Guest post by PJS student Briana Ramos
In October 2014, I attended the Amnesty International MidWest Regional Conference in St. Louis Missouri. I’m not sure if any of you have been keeping up on the news hovering over that area of this great country we call home, but it has been pretty grim. On August 9, 2014 in a suburb of St. Louis called Ferguson, an 18 year old black man named Michael Brown was shot and killed in the streets by a white police officer. The police was called on Michael by the owner of a QuikTrip convenience store, who accused Michael of trying to rob him. When the police officer encountered Michael, he was unarmed. Some say that he had his hands up in surrender, but the facts are unclear. Currently, the police officer who shot Michael, Darren Wilson, is awaiting the grand jury decision to see if he will be indicted. For those of you who don’t know, an indictment would be the formal charge or accusation of a serious crime. The history for police indictment is not positive, and the general public fears that Wilson will get off with no criminal charges.
I think the way that the mass media is portraying the situation in Ferguson, or the lack of portrayal, is decreasing the feelings of empathy from the general public. Before going to St. Louis and hearing people speak who have been “on the front lines” of Ferguson and seeing the town with my own eyes, I was someone who thought “Oh, that Ferguson thing is still going on?” I have even heard people say “Why is it such a big deal, this isn’t the first and it won’t be the last time an unarmed black man has been shot and killed by a white police officer.”, upon my return to Michigan. But Ferguson is so much more than that. Just because the media no longer shows what is going on, doesn’t mean that the struggle is not ongoing.
After attending workshops and panel discussions as well as protesting in downtown St. Louis all weekend, mostly about gun violence and some about police brutality, we decided to stop by Ferguson on our way back home. Ferguson was only a 22 minute drive from our hotel in St. Louis. We stopped at a local grocery store in Ferguson to purchase flowers to place at Michael’s memorial site. Driving into Ferguson along Florissant Road, which has been the main site of the protesting, we passed many businesses, many with boarded up windows, some closed even though it was the middle of the day. I was struck by the people who were driving about their town, going about their daily routine. I counted four white people, which is interesting, because I had learned earlier that weekend at the conference that Ferguson’s police force consisted of 3 black and 52 white police officers. Their police force is obviously not a representation of the community it is supposed to be protecting and serving. We passed the QuikTrip general store on our right, the front burned and the whole property gated off. There were banners on the fence in front of the building.
A turn down Canfield Ave. and we were at the site where Michael Brown was murdered. It was an area surrounded by apartment buildings and houses. I can only imagine what it would be like to hear six gunshots ringing right outside your apartment window. There was a huge pile of memorabilia not only against the light post pole, but also in the middle of the road, in between the yellow lines, exactly where Michael Brown had laid for four hours before being removed. There were signs saying things like “We love you Michael”, but also “Hands up, Don’t Shoot”, which was a chant I had been chanting earlier that weekend in front of the St. Louis police station. That sign is what really hit me hard. Chanting and protesting is one thing, but when you actually see what you were chanting for with your own eyes, it makes it that much more real.
I think we often tend to lose sight of what we are actually fighting for. As social activists for peace and justice we fight for the rights of human beings. It is easy to get caught up in the protests we are involved in and how they make us feel like we are making a difference. But really, our main job should be getting other people involved in what we are fighting for. In order to take a “moment” like Ferguson and make it a movement we must get people interested and involved. We also should be communicating with organizers like us who are working at “ground zero” about what they need.
This topic of police brutality is so relevant to all our lives. If you think it doesn’t happen near you, you’re wrong. So far in 2014, 72 unarmed American citizens have been victims of police brutality. Together, we can make this issue known and pave the way for change in our society. We cannot let our rage about what happened in Ferguson die, because this issue will continue to come up again and again. Find out ways to get involved with your community. I know that I am guilty of this as well, but just obtaining the Peace and Justice Specialization is not enough. We must act on what we learn in the classroom, whether it be through clubs on campus, protests, or other organizations. There is no limit to the amount of people that need your help.
Looking for ways to get involved in Ferguson or Police Brutality? Contact me:
Briana Ramos, ramosbr1 (at) msu (dot) edu