The Signs & Symbols of a Ferguson Folk Saint

When disregarding evidence is required to perpetuate radical myths.

lpThe August 9, 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO by Officer Darren Wilson was the origin of a national myth. Myths are sacred stories that serve to explain the world view of a people. They often originate as distorted accounts of real historical events that storytellers repeatedly elaborate on until the primary figure in the account achieves the status of a saint or a god. A culture's myths provide a sense of identity, shared lifestyle, affirm beliefs and values and are expressed in symbols and rituals. A national myth is a fictional narrative that omits important historical details, or adds details where there is no evidence, but is held as true due to its symbolic meaning for the nation. Michael Brown has become the symbol of racism, police brutality and social injustice. Evidence is irrelevant because myths are symbolic not literal truths.

Disregarding forensic evidence and a grand jury decision is necessary and required to perpetuate the national myth of institutionalized racism, oppression and inequality. The mythology functions as a method to demonize police, inculcate fear, justify violence, promote vengeance and achieve political agendas. The death of Michael Brown has been formatted and packaged by the mainstream media that serve as an outlet for state-sponsored propaganda. Correspondents use selective and biased reporting to propagate the national mythology. However, protest signs, graffiti, hand signs, flags, masks and other symbols in Ferguson reveal a different alternative narrative.

Highly publicized slogans written on protest signs and in graffiti such as RIP Mike Brown, No Justice No Peace, Black Lives Matter and many more supported the narrative of the peaceful protester airing legitimate grievances. Although the media was more than happy to incessantly write negative stories on the so called militarization of the police most neglected to include images of graffiti and signs that read ‘The only good cop is a dead cop’, No more pigs in our community, Kill Cops, Fuck The Police, Die Pig Die and wanted posters with pictures of Officer Darren Wilson that read wanted for racist murder. Wanted Dead or Alive was on the Facebook page of a lead advisor and liaison for the New Black Panther Party.

Vandalism of St. Louis landmarks were reported primarily because the graffiti was inspired by the recently released film the Hunger Games. 'If we burn, you burn with us' was spray painted on the 1897 arch known as the Flora Place Gates. Written one day prior to the grand jury decision it was a reference to a quote from the popular film in which the oppressive government is overthrown by heroic rebels. The full quote is “You can torture us and bomb us and burn our districts to the ground, but do you see that? Fire is catching! And if we burn, you burn with us!” Unsurprisingly almost all of the news accounts neglected to report the letters FTP written next to the quote, FTP stands for Fuck the Police. The 150 reportedly peaceful protesters were members of the group Anarcho-Communist Solidarity Alliance who proudly took credit for desecrating the arch. They also defaced a 100 year old statue known as ‘Naked Truth’ by painting FTP on the front. The statue was a memorial to three civil rights heroes.

The quintessential symbol of the Ferguson incident is ‘Hands Up, Don’t Shoot’ which is both a hand sign and a symbol. It has become the protest meme for Ferguson and has been extremely effective in perpetuating the national myth that Michael Brown had his arms up surrendering when he was shot by Officer Wilson. This lie was essential to the legend that transformed Michael Brown from a felon to a folk saint. Hands Up, Don’t Shoot is the emblem of black victimhood and racist cops. Everyone from small children to the elderly, from Rams football players to members of congress have raised their arms making the gesture to demonstrate their solidarity with Michael Brown and the protesters in Ferguson. The gesture has become a rallying cry for this new anti-police movement. It will soon escalate to a sacred ritual practice in the veneration of the new saint Michael Brown.

Similar to the Muslim Brotherhood R4BIA sign the new symbol allegedly originated with a story of martyrs gunned down by authorities. The phrase Hands Up, Don’t Shoot is often written on protest signs and graffiti with two hand prints or simply depicted as two handprints symbolizing the expression. Handprints used to have such lovely connotations such as children’s first finger paintings and signs of ancient civilizations on rock art, now they symbolize the national myth of Mike Brown’s martyrdom.

