Ferguson's rallying cry has been brought to the upper echelons of politics — on Monday, four Congress members did the "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" gesture on the House floor, in a moving act of solidarity with Ferguson protestors. The lawmakers, New York Reps. Hakeem Jeffries and Yvette Clarke, and Texas Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee and Al Green, are in the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC).
The raising of hands above the head has typically signaled an act of surrender, but since Michael Brown's death at the hands of now-former Officer Darren Wilson in early August — and Wilson's subsequent controversial acquittal by a grand jury which sparked furious protests across the country — the gesture has come to symbolize much more. The fatal shooting of an unarmed, black boy by a white police officer reignited heated nationwide debates on racism and police brutality.
Speaking at the House floor, Rep. Jeffries said:
'Hands up; don't shoot' is a rallying cry of people all across America who are fed up with police violence. People are fed up all across America because of the injustice involved in continuing to see young, unarmed African-American men killed as a result of a gunshot fired by a law enforcement officer...This is a problem that Congress can't run away from.
The "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" gesture has been used in Ferguson protests in major U.S. cities. On Sunday, the some members of the NFL team St. Louis Rams marched onto the field with their hands raised high in a show of support for Ferguson protestors — but much to the ire of St. Louis police, who were angered by the players' refusal to apologize and for choosing to "ignore the mountains of evidence released from the St. Louis County Grand Jury" in the wake of Wilson's acquittal. The NFL, dodging public outrage, has decided not to discipline the players for the gesture.
The St. Louis Police Officers' Association issued a strong rebuke of the action in a statement:
The gesture has become synonymous with assertions that Michael Brown was innocent of any wrongdoing and attempting to surrender peacefully when Wilson, according to some now-discredited witnesses, gunned him down in cold blood.
Witnesses' accounts of Brown's shooting differ, and according to the prosecutor of the case, Robert McCullough, the inconsistencies played a big role in the grand jury's decision.
Other members of the CBC reiterated Jefferies' statement. Rep. Maricia Fudge of Ohio said:
If we are to learn anything from the tragic death of Michael Brown, we must first acknowledge that we have a race issue we are not addressing.
Characteristic of the divide in American society over the grand jury decision, the Congress members did not have everyone's support. MSNBC's Morning Joe host, Joe Scarborough, strongly criticized both the NFL players and the CBC members for the gesture. In a long, fervent rant, Scarborough said:
The St. Louis Rams think it’s cool for them to suggest that St. Louis cops shoot young black men who had their hands up in the air, when we know that that was a lie? It’s a lie! And what was that gesture on Capitol Hill? More people like going, ‘it doesn’t matter whether it’s the truth or not, I’m going to suggest cops shoot people with their hands up in the air.’ What is wrong with this country? What is wrong with these people? What is wrong with these elected officials? They know it’s a lie! They know the cops didn’t shoot him with his hands in the air! They know it’s a lie and they are doing this on the Capitol floor? Unbelievable.