Tag Archives: Ferguson

I’m thankful for being white

These days, I’m really thankful for being a white person.

I’m thankful that when a policeman pulled me over recently for an expired registration at 2 a.m., I walked away alive. I’m thankful that the officer didn’t yank me out of the car as I babbled like an idiot trying to explain why my inspection sticker was almost four-years expired. He let me babble. He didn’t question me. Continue reading

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Radio transmissions reveal telling details of police response to Michael Brown shooting

    A young girl muses over the memorial to Michael Brown in the Canfield neighborhood of St. Louis.

A young girl muses over the memorial to Michael Brown in the Canfield neighborhood of St. Louis.

Records released by the St. Louis County prosecutor’s office reveal telling details about the evidence the grand jury used in its decision to not prosecute the police officer who shot to death an unarmed teenager who he claimed was charging him like “a demon.”

Among the items released by prosecutor Robert McCulloch in the aftermath of the controversial decision are transcripts of the police radio transmissions from the day Officer Darren Wilson shot to death 18-year-old Michael Brown. The transcript could provide insight into how the police responded to the scene and the actions they took soon after Brown was shot seven times in the face, chest and arm. Continue reading

Attention voices of St. Louis: Ferguson Files seek your contribution

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

The Ferguson Files wants to hear from the voices of St. Louis. The site was initially formed to present the reporting of its founder, journalist David DesRoches, but it has since evolved to become a forum for people to express their views on what’s taking place in this St. Louis suburb, and beyond.

Are you a student who lives in Ferguson? We want to hear from you. A police officer covering the Ferguson beat? Let us know your thoughts. Are you a disabled resident who can’t leave your house because of the blockades? Let us know. Tell us your story. Are you out of work, looking for a job? Tired of the racial tensions? Write about it. Take photos. Record video. Send it to us. We can’t guarantee we’ll post everything (we won’t print libelous or incendiary material), but we’ll look at it all.

The focus should be on not only what’s wrong with racism in Ferguson and in the United States, but what can be done about it. How can we heal as a city, as a nation? What is it like being young and black in a racially tense neighborhood? What is like to be white and always made to feel like you’re the bad guy? How can we bridge these gaps and find unity as human beings?

The focus should be on positive forward movement. No attacking. No finger pointing. Call out the problems, yes. Call out the roots of the problems, absolutely. But if you’re going to call foul, you better come with a solution.

Let’s get this taboo topic out in the open, once and for all, in all truth and honesty. Race is neither something to be ignored, nor is it something to be overemphasized. It is what it is — a physical and cultural construct. Nothing more. Nothing less. It is something to be celebrated, not feared. Embraced, not abandoned. Liberals pretend we’re beyond race while conservatives pretend race invades everything. Both are right, yet both are wrong. Let’s talk about why they’re right, and why they’re wrong. Let’s do it with positivity and respect and dedication. Let’s find a way to reach a single simple goal: To heal the nation of racial animosity.

If you’re up for the task, send us your thoughts or ideas or photos or YouTube links to FergusonFiles2014@gmail.com . Who knows, maybe this little website could help end a conversation that has taken thousands of years too long to complete.

Healing St. Louis Part 3: Maintaining attention

Supporters of Police Officer Darren Wilson gather outside a local bar to greet traffic and raise money for Wilson.

Supporters of Police Officer Darren Wilson gather outside a local bar to greet traffic and raise money for Wilson.

This is the second part of a series on the events in Ferguson called “Healing St. Louis”. Read the others:

• Part 1: Ferguson got their attention

 

Shirene has been showing up to the protest site since Michael Brown was killed. West Florrisant Avenue at night is at once a ghost town and a bustling people-scape. Storefronts are closed and boarded with plywood. Commerce is scant, but activity is everywhere.

Only one black-owned store was smashed, said Jermell, 27. The rest were saved because the owners lived in the area and showed up in solidarity with the protest.

On one side of the street are the protesters, mostly African American, carrying signs, shooting photos, being interviewed by mostly white journalists. On the other side are the police, virtually all white, from a variety of police departments. A pack of five-o zip by in an SUV with an officer sitting on edge of the opened trunk, his feet dangling inches above the asphalt. People watch and wonder aloud what would happen if they tried to do that.

“We just want change,” 34-year-old Shirene said. “We know change may not come tomorrow. We know change may not come next week. We know it’s gonna be hard work to change but we’re willing to put that hard work in, we are. We’re tired of it.”

When asked how the community could bring about this change — or rather, how residents and police can work together to build a trusting and safe place to work and live — Shirene’s answer was simple.

“By doing what we’re doing now.”

Sitting on the curb in front of McDonald’s (which has been a haven for out-of-state journalists but has now begun closing early since one of its windows was broken), Shirene talks about what she’s doing — sitting in support of change.

“The world is watching us. The world is watching them,” she said about the police. “I can do this all day long… It takes dedication. It takes determination. It takes hard work. It takes faith. It takes love. It takes commitment. It takes respect. And we got that, but that’s not what the world is seeing.”