Michael Brown was familiar with hand signs. Several images from his social media accounts show him wearing red and throwing hand signs that demonstrate allegiance to the Bloods street gang. It was reported that his stepfather Louis Head, who urged protesters to Burn this bitch down on the evening of riots, looting and arson, has a documented affiliation with the notorious Bloods street gang. Although gangbangers don’t flaunt their colors in public as much as they used to, colors and other identifiers are displayed at gang functions and funerals. This may explain why Louis Head and Michael Browns mother Lesley McSpadden both wore red to his funeral. A family of gangbangers does not fit into the national myth of an innocent unarmed black youth being shot down by a white racist police officer.

Flags also frequently appeared during the Ferguson protests, everything from Pan African to Palestinian flags were displayed. Communist flags were also flaunted. It was a regular Anti-American, Anti-capitalist, multicultural, anarchist, victimhood hootenanny. There were American flags but they were routinely desecrated, burned in effigy and frequently flown upside down. Displaying an American flag upside down is an official distress signal that should only be used in instances of extreme danger to life or property. The protesters fly it upside down to signify political distress. On one occasion a group of National Guardsmen who understand the sanctity of the American flag walked into the crowd of protesters to collect the remains of one of the burned flags. According to an article in the Blaze a protester couldn’t comprehend why they cared so much about the flag since it was just a piece of cloth. That symbolizes the real national problem.

Another prevalent symbol in the Ferguson protests were Guy Fawkes masks. These masks which depict a white face with an over-sized smile, red cheeks, a wide moustache upturned at both ends, and a thin vertical pointed beard originally referred to Guy Fawkes, a member of the Gunpowder Plot, an attempt to blow up the House of Lords in London in 1605. After the stylized version of the mask was used in the 2006 film V for Vendetta it has come to represent anarchists in general and has been visible in anti-government and anti-establishment protests around the world including the Occupy Movement. Often during pro-Palestinian protests a keffiyeh scarf will be wrapped around the mask. The mask is also the symbol for the online hacktivist group Anonymous who were very involved in Ferguson by organizing protests through their online Operation Ferguson. Anonymous was also responsible for several cyber-attacks including hacking into the City of Ferguson’s website shutting down email and phones, and releasing personal information on almost all city employees as vengeance for perceived attacks against protesters. They also hacked into Ku Klux Klan social media accounts and published the names of Klan members because they threatened protesters with the use of lethal force.

Fortunately there are anti-mask laws that are currently enforced in cities like New York. Ironically the origin of anti-mask laws was to prevent the KKK from concealing their identities. Many protesters were also wearing gas masks which serve two functions; to hide their identity and protect against fumes so they can continue to burn and loot without interruption. Gas masks which used to symbolize danger, war and environmental pollution have also been adopted by the Occupy Movement as a symbol of defiance and fortitude. But the real reason is to prevent facial recognition of the cowards who hide behind them.

A national myth is incomplete without sacred shrines and memorials to the martyred saint. A road side shrine with flowers and candles immediately appeared on the spot where the shooting occurred, others soon followed. In keeping with the racial injustice myth there were allegations that a police dog urinated on one memorial and that the police burned down one of the others. The proximity of candles to stuffed animals was not taken into consideration since it did not contribute to the racist cop narrative as much as the alleged desecration of sacred shrines. There have also been several murals painted in homage to Mike Brown. A Trenton, N.J. mural that depicted Brown’s face with the caption “Sagging pants … is not probable cause” was painted over due to concerns that it sent the wrong message about community and police relations and is now a civil rights controversy in that city.

The Ferguson mural has Mike Brown’s name, portrait, the letters RIP, stop the violence and Hands Up. Murals signify street shrines and are the final phase in the canonization of the Folk Saint. Future protesters will make annual pilgrimages to reenact the death of their martyr. Many protesters are already performing rituals referred to as ‘die in’ protests where they lay on the ground with chalk outlines to represent a mock crime scene, posing as individuals shot by police. Rituals, shrines and roadside memorials are the necessary symbolic attributes for the evolution of a folk saint. Like the Mexican Narco Saint Jesus Malverde Mike Brown has become the patron saint of the disenfranchised, racially oppressed and impoverished. The legend of Malverde has many similarities, he is depicted as a generous bandit who stole from the rich to give to the poor and was killed by local police. Michael Brown was transformed from a street thug into a Folk Saint to propagate the national myth of institutionalized racism.

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