FERGUSON, Missouri – “When I first heard about what happened, I felt a wide range of emotion and I thought to myself, ‘No, this can’t be another case of police brutality.’ I really wanted to hold off my judgement until more information was released. You never really know because nowadays everything seems to be half truths.” Those were the initial remarks by Natalie when I talked to her last Saturday. The graduate of St. Louis Christian College was back in town to march with the community she calls home.
She spoke with the Peoples World after she attended a vigil at the Canfield Apartments here and during a march up W. Florissant to St. Mark’s Church. The crowd Natalie had joined was made up of people of all colors, classes and creeds. Their rally and march was not the type of thing that has been heard or seen much on national media.
“But when the police presented no evidence and hid the name of the officer, I knew then and there what the truth was,” Natalie said. “That’s what scares me most. That we will never really find out what happened and that this (the killing of Michael Brown and the militarization of the streets) is becoming a way of life here.”
We took a pause as she surveyed the growing crowd and started listening to the impromptu drum circle that had just started. She turned and continued:
“You know, I really thought it would be more tense out here but it’s not at all. I have seen so many kids out here. I have a one-year-old at home, I was scared to bring him with me, but now I wish I had.”
She grabbed her cell phone to show me a picture she snapped right before our encounter. “You see this little boy,” she said. “I know that some day he could be profiled by police because of his skin color.”
I met Arrieon, from South City, who told me he was here because he figured, “it was the right thing to do. This is about justice for all — not a black versus white deal. It’s about police brutality which affects everyone.”
I spoke with Mark, an organizer with the Communications Workers of America, Local 3566:
“You know, there has always been racial tensions between police and people in African-American neighborhoods,” he said. “I grew up in North County right in between two white communities, one that was predominantly working class and the other middle to upper class. There had always been unspoken uneasiness when it came to police especially when most of the police were white in well-known African-American communities.
“I feel the initial police response was completely overboard. They didn’t even put out any information to calm the community down. They went way too far. You know, I work out of the area for CWA Local 6355 and the members I represent live and work in that area too. They were telling me that they could not do their jobs with how the police were acting. And these were social workers we are talking about, people who couldn’t go out to help make sure families were able to put a meal on the table or help place a foster child in the right home. None of them could leave the office building because police took over the entire parking lot.”
As we shook hands in the church parking lot after the rally he turned back around, looked at me, and said:
“I think that we need to let the legal process run its course. First, get due process and then bring judgment against the officer for his actions. The Ferguson police department also must diversify itself.
“African Americans from the neighborhood need to police the neighborhood. Especially when most officers are white in a 67 percent African American community.
“Then, after all that, economic justice needs to be brought to the community. There are a lot of low-wage jobs, mom and pop stores, and the one big employer being Emerson Electric.
“But I couldn’t tell you how many of those jobs are filled with people from the community. You know, we didn’t just lose a man in Michael Brown. We lost a future entrepreneur who was about to start school to learn a trade in order to build his own business. It was a generational loss. In his business he could have helped bring good jobs to the community.”
As evening set in, I met Rasheen who was carrying a bullhorn and wore a shirt that had “Justice for Michael Brown” emblazoned on it.
“I didn’t really hear about it until Sunday night and when I finally made it down to ground zero I honestly shed a few tears,” Rasheen said. “It was so unjust to shoot a man six times! And then to leave him on the ground for multiple hours with no sheet covering him and blood spilling all over the streets. This isn’t a race issue, this is about the police murdering someone and then we have the police antagonizing people for no reason. I have been out here every day since Monday and during the daytime there are peaceful protests calling for justice. It isn’t until the nighttime, when the TV cameras are gone, that the police push people to the point of rioting and looting. I was with a group of guys that was trying to de-escalate the situation and prevent anymore local businesses from being destroyed.
“You know, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson both came into town because of this. I think that in some ways this is a good thing because they bring with them a lot of media attention.
“But, sometimes outside groups and leaders need to take a step into the background. It just seems like they are here just to be here at this moment for their own private gains.
Right now people here are peaceful, they are demanding justice peacefully and showing love for one another. This is what it has been all the time until the police show up. It’s them – police – who are causing the violence to happen! Not the people in Ferguson.
“I just want justice to be served for the family of Michael Brown and that the officer be placed under arrest and charged with murder.
“I also feel that the African-American community needs a little bit of justice as well. We are the ones that are always suffering at the hands of police brutality and we need that to happen one way or another. That’s what we are all fighting for.”
Saturday, August 16, marked one week since Michael Brown was shot and killed by the police officer, now identified as Daren Wilson, a six-year veteran of the Ferguson force.
During this small window of time in the life of a community, people here have suffered not only from the loss of one of their sons but from the aggressive tactics of a militarized police force. The interviews with people here demonstrate how what should have been a week of peaceful protest became for Ferguson the trauma of experiencing police terrorism.
I personally witnessed some of the police department’s tactics and how they turned peaceful protests, at times, into dangerous confrontations. This included the illegal detention of fellow journalists from both the Washington Post and the Huffington Post.
Throughout the week the Ferguson police department made what, at best, can be called one huge mistake after another. The result was a massive failure of policing when good community policing was needed more than ever.
Friday morning, for example, the town’s police chief held a press briefing and in the process carelessly assassinated Michael Brown’s character by stating that he was a possible subject in a strong-arm convenience store robbery. The statement was later modified to explain that at the time Brown was confronted by the police officer who killed him, that officer had no knowledge of anything that had happened earlier at the convenience store.
Sources in the Justice Department have told the press that Justice had insisted that the Ferguson police not release the video tapes because they were not relevant to the killing of Michael Brown and because the department expected that such release would inflame the situation, which by Thursday night had finally become calm in Ferguson. After that first full night of calm the police released the tapes anyway, over the objection of the Justice Department. And by Friday night, once again, thanks to the Ferguson police department, violence had returned to the streets of this town.
Again, my talk with Mark, the CWA member, comes to mind. He said, “For every black man that is sadly taken from us four or five more are going to suffer for it.
“Who knows how many jobs he could have given to his community and how many lives could have improved just by learning a trade that could create an infinite amount of positive possibility for Ferguson?”
Photo: Al Neal/PW