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More Anger, Action At Ferguson Commission Meeting

By David Hunn, St. Louis Post-Dispatch (TNS)

ST. LOUIS — Anger again overtook the Ferguson Commission, in its second meeting Monday night, with residents and protesters packing aisles of a school gymnasium and shouting down speakers.

“We’re tired of the bull crap!” yelled Anthony Levine, 46, from Florissant.

At its peak, attendance swelled to about 250, with protesters filling aisles, sides and the back of the gym at Mullanphy School in the city’s Shaw neighborhood – across the street from the memorial to VonDerritt Myers Jr., who was shot and killed this summer by a St. Louis police officer.

The meeting got off to a smooth start. The governor-appointed commissioners restructured the agenda this time, starting with a half-hour meet-and-greet, and then a half-hour of public testimony. Speakers were punctual and respectful.

But after about an hour, the commission asked St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson to the microphone. Boos rang out from the crowd almost instantly.

Dotson tried to give a prepared speech. But the room began to fill with protesters and residents frustrated with official responses to the recent string of police shootings. And they wouldn’t let Dotson talk.

“Man, your two minutes are up,” one yelled. “Get off the mic.”

At the same time, residents in attendance got frustrated with the outbursts.

“Well, technically this meeting is over,” said Acme Price, 82, a University City resident and a former Mullanphy School principal.

Price had been worried about outbursts. “If they’re going to create a success, the commission needs to be thrown out of these buildings,” he said earlier Monday. “They need to get a travel bus, like they’re going on vacation, and ring doorbells.”

One commissioner, local attorney Gabriel Gore, said he watched acquaintances leave, as the shouting continued.

Still, he said, it was only a handful of speakers talking over everyone. The rest of the meeting progressed about as it should, he said. And the next one, he predicted, would be even better.

Nixon announced the commission in October and its members in November. He asked them to address the “social and economic conditions” highlighted by months of protests surrounding the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was black, by Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson, who is white.

Nixon said the group would have three goals: to study the underlying causes of the unrest, to tap into expertise needed to address those concerns, and to make specific recommendations for “making the St. Louis region a stronger, fairer place for everyone to live.”

The commission opened its first meeting Dec. 1 inside a half-full gymnasium at the new community center in Ferguson. Fourteen of the 16 commissioners attended. The meeting was scheduled for five hours. But after three, some in the audience got frustrated that they hadn’t yet been given time to speak. Several jumped up to voice their opinions.

Monday’s meeting was even larger, perhaps double the attendance of the week prior. More gathered in the aisles and sides. More yelled.

Still, the commission also got more of the hard work done. After at least 50 residents and protesters left, mid-meeting, the commissioners broke the remaining 150 or so into three groups, where they hammered out common ground concerning police, use-of-force, racial-profiling and community relations, among other topics. That was the good, hard work, commissioners said.

“Citizens were talking to each other,” said co-chairman Rich McClure, after the meeting. “They were giving great feedback.

“I understand what leads,” he continued. “But that was an incredible time. Don’t lose that.”

As the meeting closed, co-chairman Starsky Wilson asked for 30 seconds of silence.

By then, the protesters had largely left. Residents were listening.

And the gymnasium at Mullanphy went silent, with hardly a cough, barely a murmur, for the first time that night.

The next meeting will be at 5 p.m. next Monday.

It will tackle predatory municipal court practices. The commission is seeking residents who have been victims themselves to speak at the meeting.

AFP Photo/Mladen Antonov

Ferguson Commission Has First Meeting

By David Hunn, St. Louis Post-Dispatch (TNS)

FERGUSON, Mo. — The Ferguson Commission had planned a methodical first meeting here on Monday: Introductions. Ground rules. Goals.

But midway through hour four, some of the residents watching had heard enough.

After three hours of deliberate, sensitive discussions, several residents interrupted the meeting, shouting down commissioners, sobbing and arguing that the commission didn’t represent the community, wasn’t there to help them and discourteously made them wait to speak.

“We’re hurting!” said Dell Taylor. “You’re killing our babies. You’re disrespecting us as people. We’re tired.”

“I understand,” said commission co-chairman Starsky Wilson. “I’m hurting too, sweetheart.”

But his empathy did little to quell the anger.

The outburst lasted at least a half hour and threw a wrench in the works of the meeting’s careful progression. Several got up and spoke, yelling from their seats, walking to the front or stepping into an aisle. They accused the commission of representing politicians who didn’t care about Ferguson, of having degrees and titles but no experience on the streets, and, more than anything, of too much talk and not enough action.

By 4 p.m., two Missouri Highway Patrol officers stepped through the back door to watch. Several other officers waited at a side door.

Eventually, Wilson and co-chairman Rich McClure regained control, and by 4:15, the facilitators were passing out keypads for multiple choice question-and-answers to help the commission set priorities — even as residents continued to line up in the center aisle, hoping to speak.