She added: “There’s some very smart people out here — kids, 7-year olds… but that’s not what you’re seeing. You’re seeing the ignorant fools that are breaking in for some Jordans.”

Those supporting police Officer Darren Wilson, the man accused of killing Michael Brown, have a similar complaint. Andy, a 34-year old St. Louis emergency medical technician and fireman, said that Officer Wilson’s presumed guilt is unfair

“I believe he was right in defending himself,” Andy said.

Andy, a Caucasian, admitted that racism still exists, but added that African-Americans exaggerate its impact. He tells a story of a fellow black firefighter who took a stuffed toy monkey, tied a strap to its neck then hung it in the locker room. Andy said his dark colleague then filed a complaint with a firefighter’s civil rights group, claiming that Andy hung up the monkey.

“Why did he do that? I don’t know,” Andy said, admitting that there might have been some underlying racial tensions already in place, and his colleague might have been acting out his frustrations.

The racial tension is real. Shirene tells a story about police beating her up and arresting her after she called them to report a car accident that wasn’t her fault. This happened a year before Michael Brown’s death. It seems that each protester has a similar story — each anecdote a piece of kindling, filling a tinderbox that ignited when police officials made error after error as people sought answers after Mr. Brown’s killing.

Edward, 25, was caught on camera hurling a tear gas canister after police shot it into the crowd. Rumors circulated that children were nearby and that he grabbed the canister out of instinct. In the photo, he’s wearing an American flag shirt. To prove it was him in the photo, he took out his camera to show a photo of the clothes he was wearing, covered in soot, surrounding a trash can.

The photo, taken by AP photographer Robert Cohen, has become somewhat of an icon of Ferguson’s struggle. The image shows Edward’s long dreadlocks illuminated from behind as the tear gas canister erupts with light and smoke. Behind him, a masked protester raises his arms and another seems to smile.

Edward, who also goes by Skeeda, was arrested that night. He didn’t want to talk about why he threw the tear gas or where he threw it (since the investigation is open), but he wasn’t shy about expressing his frustration with what’s taken place.

“I never woke up that morning feeling like I’m gonna go break the law,” he said. “I woke up and the police was just fucking with me for the last time… for doing something I have the right to do.”

His father was a victim of gun violence. He’s tired of it. He also wants change. But he’s also caught up in the system. His children, he said, keep him sane and give him a reason to live.

“When my kids grow up, I want them to be able to walk to the store… I want them to be able to feel free,” he said. “I don’t want them to look over their should or feel scared when they see the police.”

One of the most commonly cited complaints in person and on Twitter is that police officers don’t live in the community they patrol. In the past, there was more of a connection to police because they were neighbors of the people they served. Today, many people say that officers are disconnected from the people, and the drive to make arrests trumps the need to create community.

Tim, a white native of St. Louis, tells me that he doesn’t think anything can be done to heal the racial tensions.

“It’s always been there,” he said. Others, like Andy, say more dialogue is needed.

“We need to bring everyone to the table and figure this thing out,” he said. “Them being over there and us here isn’t gonna work.”

Healing St. Louis Part 2: Criminal justice

David DesRoches photo.

A man waves the American flag during a protest march down West Florissant Avenue on Friday, Aug.22. (David DesRoches photo)

This is the second part of a series on the events in Ferguson called “Healing St. Louis”. Read the first part, “Ferguson got their attention” here.

Simply driving to the Canfield neighborhood is its own experience. It’s where 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot to death by Ferguson Police officer Darren Wilson under unclear circumstances. Concrete barricades block nearly all intersections around it. A worn path around one obstacle is the only way in. The path seems to symbolize an adaptive resilience that the community has adopted, if not in protest, then perhaps for survival.

“They try to block us in, but you see that ain’t working,” said 27-year-old Jermell.

It’s unclear whether people are having problems getting to work or obtaining medicine or medical care.

Police cars strobe blue and red light onto confused faces that wonder why they’re being told to drive a mile out of the way to move 100 feet ahead. Officers ask for IDs. People show them who they are.

At the memorial for Michael Brown, over a thousand roses lay head-to-toe in succession along the center of the street, interspersed with glow sticks. Candles flicker, cameras flash. Signs read: “Stop killing us” and “Peace Love Justice.”

One thing is certain; the community in “the county” (of St. Louis) has been forever changed — if not in reality, than in the supra-reality of mass media infused perceptions. Those not in St. Louis will, for decades, think of abusive police and/or unruly black people when they think of this Mississippi River city.

Yet, when the media leaves, Ferguson will remain. When the hundreds if not thousands of police officers from all over the area finally abandon West Florrisant Avenue, most of the boarded up businesses will return. But will life go back to normal?

So many questions remain unanswered in the early days of this apparent revival of a long civil rights struggle. How can the police regain the trust of the community it serves? Will residents ever again feel safe in their own neighborhood?

