On the one year anniversary of Michael Brown's killing, keep in mind that before the militarized response to the Ferguson Protesters occurred, ignorance was weaponized in and around the St. Louis area. Ignorance is a state of being uninformed (lack of knowledge) and is not used here as an insult to anyone. Various police departments and municipal courts used people's ignorance of their rights and how to properly defend those rights in court as weapons against the very people they were sworn to protect and serve.
As the discussions about Michael Brown's death continued, the fact that people were being victimized not only by the police but by the municipal courts began to be reported. After I lost my job and ran into my own legal issues, I was shocked to see how blatant rights were being violated within our local courts. The new municipal court reforms put in place are a good start, but it's just a matter of time before municipalities start implementing new strategies. As time passes, new issues will dominate the headlines and memories of specific details about police and municipal courts will begin to fade. The remedies normally available through the courts are usually too expensive because of the high cost of attorneys, but you don't need an attorney to make the court system work for you.
Policing has changed and the reactions to excessive force by police has changed dramatically. Prior to Mike Brown's killing, police departments almost always stood by the side and defended cops accused of brutal acts and unjustified killing. That has now changed, at least when a video exists. Hopefully, there will come a day when a video is not required to bring justice against rogue cops. I am certain the vast majority of police are decent, honest and hard-working, but there are some that are not and that factor coupled with the blue code of silence wreak havoc on certain communities. Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, responding to comments about a University of Cincinnati Police Officer, during a conversation about with Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd conceded police do protect each other from criticism no matter what, as do other professions.
Americans have short attention spans and memories. Municipalities will most likely start violating rights again using new creative unfamiliar methods and ignorance will once again be weaponized and used against people. Ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking it. However, most people are only vaguely familiar with the law; even lawyers only know a small portion of the law. There is a principle which is sometimes put in the form of a rule of evidence, that everyone is presumed to know the law. That principal is based on the difficulty to prove that a person did, in fact, know the law. Additionally, many people would purposefully not make themselves aware of particular laws to preserve their ignorance. As long as people remain ignorant about their rights and how to invoke and protect them, that ignorance of the law will certainly be taken advantage of and weaponized not only by unscrupulous governments but by predatory businesses and institutions.
Just as slavemasters used ignorance against slaves to exploit them, St. Louis area municipalities have used ignorance of state law, legal procedure and constitutional protections to exploit and oppress people. Many St. Louis municipalities created illegal laws with the sole purpose of creating revenue. Just because an ordinance exists doesn't mean it's valid; ordinances and other laws sometimes get struck down as being void, illegal or unconstitutional. Most municipalities know that many people won't even bother to read or research the law.
You don't need a lawyer to discover what the law says, the law is available for everyone to read. Prior to my job loss, I made a pretty decent salary and could easily afford to pay an attorney to take care of traffic tickets. For example, I paid attorneys as little as $30 to handle traffic violations. Bellefontaine Neighbors has a speed trap on eastbound Lewis & Clark (Hwy 367) just past Hwy 270 overpass, where the speed drops from 55 to 45. There's a sign posted with the reduced speed limit about halfway on the overpass. A truck in the right lane blocked the posted 45mph sign from my view. A traffic cop was positioned just past the overpass and I got caught by that trap. I found an attorney on Craigslist, paid that attorney $30 to have the violation reduced to a moving violation, but I had to pay the City of Bellefontaine a fine of about $200.
However, even a $100 red light ticket fine became a major burden after my steady income was gone. There are a lot of organizations that provide free legal assistance, their resources are limited and they can only help so many people. When my legal issues arose, I could not afford an attorney, and the legal assistance agencies I contacted couldn't help. I was facing the loss of tens of thousands of dollars, so I learned how to effectively defend myself. This site contains valuable free information for you to help yourself and additional information is constantly being added. No one will ever fight as hard for you as you will, don't get caught in the trap of being dependent on someone else to do for you what you can learn to do for yourself. Even if you can currently afford to pay for legal services; keep in mind that may not always be the case. During the very time when I was most vulnerable and need assistance the most was when I could not afford legal services. Fortunately, I was able to research the law for myself, but most people I witnessed in court on their own lost; your ignorance is their power.
Skewed statics, policial, institutional and media spin all contribute to confusing the issues and create or increase ignorance. One of Adolf Hilter's closest advisers, Joseph Goebbels, stated; If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it, and you will even come to believe it yourself. To overcome ignorance, you must first learn to see through the layers of lies to first understand what the actual issues are and then formulate a strategy to overcome them.
Phillip Agnew, with Dream Defenders, gives a near perfect response to the systematic oppression of black people during the PBS program America After Ferguson and exemplifies what can happen when a person is no longer held captive to ignorance.
See the full-length PBS program America After Ferguson, which includes additional statements by Phillip Agnew not shown in the brief clip above. Tim Wise during his lecture on the Legacy of Institutionalized Racism addresses the topic of responsibility brought up in America After Ferguson.