It was a bumpy start to Gov. Jay Nixon’s Ferguson Commission, a body many hope will turn tragedy into reform.

Nixon announced the commission in October and its members in November. He asked them to address the “social and economic conditions” highlighted by months of protests surrounding the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was black, by Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson, who is white.

Nixon said the group would have three goals: to study the underlying causes of the unrest, to tap into expertise needed to address those concerns, and to make specific recommendations for “making the St. Louis region a stronger, fairer place for everyone to live.”

The commission opened its first meeting just after noon Monday inside a half-full gymnasium at the new community center here. Fourteen of the 16 commissioners attended. The other two, protest leader Rasheen Aldridge and local Teach For America director Brittany Packnett, were at the White House, Wilson told the crowd of 75 or so.

The eyes of the region are upon us, Wilson said. He asked the room to hold to a few ground rules: maintain an open mind. Ask questions and encourage others to share insights. Respect all views and opinions as valid.

“We also ask that you hold us accountable” for the work ahead, Wilson told the audience. “Because it will take all of us.”

McClure asked the community to hold a “truthful conversation” about systemic racism, persistent poverty and community policing. “We can’t expect others to change if we remain the same,” he said.

The meeting then plodded through an hour or two of nuts-and-bolts:

A representative from the Missouri attorney general’s office discussed the commission’s duties of transparency under the state’s Sunshine Law, which requires meetings to be posted in advance and to be held publicly, and records to be publicly releasable.

Commissioners introduced themselves and their hopes — some giving rousing speeches, others choking up.

“For many years there have been things we just don’t say in public,” said Dan Isom, former St. Louis Police chief and current state public safety director. “We only speak of these things in private, with people we know and are comfortable. … There’s an opportunity to say what you feel right now.”

“Cops can be a cynical bunch,” said city police Sgt. Kevin Ahlbrand. “I look forward to frank discussion.”

“I’m here because it’s personal,” said the Rev. Traci Blackmon. “I’m here because I have two black sons. I have a black daughter. I listen well.”

The group spent perhaps an hour prioritizing goals, putting stickers on walls, and talking about their feelings. There were, at times, long moments of silence.

Then, a little after 3:30 p.m., a man in the front interrupted. “This is a bunch of bull!” he yelled. “It always has been.”

“Where were you,” asked another, when South Florissant Avenue was burning?

“We’re honored that you all have credentials,” said one woman. “But you do not reflect the community.”

The commission dumped the rest of its agenda. It asked residents and protesters to line up in the center aisle. It gave everyone a chance to talk.

The last speaker took the microphone at 6:20 p.m., well more than an hour after the scheduled end.

Soon after, co-chairman Wilson addressed the crowd with a wry smile.

“You will see us mess up again,” he said. “You’ll see us try to make it right again. But you’ll see our best efforts every time.”

And then he prayed for faith, he said, to make something out of chaos.

AFP Photo/Scott Olson

How Hackers Wreaked Havoc In St. Louis After Brown’s Shooting

By David Hunn, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

FERGUSON, Mo. — The first call came on a Thursday, 12 days after Michael Brown was shot. Patti Knowles and her granddaughter were watching “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.”

The caller warned that the collective of computer hackers and activists known as Anonymous had posted data online — her address and phone number and her husband James’ date of birth and Social Security number.

Anonymous had been targeting Ferguson and police officials for days. But this seemed to be an error. Patti and James weren’t city leaders, they were the parents of one — Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III.

Within hours, identity thieves had opened a credit application — the first of many — using the leaked data.

The second call came on a Friday, nearly two months later. This time, it was their bank.

Someone, posing as James, the mayor’s father, had called in and changed passwords, addresses and emails. Then the individual sent $16,000 in bank checks to an address in Chicago.

The name on the address?

Jon Belmar. Same as the chief of the St. Louis County police.

Knowles figured Anonymous was either aiming to frame them both — or was just being mischievous. Belmar, who has been targeted previously, refused to discuss the issue with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. His wife had spent hours every day for weeks dealing with fraud and identity theft.

Anonymous denied responsibility for sending the checks.

“Pfffttt. No. Sounds like corruption if you ask me,” an organizer for Anonymous’ Operation Ferguson, who wouldn’t give his or her name, said in an email to the newspaper.

But Anonymous openly claims credit for the first set of actions: Scouring the Internet for personal and private financial information on hundreds if not thousands of police officers, mayors, judges and officials, in governments big and small, worldwide.

Two years ago, a hacker affiliated with Anonymous claimed he published the personal information of former CIA chief and four-star U.S. Army General David Petraeus and his wife, Holly.

In March, Anonymous targeted Albuquerque, N.M., after the fatal police shooting of a homeless man. Hackers went after the mayor, police chief and multiple officers.

“I think we’re just seeing the tremors of what can happen,” said Peter Ambs, Albuquerque’s chief information officer. “Nobody is immune. It’s not a matter of if, but when. … How much money are we going to have to spend on hardening our systems, monitoring them to the point of locking them down so they have no value to anybody?”

