if only we acknowledged its miserable logic

Over the last week and a half, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and the Ferguson, Missouri protests have spread over social media almost simultaneously, yet entirely discretely: twinned channels of wildfire blazing through quadrants of your attention that barely touch. The Ice Bucket videos took off around July 29; Michael Brown was shot on August 9.

The ALS challenge seeks to raise awareness and money for Lou Gehrig’s disease, a death sentence for the approximately 30,000 Americans who are at any given time afflicted. News of the Ferguson protests spreads in the interest of highlighting the brutal, unjust degree to which the state may still protect a white man who kills an unarmed black man.

In both instances, social media serves as an essential channel. It is the way we talk to each other now.

This is purely anecdotal, but try it on for size: the ALS challenge is almost entirely confined to Facebook, the Ferguson protests to Twitter. Furthermore, there appears to be an extraordinarily small overlap in terms of people who are seriously interested in both.

I don’t believe in zero-sum games and I don’t write this to imply that neurodegenerative disease and human rights abuse have been put in direct conflict. Rather, I’m fascinated with what appears to be the opposite. The contemporaneity of these waves in social communication have revealed these ills — as well as the advocates for their solutions — to not just be non-conflicting but also emblematic of two separate paths of identifying and addressing unfairness, two roads that are inherently miles and miles apart.

Ferguson, unlike the Ice Bucket Challenge, is an opt-in situation, and the demographic division between those who have chosen to get involved in one or the other cause is startling. Tibetan monks on the one hand, Mark Zuckerberg on the other; Amnesty International in Missouri, the Kennedys in Hyannis Port. Maybe for your own social networks the divide is starkly blue and red; it is, very much, for me.

The world is flooded with injustice in two rough forms: random and systematic. The less privileged experience both kinds as a matter of breathing, but the privileged experience mostly one.

Conversely, those who have experienced significant structural gaps in their advantage understand that our country reserves its right to deliver justice. Michael Brown was shot six times from a distance, once through the top of his skull; by any accident of birth and looks and circumstance, he could have been me or you.

There is a Mary Oliver poem called “The Summer Day”: I don’t know exactly what a prayer is/ I do know how to pay attention.

Ice Bucket videos have raised more than $13 million for the ALS Association in just the last month. The presuppositions behind this good work are clear and palatable and apolitical: here is an ill that comes at random; here are 30,000 people suffering who didn’t do anything wrong; here is a death that could be prevented; here is my face and my dollar trying earnestly to help.

No matter the cause or the victim, it seems an excellent use of social media to draw people’s attention to the bone-grinding hideousness of having someone’s life taken away right in front of you, and there being nothing you can do to stop it except to show people, over and over — this happens, this keeps happening, let’s make it stop.

And yet the capricious visitation of deadly disease exists side by side with an entire American history of killing black people and stealing from them and getting away with it — a terror that, unlike disease, is miserably logical in terms of its victims and could be fixed by a path that is right in front of us: having people in power, from patrol cop to supervisor to governor to president, advocate for systematic justice or racial reparation or even honest admission of the homegrown genocide we’ve been stuck with for centuries.

For both social media movements, sharing implies responsibility. We are complicit, by our inaction, in the lack of a working cure. But the tacit acknowledgment that there is blame to be shared and apportioned in Ferguson cuts much deeper and stops right at a telling, crucial boundary. We can’t call our friends to action on a target that remains simultaneously the plainest and most disputed evil in America, a target that many people refuse to believe exists. We’re not tagging three friends in each picture we see of a black woman whose “looter” friends broke into McDonalds to pour milk on her tear-gassed face. We’re not indicting our aunts and nephews and forcing them to acknowledge the millions of lives lost to racist policing.

It would be gauche to “challenge” our friends to deal with police-sanctioned murder, particularly when so many of our “friends” may believe what many cops have believed before us: that black bodies insinuate a crime.

And all of this makes sense. There are different devils behind these two ways a man can die in America. ALS is the devil that leaves us blameless, and Ferguson is the devil that is us, the one we dance with every day. In both cases we bow down and get shot in the skull regardless, but one road to deliverance has been open for 150 years.

Still, to which challenge did President Obama respond more quickly? The sickness in Ferguson is curable, will last.

Jia Tolentino is a former editor of the Hairpin whose work has also appeared in The New York Times.

