What’s happening in Ferguson right now
This past Sunday, August 9, marked the one year anniversary of the death of black teenager Michael Brown at the hands of a white police officer. The death spurred what has come to be known as the #BlackLivesMatter movement, a campaign that for the past 12 months or so has made excessive violence against and harassment of black people by police and other authority figures more salient in the American consciousness than at any other time since the Civil Rights movement.
Unlike Occupy Wall Street or Kony 2012, the movement has yet to lose its steam. And that’s because, unfortunately, the problem is far from over. Last month, five black women died in police custody while just yesterday, a Texas police officer was fired after he killed an unarmed college football player in a car dealership this past Friday. With that in mind, residents of Ferguson took to the streets again this past Sunday, ready to voice their continued frustration — in both peaceful and non-peaceful ways — with just how little progress has been made since 18-year-old Mike Brown was killed. Here’s what’s happening in Ferguson right now.
On Sunday, people gathered to remember Mike Brown…
The day started with relatively peaceful protests marking the occasion of Brown’s death. His family gathered on Canfield Drive, the street where the 18-year-old was shot one year ago. Political activists like Dr. Cornel West and relatives of police shooting victims Eric Garner and Oscar Grant joined Mike Brown’s family and observed a four-and-a-half minute moment of silence — a minute for every hour Mike Brown’s body laid in the street. Afterwards, they marched to a local church for a memorial service.
But things became grimmer later in the day. Around 11:30pm, a St. Louis County police officer shot 18-year-old Tyrone Harris Jr. after the reportedly armed teen allegedly fired shots in an incident that was unrelated to the protests. Harris is currently in critical condition in a local hospital and faces multiple felonies.
The peace didn’t hold.
Following Sunday’s events, including the Harris shooting, protesters seemed to be both rattled and riled up. Following the shooting, protests continued into early Monday morning and according to reports, protesters began throwing rocks and frozen water bottles at police. As a result, St. Louis County executive Steve Stenger declared a state of emergency, though he did not set a curfew as Governor Jay Nixon did last summer.
On Monday night, hundreds reconvened for further protests, blocking traffic on St. Louis’ Interstate 70. According to police, 63 people were arrested at the protest, 22 people were arrested overnight, and another 50 were arrested during a civil disobedience demonstration at the St. Louis federal courthouse.
Right now it appears that the protests will not reach the level of those seen last year, when the National Guard and officers in riot gear clashed with civilians and petty criminals alike, using tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets to keep them at bay.
The police aren’t the only armed people protesters are dealing with.
Early Tuesday morning, reports started to flood in that representatives of a group known as the Oath Keepers were rolling into in Ferguson. The militia-style group, which is majority white, includes men who “openly carrying pistols, military-style rifles and body armor.” While the Oath Keepers claim they came to Ferguson to protect a reporter as well as storefronts in the city, others are nervous that they may be there to rile up protestors.
Even through all of this things have changed in Ferguson, albeit slowly.
As the saying goes, turning a cruise ship around is slow, slow work and Ferguson — as well as every city and town like it — has a long way to go. Following a damning Department of Justice report, which found that authorities in Ferguson unfairly targeted and discriminated against its two-thirds black population, there has been a high turnover in leadership. Following the resignations of their predecessors, the interim city manager and interim police chief are both black, while many of the officials who were outed for sending racist emails or driving discriminatory policies have resigned or been fired. Higher up, the state government has passed a law that limits the amount city governments can collect through traffic tickets, effectively putting an end to the “tax” police officers were imposing on black residents in and around St. Louis.
Still, the city hasn’t seen monumental change. Housing and access to good school districts remain a pressing problem in the day-to-day lives of Ferguson residents as does unemployment, crime, and all the other issues that plague lower-income areas. These problems won’t be addressed through personnel changes. It’ll take more meaningful policy change, on the state and national level, to really make a difference in the daily lives of residents.
But Ferguson and its people are irreversibly changed. The community will go down in history as one that put its injustices on the national stage for all to see and inspired thousands across the U.S. and around the globe to do the same.
As noted activist DeRay McKesson said in a moving op-ed for The Guardian, “We seek justice – not an abstract justice, but a living, breathing, tangible justice. Justice is a living Mike Brown. Justice is a playing Tamir Rice. Justice is Sandra Bland at her new job. Justice is Rekia Boyd with her family. Justice is Mya Hall with her friends. Justice is no more death . . . We are, and have always been, more than our pain. We will win.”
[Images via Twitter]