Here, Anonymous operatives have outed at least 18 police officers, officials and residents over the past three months.

It started in the first days after Brown’s death.

Just after 5 p.m. on Aug. 9, rapper and local activist Kareem Jackson, known as Tef Poe, sent out a call for help: “Basically martial law is taking place in Ferguson all perimeters blocked coming and going,” he wrote on Twitter. “National and international friends Help!!!”

Jackson didn’t return a call seeking comment. Jackson’s attorney, James Wyrsch, denied that the intent of the tweet was to request the involvement of Anonymous.

Still, Anonymous responded to Jackson within hours, and, by the next day, had created the Twitter account OpFerguson, plus a warning on YouTube:

“We are watching you very closely. If you abuse, harass or harm in any way the protesters in Ferguson we will take every Web-based asset of your departments and governments offline,” Anonymous’ idiosyncratic electronic voice hummed. “That is not a threat. It is a promise.”

Anonymous said it would begin publicly releasing personal information “on every single member of the Ferguson Police Department,” among others.

Then it did.

Early on the morning of Aug. 12, hackers posted county police chief Belmar’s home address and phone number online. They tweeted pictures of him, his house, his wife, his children. “You said our threats were just hollow,” wrote TheAnonMessage. “See, that makes us mad. You shouldn’t challenge us.”

Anonymous isn’t a group with members or a sign-up list. Informal leaders set up operations, chat rooms and often identify targets. Others then jump in.

On Aug. 20, they posted personal data on Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson. On Aug. 22, Col. Ronald Replogle, superintendent of the state highway patrol. On Sept. 18, Gov. Jay Nixon. And on Sept. 20, Steve Stenger, St. Louis County councilman and county executive candidate.

It’s unclear who used the data following the releases. OpFerguson said it didn’t care.

But the consequences are clear.

Jackson said identity thieves used his information to buy a horse in Turkey. Ferguson police Sgt. Harry Dilworth said someone tried to purchase a $37,000 truck in his name. All six Ferguson City Council members have signed up for an identity-theft alert service.

Even those unconnected to Brown have been affected.

Dilworth said one of the officers he supervises, mistakenly outed by Anonymous as Brown’s shooter, ended up moving his family out of state.

The social media pages of St. Ann dispatcher Bryan Willman, also errantly identified as Brown’s killer, were so flooded with death threats, he shut them down. St. Ann police stationed a car outside his house; he didn’t leave for nearly two weeks, Police Chief Aaron Jimenez said.

Jimenez called for more federal scrutiny. “I certainly hope the FBI is going to take this seriously, and make an example out of Anonymous,” he said. “Enough is enough.”

Joe Bindbeutel, chief of the Consumer Protection Division with the Missouri attorney general, said it’s tough to fit such actions into the conventional criminal code and tough to locate the operatives. “The real pros at this are really hard to find,” he said.

The FBI, which has worked with websites to take down Anonymous postings, declined to comment for this story.

Knowles got two calls on Aug. 21. The highway patrol called first. The officer thought Knowles’ personal information was posted online.

Then Knowles’ mother called. She had gotten at least four calls warning of the barrage to come.

Knowles told his father to sign up for LifeLock, a protection service. Before the day was done, the company, which monitors the use of clients’ names and Social Security numbers, had contacted the family with a credit application in his father’s name.

The next day, there were three more. Two, the following day. Then two more. And so on.

The hackers accessed the Knowleses’ bank accounts, changed passwords, emails and home addresses. They changed the Knowleses’ home phone number _ a number they’ve had for 35 years. They set up credit cards, cellphones, home loans.

“Why would somebody do that?” his father asked.

But the $16,000 brought Patti Knowles to tears. The money was pulled from their business accounts — they own a heating and cooling company — and the temporary loss (the bank refunded the cash) led to bounced checks, included one to the IRS for business taxes.

The bank declined to say whether the checks were cashed.

The data leaks led to other problems, too. Someone, for instance, broke into a house they owned, tore out some piping and left water pouring into the basement. Knowles’ father found the house in 6 inches of standing water. The basement — two bedrooms, a full bath and family room — had to be gutted.

But the most frustrating moment for Knowles’ father came at the start of October. His wife noticed they hadn’t gotten any recent LifeLock notices.

When he tried to call, the company wouldn’t let him into this own accounts. Someone, it seemed, had broken into LifeLock, too.

“I pay you money to protect my stuff,” Knowles’ father said. “And you get hacked?”

A spokeswoman for LifeLock declined to comment.

Knowles was irritated, calling the Anonymous actions criminal. Still, the mayor seemed to have had largely evaded the same fate.

Until a few days ago.

“Excuse me Mr. Mayor,” OpFerguson tweeted Tuesday, “the communications director wanted me to tell you, “Anonymous just leaked your credit card data.”

Anonymous emailed late Saturday that the tweet was a joke.

For now.

AFP Photo/Joshua Lott

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