TIME

The Coming Race War Won’t Be About Race

Ferguson Lowenstein
A protestor during demonstrations in Ferguson, Mo. on August 17, 2014. Jon Lowenstein—Noor for TIME

Ferguson is not just about systemic racism — it's about class warfare and how America's poor are held back, says Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Will the recent rioting in Ferguson, Missouri, be a tipping point in the struggle against racial injustice, or will it be a minor footnote in some future grad student’s thesis on Civil Unrest in the Early Twenty-First Century?

The answer can be found in May of 1970.

You probably have heard of the Kent State shootings: on May 4, 1970, the Ohio National Guard opened fire on student protesters at Kent State University. During those 13 seconds of gunfire, four students were killed and nine were wounded, one of whom was permanently paralyzed. The shock and outcry resulted in a nationwide strike of 4 million students that closed more than 450 campuses. Five days after the shooting, 100,000 protestors gathered in Washington, D.C. And the nation’s youth was energetically mobilized to end the Vietnam War, racism, sexism, and mindless faith in the political establishment.

You probably haven’t heard of the Jackson State shootings.

On May 14th, 10 days after Kent State ignited the nation, at the predominantly black Jackson State University in Mississippi, police killed two black students (one a high school senior, the other the father of an 18-month-old baby) with shotguns and wounded twelve others.

There was no national outcry. The nation was not mobilized to do anything. That heartless leviathan we call History swallowed that event whole, erasing it from the national memory.

And, unless we want the Ferguson atrocity to also be swallowed and become nothing more than an intestinal irritant to history, we have to address the situation not just as another act of systemic racism, but as what else it is: class warfare.

By focusing on just the racial aspect, the discussion becomes about whether Michael Brown’s death—or that of the other three unarmed black men who were killed by police in the U.S. within that month—is about discrimination or about police justification. Then we’ll argue about whether there isn’t just as much black-against-white racism in the U.S. as there is white-against-black. (Yes, there is. But, in general, white-against-black economically impacts the future of the black community. Black-against-white has almost no measurable social impact.)

Then we’ll start debating whether or not the police in America are themselves an endangered minority who are also discriminated against based on their color—blue. (Yes, they are. There are many factors to consider before condemning police, including political pressures, inadequate training, and arcane policies.) Then we’ll question whether blacks are more often shot because they more often commit crimes. (In fact, studies show that blacks are targeted more often in some cities, like New York City. It’s difficult to get a bigger national picture because studies are woefully inadequate. The Department of Justice study shows that in the U.S. between 2003 and 2009, among arrest-related deaths there’s very little difference among blacks, whites, or Latinos. However, the study doesn’t tell us how many were unarmed.)

This fist-shaking of everyone’s racial agenda distracts America from the larger issue that the targets of police overreaction are based less on skin color and more on an even worse Ebola-level affliction: being poor. Of course, to many in America, being a person of color is synonymous with being poor, and being poor is synonymous with being a criminal. Ironically, this misperception is true even among the poor.

And that’s how the status quo wants it.

The U.S. Census Report finds that 50 million Americans are poor. Fifty million voters is a powerful block if they ever organized in an effort to pursue their common economic goals. So, it’s crucial that those in the wealthiest One Percent keep the poor fractured by distracting them with emotional issues like immigration, abortion and gun control so they never stop to wonder how they got so screwed over for so long.

One way to keep these 50 million fractured is through disinformation. PunditFact’s recent scorecard on network news concluded that at Fox and Fox News Channel, 60 percent of claims are false. At NBC and MSNBC, 46 percent of claims were deemed false. That’s the “news,” folks! During the Ferguson riots, Fox News ran a black and white photo of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., with the bold caption: “Forgetting MLK’s Message/Protestors in Missouri Turn to Violence.” Did they run such a caption when either Presidents Bush invaded Iraq: “Forgetting Jesus Christ’s Message/U.S. Forgets to Turn Cheek and Kills Thousands”?

How can viewers make reasonable choices in a democracy if their sources of information are corrupted? They can’t, which is exactly how the One Percent controls the fate of the Ninety-Nine Percent.

Worse, certain politicians and entrepreneurs conspire to keep the poor just as they are. On his HBO comedic news show Last Week Tonight, John Oliver ran an expose of the payday loan business and those who so callously exploit the desperation of the poor. How does an industry that extorts up to 1,900 percent interest on loans get away with it? In Texas, State Rep. Gary Elkins blocked a regulatory bill, despite the fact that he owns a chain of payday loan stores. And the politician who kept badgering Elkins about his conflict of interest, Rep. Vicki Truitt, became a lobbyist for ACE Cash Express just 17 days after leaving office. In essence, Oliver showed how the poor are lured into such a loan, only to be unable to pay it back and having to secure yet another loan. The cycle shall be unbroken.

