Posted August 20, 2014, 8:39 PM
Dear Fight for the Future member,
For the past several nights I’ve been glued to the Internet watching livestreams and social media coming out of Ferguson, MO. It’s been heartwrenching, but has also reminded me why I care so much about Internet freedom: it allows for free speech and discussion like never before.
I’m sure you’ve seen the videos and photos: cops firing tear gas and concussion grenades into residential neighborhoods, threatening and arresting journalists at gunpoint, and brutally suppressing protesters standing with their hands in the air chanting, “Hands up! Don’t shoot!”
The images are frightening. But even more frightening is the reality that this type of crackdown could become commonplace, thanks to millions of dollars of Federal funding that incentivize police forces to resemble an invading army. It has to stop.
Technology should be used to amplify people’s voices, not silence them. As an organization that advocates for tech in the public interest, we felt we have a real role to play to make this stop.
Right now Congress is considering legislation that would demilitarize local police forces. Click here to tell your lawmakers to cut funding for the weapons of war used to suppress free speech.
I’ve seen this type of behavior from police before – after a quick poll we discovered 50% of the Fight for the Future team has been teargassed at demonstrations at one time or another. But this time the abuse has been so egregious that there have been calls from both left and right demanding to know: just how did it get this way?
The story goes a lot like the story of how we got into this mess with NSA surveillance. Defense contractors working their magic in Washington, DC got the Department of Homeland Security to start offering more than $30 billion in grants to local police departments for all kinds of crowd control “toys.” They received even more weaponry through the 1033 transfer program that put military-grade weapons directly in the hands of local cops.  Defense contractors profit greatly off of this program, which has created a dangerous situation where local police are compelled to use what weapons they have on crowds of people expressing themselves.
The police violence in Ferguson brought this secretive history hurtling into view. Barack Obama and Rand Paul (neither of whom I’m a big fan of) have both made statements suggesting that police should not be silencing voices of dissent and brutalizing journalists with weapons of military occupation.  But talk is cheap. We need action right now.
Despite the enforced media blackout, it’s been relatively easy to get breaking news out of Ferguson thanks to free and uncensored Internet. (Oh, except on Facebook, but that’s another story. ) Through livestreams, twitter, and various blogs, I’ve watched with my own eyes and saw a SWAT officer rip a press badge off of VICE News reporter Tim Pool, saying “this doesn’t mean shit” while separating “credentialed” reporters from citizen journalists.  I watched cops with submachine guns telling journalists to “separate themselves” from protesters and get in their “designated area.” 
Everybody wants to live in safe cities. Nobody likes getting mugged. But if we give our police free reign to buy the latest sub-lethal grenades, chemical weapons or surveillance gadgets the military industrial complex cooks up, it’s only a matter of time before they use them in terrible ways against people like us. If this goes unchecked, the next Ferguson will be a lot worse.
We’ve learned all too well in the last year how dangerous technology can be when it’s used against us rather than for us. Now is our chance to make it clear that no government or corporation should be able to accumulate weapons and technology for the purpose of suppressing free speech and a free press.
It’s going to take a lot more than contacting Congress to dismantle the underlying injustices that have lead to the uprising and repression in Ferguson, but for the first time in a long time, we have a real chance to turn the tide on this issue, and make the world a safer place for when our children stand up to protest the things that they see wrong in the world.
For freedom online and off,
-Evan at Fight for the Future, with love from the whole team
P.S. While #Ferguson has definitely occupied some of my mind lately, it’s mostly just strengthened my resolve to keep fighting for the free and open Internet. It’s going to be a long road to justice, but the Internet gives us a chance. This article says a lot of things about Ferguson and the open Internet that I have been thinking but couldn’t have articulated so well. Very worth a read and a share.
If you’re feeling like you want to do more to support people on the ground in Ferguson speaking out in the face of overwhelming police violence, please donate to the bail fund that’s been set up for protesters there.
SOURCES (there’s a lot this time!)
 Bindrim, Kira. “Tear Gas Used as Protests Erupt in Ferguson, Missouri”. Newsweek. http://www.newsweek.com/another-night-curfew-ferguson-265154
 Crilly, Rob. ”Supporters rally for police officer who shot dead Michael Brown“. Telegraph. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/11040486/Supporters-rally-for-police-officer-who-shot-dead-Michael-Brown.html
 Priest, Dana and William Arkin. “Monitoring America”. Washington Post. http://projects.washingtonpost.com/top-secret-america/articles/monitoring-america/?hpid=topnews
 Mastio, David and Kelsey Rupp. “Pentagon weaponry in St. Louis County: Updated Column”. USA Today. http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2014/08/13/ferguson-police-michael-brown-militarization-column/14006383/
 Paul, Rand. “Rand Paul: We Must Demilitarize the Police”. TIME. http://time.com/3111474/rand-paul-ferguson-police/?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter
 Obama, Barack. “Full Transcript: Obama’s remarks on Ferguson, Mo. and Iraq”. Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/running-transcript-obamas-remarks-on-ferguson-mo-and-iraq/2014/08/18/ed29d07a-2713-11e4-86ca-6f03cbd15c1a_story.html
 Tufekci, Zeynep. “What happens to #Ferguson affects Ferguson” https://medium.com/message/ferguson-is-also-a-net-neutrality-issue-6d2f3db51eb0
 Pool, Tim (Timcast). “Earlier tonight an officer ripped my Press patch from my vest in #Ferguson”. Tweet. https://twitter.com/Timcast/status/501613406248771584
 Harris, Joe (joeharris_stl). “Media being told to stay within designated area. #ferguson”. Tweet. https://twitter.com/joeharris_stl/status/501591311372541952
 Harris, Joe (joeharris_stl). “Police asking all members of the media to please separate themselves. #Ferguson”. Tweet. https://twitter.com/joeharris_stl/status/501575223586852864