Dear General Growth Properties & St Louis Galleria: Stop Harassing Customers

Good afternoon,

I’m writing to you as I have been witnessing (via Twitter) the mistreatment of two customers in one of your properties today. Specifically, these two people (users @deray and @nettaaaaaaaa on Twitter) were targeted specifically (and erroneously) for “photographing store fronts” when in fact they were simply shopping. The fact that these two are local leaders in the Ferguson peaceful protest movement adds suspicion as to why they would be arbitrarily singled out like this.

I understand that the St. Louis Galleria is private property, and thus one does not expect the US Constitution to provide the same latitude there as in a public space. However, I also understand that all Americans should have an expectation to not be harassed in a shopping mall based on things like the color of their skin or their peaceful political activities.

I expect St. Louis Galleria to apologize to them immediately. Since you’re a publicly traded company with several properties across the United States, I can also assure you that I will not be spending my money at any of your other properties (Glendale Galleria is only a short distance from me) until this matter is resolved to my satisfaction. I will also be urging as many people as possible to do the same.

Brian Haigh

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Letter to President Barack Obama: Protect Peaceful Protesters in Ferguson, MO

Dear President Obama,

I’m writing to you because of what is happening right now in St. Louis. This morning (on November 26, 2014), a group protesting peacefully on public property was broken up with pepper spray and arrests, for no reason other than expressing their constitutionally guaranteed right to speak out. Leaders of this group are also being targeted by police simply for trying to organize for change in their community.

I will be honest, your speeches on the unrest gripping this country have been lacklustre, and I fear only serve to embolden those now using force to quell dissent. Make no mistake, this is not about maintaining law and order, this is about allowing citizens of this country to protest peacefully against injustice and inequality.

I implore on you to use the power of your office, and that of the Department of Justice, to act decisively to allow the peaceful, well-organized protesters in Ferguson and elsewhere to continue their work. Since you’ve been elected, I’ve watched a lot of people in the upper echelons of American society get a free pass to commit fraud and embezzlement on the American people, while those fighting for racial and economic justice at the bottom of the scale have been subjected to aggressive intimidation and the full force of the state against them.

Knowing what I do about your own story, I have to believe this does not sit well with you. This is a pivotal moment in the American story, and I sincerely, deeply, hope that you will step up to the occasion and act decisively on the side of people fighting for a better, more just America.

Open Letter to Public Officials in Ferguson, St. Louis, the State of Missouri, and Washington, DC

I have been closely following the events in Ferguson since the shooting of Mike Brown back in August. Instead of holding a fair and transparent investigation, the St. Louis and Ferguson authorities have attempted to stifle opposition (as evidenced by the initial, heavy-handed, militarized police response to legitimate protests) and they have kept the public in the dark about what happened. The only information we have about the shooting comes from eyewitness reports, and from very selective leaks of information from the authorities (most of which charitably can be described as intended to smear the name of a dead boy).

The reason I am writing now is that with the grand jury decision approaching, I am seeing a campaign of intimidation ramping up, from the public displays of military-type vehicles being transported around St. Louis, to the media reports instilling fear over the expected non-indictment of Darren Wilson. On social media, I have seen increasing levels of violent rhetoric from supporters of Darren Wilson, and I am deeply concerned that there are factions in the law enforcement community that are welcoming a chance to “pay back” protesters for “daring” to speak out against them.

As someone who moved to the United States and became a naturalized citizen nine years ago, I’ve always admired this country’s ideal of free speech and free assembly, guaranteed in its own constitution. The constitution isn’t worth the paper it was written on if those ideals are not upheld by the people elected to follow them. It’s not a question of jurisdiction. It’s a question of human rights, and it needs to be addressed from all levels of government.

Mike Brown is only one of many black men who have been kiled by police with no public accounting for what lead to his death. The fact that the state is willing to use its power to intimidate, obfuscate, and threaten is deeply disturbing.

I implore you, from the bottom of my heart, to use the power of your office to try to defuse the situation in Ferguson, to speak out against the culture of fear and hate surrounding this issue, and to chart a new course of action. Our governments should not be using their strength to stifle dissent and to protect inequality. If you believe in the notion of public duty that brought you into politics, this is a moment to put that belief into action.

Brian Haigh

Letter to Missouri Governor Jay Nixon

Dear Governor,

I am writing not as a resident of Missouri, but as a citizen of the United States. I have been following the events unfolding in and around Ferguson these past few months, and I am appalled.

A democracy only works when it has the support and the confidence of all it serves. By moving the Michael Brown investigation into a secret grand jury, then only leaking out selective news bites to serve a particular narrative, you are undermining your own state’s justice system. You are turning one of the cornerstones of American democracy into a system of crowd control, and it disgusts me as an American citizen to witness.

You have one chance left to change course. Instead of following institutional special interests, follow the good of the people you lead. Enough with the grand jury and trying to hide truth in darkness. If you believe in your own country and the strength of its institutions, end the grand jury and let this case go to trial. Let the facts come out in an open forum, and let justice be served for all.

Ferguson, your state, and this country deserve better than the leadership you are showing now. I sincerely hope you are capable of something more.

Brian Haigh