Dystopian books and movies like Snowpiercer, The Giver, Divergent, Hunger Games, and Elysium have been the rage for the past few years. Not just because they express teen frustration at authority figures. That would explain some of the popularity among younger audiences, but not among twentysomethings and even older adults. The real reason we flock to see Donald Sutherland’s porcelain portrayal in Hunger Games of a cold, ruthless president of the U.S. dedicated to preserving the rich while grinding his heel into the necks of the poor is that it rings true in a society in which the One Percent gets richer while our middle class is collapsing.

That’s not hyperbole; statistics prove this to be true. According to a 2012 Pew Research Center report, just half of U.S. households are middle-income, a drop of 11 percent since the 1970s; median middle-class income has dropped by 5 percent in the last ten years, total wealth is down 28 percent. Fewer people (just 23 percent) think they will have enough money to retire. Most damning of all: fewer Americans than ever believe in the American Dream mantra that hard work will get them ahead.

Rather than uniting to face the real foe—do-nothing politicians, legislators, and others in power—we fall into the trap of turning against each other, expending our energy battling our allies instead of our enemies. This isn’t just inclusive of race and political parties, it’s also about gender. In her book Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution, Laurie Penny suggests that the decreased career opportunities for young men in society makes them feel less valuable to females; as a result they deflect their rage from those who caused the problem to those who also suffer the consequences: females.

Yes, I’m aware that it is unfair to paint the wealthiest with such broad strokes. There are a number of super-rich people who are also super-supportive of their community. Humbled by their own success, they reach out to help others. But that’s not the case with the multitude of millionaires and billionaires who lobby to reduce Food Stamps, give no relief to the burden of student debt on our young, and kill extensions of unemployment benefits.

With each of these shootings/chokehold deaths/stand-your-ground atrocities, police and the judicial system are seen as enforcers of an unjust status quo. Our anger rises, and riots demanding justice ensue. The news channels interview everyone and pundits assign blame.

Then what?

I’m not saying the protests in Ferguson aren’t justified—they are. In fact, we need more protests across the country. Where’s our Kent State? What will it take to mobilize 4 million students in peaceful protest? Because that’s what it will take to evoke actual change. The middle class has to join the poor and whites have to join African-Americans in mass demonstrations, in ousting corrupt politicians, in boycotting exploitative businesses, in passing legislation that promotes economic equality and opportunity, and in punishing those who gamble with our financial future.

Otherwise, all we’re going to get is what we got out of Ferguson: a bunch of politicians and celebrities expressing sympathy and outrage. If we don’t have a specific agenda—a list of exactly what we want to change and how—we will be gathering over and over again beside the dead bodies of our murdered children, parents, and neighbors.

I hope John Steinbeck is proven right when he wrote in Grapes of Wrath, “Repression works only to strengthen and knit the oppressed.” But I’m more inclined to echo Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues,” written the year after the Kent State/Jackson State shootings:

Inflation no chance

To increase finance

Bills pile up sky high

Send that boy off to die

Make me wanna holler

The way they do my life

Make me wanna holler

The way they do my life

TIME Music

J. Cole Responds to Michael Brown Shooting With an Emotional New Song

WGCI Summer Jam 2014
Rapper J. Cole performs at the United Center during the "WGCI-FM Summer Jam 2014" on June 22, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. Raymond Boyd—Getty Images

"All we wanna do is break the chains off / All we wanna do is be free"

Rapper J. Cole released a new track with a somber tone today, sharing his reactions to the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

“That coulda been me, easily. It could have been my best friend,” he wrote in a blog post. “I’m tired of being desensitized to the murder of black men. I don’t give a f–k if it’s by police or peers. This s–t is not normal.”

Cole’s sentiment comes through on his new tribute to Brown, titled “Be Free.” He sounds like he’s on the verge of tears as he sings over a simple, grave piano loop. “And now I’m in denial,” the song begins. “And it don’t take no X-ray to see through my smile.” Later in the track, he repeats the following lyrics: “All we wanna do is break the chains off / All we wanna do is be free.”

It’s one of Cole’s rawest, most emotional recordings to date. Listen here:

 

TIME Pictures of the Week

Pictures of the Week: Aug. 8 – Aug. 15

From the tragic death of Robin Williams and violent riots in Ferguson, Mo. to a balloon festival in Bristol and a dog show in Helsinki, TIME presents the best pictures of the week.

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