Sophisticated network, social media drive Ferguson protests

The spreading national campaigns against law enforcement that began following the shooting in Ferguson, Mo., of a black man by a police officer and grew as grand juries declined to indict that cop and an NYPD officer accused of killing a New York man with a banned chokehold are coordinated by a sophisticated network of groups.

Protests around the country, which have been mostly peaceful but sometimes violent, have been whipped up by a well-oiled campaign machine propelling the civil unrest to critical heights. Enlisting advice from the members of the Occupy Wall Street movement, a coalition of groups including “Ferguson National Response Network,” “Ferguson Action,” and “Hands Up United” have taken to the Internet, sweeping the nation with a remarkable grassroots coordination effort.

One arm of the provocation network recently began calling itself “Ferguson Action” after the original name, “Ferguson October,” no longer fit the bill.

“Ferguson National Response Network” is an affiliate effort that has taken to the social media platform Tumblr. Armed with provocative hashtags, the group is promoting nationwide “Hands Up Walkouts,” encouraging activists to leave schools, government, and offices for demonstrations to memorialize the time of Michael Brown’s shooting. This planned disruption follows last week’s “Blackout Black Friday” campaign, an attack felt by struggling businesses across the country.

Adding fuel to the fire, Al Sharpton and his embattled non-profit National Action Network hosted “Hands Up For Justice” rallies at 32 courthouses in 18 states upon indictment news. Last week, the group held an “Action Rally” at its national headquarters in New York. Sharpton returned to Ferguson on Sunday to headline more planned demonstrations.

The Ferguson coalition websites allow visitors to find and register local protests, download a permission-slip style “Jail Support Form,” even donate to a legal defense fund for jailed “political protesters.”

Ferguson Action’s media arm, “Hands Up United,” bills itself as a youth-led movement that seeks to dismantle the New Jim Crow.”  The Hands Up United website offers an interactive “Police Murder Map,” displaying locations and details of incidents involving shootings by police officers. This affiliate appears responsible for issuing press releases, soliciting donations, and stating public demands.

Hands Up United’s list of 11 demands includes immediate release of jailed protesters, identification and suspension of officers accused of using excessive force, and a demand that President Obama visit aggrieved Ferguson citizens.

For months following the August shooting of Michael Brown by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, the group formerly known as “Ferguson October” has sent out text message alerts regarding nearby protests and upcoming civil disobedience training sessions. The effort also includes robo-calls with convenient event addresses and start times.

Responsible for marketing October’s “Weekend of Resistance,” Ferguson Action pushed out calls to protest at several high-profile locations including a WalMart in nearby Bridgeton, the upscale shopping center Plaza Frontenac in St. Louis, a St. Louis Rams Game against the San Francisco 49ers, and St. Louis City Hall.

One message marketed a workshop teaching protesters how to live stream incidents from their mobile devices and provide medical care should the need arise. Ferguson Action’s online resources also include instructions for dealing with blunt trauma, pepper spray, and open wounds.

The Ferguson coalition encourages protesters to write a “jail support” phone number on their bodies and bring shatterproof goggles and medical supplies along for demonstrations. The website even offers a protester handbook for dealing with - now get this - chemical weapon exposure.