By Mel Reeves
The MSR sent writer Mel Reeves to Ferguson, Missouri to personally observe and report on the aftermath of unrest there following an incident of police violence that left a young Black man dead and triggered an outbreak of protests and rioting. Beginning this week, Reeves provides a journal of his observations and conversations with local people about what has happened there and what the future portends.
Dispatches from Ferguson
FERGUSON, MO — At 10 am on Monday, August 25, the time of the Michael Brown funeral, it was very hot, around 97 degrees and humid. The press was out in full force, and folks could barely get into the Friendly Temple church without nearly being assaulted by the media, which clearly were trying hard to find a different angle on grief.
For those who may have somehow missed the unfolding of this tragic story, shortly after noon on Saturday, August 9, an unarmed Michael Brown Jr. was shot and killed by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. A candlelight vigil that turned violent was followed by two weeks of rioting, looting, and street battles with police and National Guard troops along with some peaceful protests and continuing disclosures of the longstanding racial tensions in this mostly Black community governed by mostly White elected officials.
Brown’s funeral service was spirited and interesting. Personally, I would have preferred a more militant and somber scene. It seems like more celebratory homegoings should be reserved for when folks leave us naturally, while victims
of state violence should be sent off in a more defiant and reflective tone.
Rev. Al Sharpton sent a bit of a double message: He said that the problems with the police come from a few bad apples, yet he advocated protesting against the police. He encouraged folks to stand up but said that first the Black community has to clean up its own act before it can take on the system.
He accused the youth of redefining Blackness as being a thug. “You call yourself a n***er and call your woman a hoe,” he said.
It was clear that no one wanted a protest at that time. Mike Brown Sr. could barely talk about his son for reminding the audience three times that “We want freedom, but not today.” As many residents said to me, the entire U.S. Press Corps seemed to be covering the funeral, and it seems that it would have been ideal to take advantage of their presence to say with one voice that the community wants the cop who killed Brown to be prosecuted.
There were lots of young people outside who were clearly restless and wanting to express their angst. Outside the funeral, people freely offered their opinions. I got to talk to a make-up artist for CNN, Sarah Young, who wasn’t afraid to offer her opinion, saying she thought the family deserved justice.
Young spoke about a primarily Black community outside of Ferguson that was bought out to make room for a proposed airport expansion that never came. She said that the residents who were bought out moved to Ferguson.
One woman who asked not to be named told me that the problem of racism affected all of North St. Louis County. She told me that she had been pulled over for some kind of infraction and, over a year later, the prosecutor has refused to either charge her or drop the case. “I may not be dead, but I’m not free either,” she said.
There was a flyer handed out that was the first organized coalition effort that I had seen since arriving the previous day. The flyer announced a Saturday rally from the site where Mike Brown Jr. was killed and a march to the Ferguson
police station. It called for the prosecution of the police.
Two protests were called on Monday, one by the new People Organized for Justice and the Organization for Black Struggle. Both were cancelled because of the heat advisory that was issued.
I happened upon the previous mayor of Ferguson, Brian Fletcher, in a local coffee shop. (And, by the way, it soon became clear that there are two Fergusons, one Black, one White. The White section definitely looked better, especially the business district.)
Fletcher seemed like a decent guy. He was at a table promoting an “I Love Ferguson” campaign. I asked him and others at the table pushing the signs if it wouldn’t be better to work with people and help solve the problem than try to make it appear that all is well in Ferguson when everyone now, for sure, knows better.
Needless to say, Fletcher had an answer for everything. He explained that Black folks could actually take over Ferguson, including the school board and city council. He almost suggested that Blacks were being stopped by the police because they were the majority of folks visiting the malls in the area.
I think the look on my face discouraged him, but that was actually his justification. When I asked him why Blacks had not voted their own folks into elected office, he said, “I don’t know why they don’t register… They don’t feel empowered. They don’t think their vote counts.”
He also said they could register and vote and have the majority say “if they truly wanted to.” I thought, wow, this guy is implying that Black folks don’t want to be able to run the city in which they are the majority.
Next week: More on-the-scene reporting from Ferguson.
Mel Reeves welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.