Ferguson has also resurrected America’s most embarrassing elephant in the room —racism. More specifically, it’s brought to surface long-held allegations that the criminal justice system disproportionately targets and prosecutes black men for crimes, despite numerous studies showing that crime activity is steady across all races in the United States.

This phenomenon, as author and lawyer Michelle Alexander puts it in her book “The New Jim Crow,” creates a second-class citizenry in which convicted felons find themselves unable to vote or participate in a jury, restricted from public housing and relegated to rules of living that don’t apply to “first-class” citizens.

When voting statistics are calculated, and black turnout is often quite low, rarely is it considered that around 30 percent of American black men are either in jail, on probation or on parole, creating physical and often legal restrictions from voting.

In Ferguson, in St. Louis, in cities across the land of the free, people feel imprisoned. People are imprisoned, literally or figuratively, by a self-perpetuating system of for-profit prisons and political agendas that justifies its existence through manifestations of its power. To maintain existence, prisons must be filled.

Abuse isn’t relegated to those enforcing justice (or some interpretation of it). It has become the norm for many in American society. In one Long Island prison, pregnant women commit small crimes to be thrown in jail, where they birth their babies under full medical care. In other prisons, the elderly do the same so they can have access to doctors and “three hots and a cot.”

Why is crime so high among poor black folks? Or, to ask from another angle: Why wouldn’t poor black people commit crimes? Why wouldn’t any poor person commit a crime?

Check out the third part, “Maintaining their attention” tomorrow at FergusonFiles.com

Healing St. Louis, Part 1: Ferguson got their attention

ferguson-girl-michael-brown

A young girl muses over the memorial to Michael Brown in the Canfield neighborhood of St. Louis.

Jermell speaks deliberately when he talks about his hometown. At six-two, well over 200 pounds, Jermell is an imposing figure. If he were to get angry, it would not be irrational to become afraid. He is also black, which carries with it stereotypes and biases that could, unfortunately, intensify that fear, even among the most open-minded people.

It’s a reality in America that is rarely if ever confronted or discussed. It’s fallen into an abyss of taboo — a place where conservatives and liberals alike claim colorblindness while still harboring subconscious biases against African Americans. The ongoing crisis in Ferguson, Missouri, has laid this problem out succinctly. Many are scrambling to understand this reality, its context, and its complicated and obscured history.

Jermell knows this all too well. Like many black Americans, he has his story. He has many stories. The shooting death of Micheal Brown was just the boiling point.

He complains that some protesters have belittled the rioters for calling negative attention to what’s happening in Ferguson. He then juxtaposes that complaint against the arrival of famous figureheads and the attention of national media soon after the looting. For him, it was a means to an end.

“If you try to talk, nobody listens, so we had to do what we had to do,” the 27-year-old said.

Of course not all protesters agree with that assessment. But his point is hard to ignore – if the riots never happened, would media from around the world have gathered in Ferguson to report this story? Or would it simply have remained the story of the week, and fallen off the mainstream radar as soon as another story broke? Had looting not occurred, would it have been just another story about an unarmed black teenager being shot and killed by a police officer? Just another story? Just another story…

Read “Healing St. Louis Part 2: Criminal justice” tomorrow.

From Connecticut to Missouri, looking for Ferguson stories

Sometimes events happen that compel us to take action. That’s what happened to me as the Ferguson story unfolded (in case you’re unfamiliar with what’s happened there, click here for a timeline of events). I’m not judging who’s right or wrong. Social media and the major news outlets have done that job. I just think that something has been missing.

At this point — with no disrespect meant — it’s beyond the death of Michael Brown. Right now, it’s about a community in turmoil. A place continuously subject to judgment and ridicule by an outside world that has not walked a step in its shoes.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m also ignorant of what makes Ferguson tick. There is nothing about me that makes me especially equipped to shed fresh light on this story. Sure, I’ve won a few awards (See here and here). All I have is an idea, and a nagging instinct, that something is missing. And I want to find it.

So on a Wednesday night, after speaking with a close friend and colleague about my nagging desire to add my two cents to the fray, I bought a round trip ticket to St. Louis, arriving on Thursday, Aug. 21, at 7 p.m. (I wanted it to be a one-way, since it would make for a much better story, revealing a carefree gusto that wins instant respect. I guess the return ticket adds a sense of finality, or security, to my trip, that otherwise would be absent)

I don’t have an agenda here. I simply want to tell Ferguson’s stories from the eyes of its people. That includes the police, clergy, business people, blue collar workers, stay at home moms and dads, homeless people, activists — anyone who calls Ferguson home. Hopefully I can do this fairly and factually and without sensationalizing or editorializing. I want you to make up your own minds about what’s happening and what, if anything, should be done about it.

I plan on posting at least one story to FergusonFiles.com per day, with images. I tweet @SavingEJ, so feel free to check out those as well. If you need help covering something, or if you have any news tips, please contact me at FergusonFiles2014[at]gmail.com . If you’re a reporter or photographer and you’d like to contribute, shoot me an email.

Here’s to a better present.

– David DesRoches