All eyes are on Ferguson, MO as the grand jury there prepares to deliver evidence on the Michael Brown shooting. CNN is reporting that the decision on whether to charge Police Officer Darren Wilson in the death of the unarmed black teen could come as early as Friday.
Brown supporters have shown up for more than 100 days, carrying signs and calling for Wilson’s arrest and conviction. Despite being pepper-sprayed, beaten, arrested, and now enduring freezing weather, the outpouring of support for Brown shows no signs of letting up.
A group of activists from Ferguson to Los Angeles met with journalists via a conference call Wednesday morning to answer questions, air out their grievances, and discuss solutions for change.
The panel, comprised of youth and clergy, includes Rev. Traci D. Blackmon, Pastor, Christ The King United Church of Christ; Teff Poe, Youth Activist, Rapper; Patrisse Cullors, Black Lives Matter (Los Angeles), Rika Tyler, Youth Activist; and T-Dubb-O (Tori), Youth Activist, Rapper. Rev. Michael McBride, director Lifelines to Healing Campaign, PICO National Network, was the moderator.
Despite what has been reported on the news, panelists say, protests have been nonviolent. The violence has been perpetrated by the State of Missouri militarizing its police force. Images of armored vehicles and police dressed in riot gear give the impression that civilians are starting trouble. On the contrary, they say Ferguson police have violated the civil rights of peaceful demonstrators.
As one unidentified speaker said on the call, “For him (Gov. Jay Nixon) to put Missouri into a state of emergency, to me, it’s an act of war. The system has been put in place to oppress a poor class of people. In 103 days, there has been not been one single fatality, the only people who have been hurt have been those hurt by the police. I don’t understand what the National Guard is needed for. I don’t understand what the rubber bullets are needed for. It’s just a waste of money especially when you have schools closing left and right in the city.”
Tyler, who is in her 50s and grew up in Birmingham, AL remembered the National Guard being called in “to defend the protestors, to protect them from those who were not ready for change.”
Like the 1965 Watts Riots, and civil unrests that have followed, the violence has never been the result of a single act of injustice.
“All these things happened prior to August 9, and we never heard Gov. Nixon declare this a state of emergency. No one declares a state of emergency for poor people, black people, veterans, no one says that’s a state of emergency. But people walking through the streets—now that’s a state of emergency,” T-Dubb-O said
Ferguson’s protest has all the makings of a growing movement. For one thing, it has been one of the longest and most consistent showings of civil unrest since the year-long bus boycott in Montgomery, AL almost 60 years ago.
“First and foremost, we want people to understand it’s not about Ferguson. It’s about a national movement,” Cullors said. “There is no national government agency to oversee police behavior.
FBI data reveals that young black men are 21 times more likely than their white counterparts to be killed by police. We’ve had Ezell Ford killed by police in L.A. I have witnessed brutality at the hands of the Los Angeles Police Department. But people in Ferguson are unifying in a way we haven’t seen black folks unify in a long time.”
“A lot of people made a mistake, comparing this to the more legendary civil rights movements. But there are few things that are different. Our last great radical black male voice for my generation was Tupac Shakur. If you look at the movement on the ground, it has that attitude,” Poe said. .
“When Trayvon Martin was killed and George Zimmerman walked, my friends and I said, ‘If anything like that happens in Missouri, this world is in for a show’ because there won’t be any George Zimmermans walk out of court and walking into the sunset.”
The panelists minced no words, calling out officials from Missouri to Congress, whom, they say have shown little if any compassion for Brown or his cause. T-Dubb-O called out Gov. Nixon for not stepping up: “Here he is passing the responsibility to Rev. Traci (Blackmon). She is left answering questions when her responsibility is not even as great as his.”
Poe said, “We discussed the issue with Congressman Emanuel Cleaver and (Attorney General) Eric Holder. He (Cleaver) gave us the politician’s answer. He hasn’t visited St. Louis. There has been no response to our phone calls or emails. He just told us what we wanted to hear.”
So what does the panel expect to happen after the grand jury decision? “I think they are preparing us for a non-indictment,” T-Dubb-O said. “With or without an indictment, the movement continues.”