Here’s something I do know: one extraordinarily bad way to stand with Ferguson is to show up there, strive to ratchet up tensions with police, tangle with local black leadersabout tactics, and insist that the problem at hand is everything everywhere rather than this thing here.
In another video, Johnson leads a chant against "the whole damn system." Take that! In Ferguson, of course, the outrage is a little more specific: the cops killed Michael Brown and then responded to overwhelmingly peaceful protests with oppressive restrictions and absurd firepower. If you want to be in solidarity with people, protest what they’re protesting. And defer to local leaders, don’t fight with them! They might not be full-time revolutionary agitators, but they probably know a thing or two about Ferguson, its people, and their needs.
Maybe you’d stress instead than an outraged, scared, tear-gassed kid throwing a burning bottle at a massive armored vehicle is by definition an awful criminal who’s looking for whatever trouble he finds. Fine.
Looting, stealing, fighting back: not good things. Also not the point. As Al Jazeera America puts it, stay with the story: Michael Brown, a young black man, was killed by a cop. He was unarmed. More than a week later, protests—largely peaceful protests—continue, and police continue to act as though they don’t value these protesters’ rights or well-being much more than they valued Brown’s.
But their lives do matter; their bodies do have worth. (That’ll preach this Sunday.) If you believe this, then doing what Joey Johnson did—showing up to agitate, escalate, tell local leaders what’s up, and generally exploit the situation—is a singularly crummy way to help out. But sitting back and wringing our hands about calm and cooler heads and blame-to-go-around isn’t a whole lot better. Solidarity may be complex, but it has to at least to include refusing to distract or be distracted from the injustices that got Ferguson’s people out in the streets in the first place.