National — 26 August 2014
The Roots of the Uprising in Ferguson

By Kenya Vaughn
Special to the NNPA from the St. Louis American

“There is a passage in the scripture that says what the devil meant for bad,” said Pamela Meanes, “God allowed this mother to birth an angel to bring a face to police brutality.”

Meanes sounded more like pastor than the attorney who serves as the president-elect of the National Bar Association and the president of the Mound City Bar Association.

Her brief, poignant remarks during a rally in Brown’s memory at the Greater Grace Baptist Church on Sunday reflect the inspirational phenomenon that was birthed from this horrific tragedy.

For nearly two weeks the world has been tuned in to a small municipality of St. Louis County.

And yet before August 9, there were people born and raised in the greater St. Louis area who didn’t even know Ferguson existed.

When Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown dead on that Saturday afternoon in the Canfield Green Apartment Complex, all hell broke loose – and it has yet to subside.

The sad fact is that there is nothing new about an unarmed black man dying at the hands of law enforcement.

Just last month the nation watched video footage of Eric Garner being choked to death by police in New York go viral.

But with Brown’s death, push came to shove. And the community that witnessed it happen still refuses to stand down in their demand for justice.

“Out of this has come the strangest bedfellows you can imagine,” said Stefan Bradley, associate professor of African-American studies at Saint Louis University. “Everybody has been forced into a coalition that they couldn’t have created themselves.”

The community took to the streets as a collective – from all backgrounds, ethnicities and walks of life – to say “enough!” and to show that they won’t be moved until justice is served.

There have been all sorts of sidebars – from the excessive force imposed on journalists from around the nation at the hands of the police, the violation of the rights of protesters, and the implication that Ferguson had long forsaken the majority of its residents.

Negative spins on the coverage have been prevalent as well.

Brown’s character was brought into question, thanks to the release of surveillance footage of Brown allegedly stealing cigars by the Ferguson Police – as they were announcing the name of the officer who fatally wounded Brown.

The vast majority of peaceful protests have included a small percentage of looters and outside agitators – who have been erroneously all lumped together.

“There is this whole narrative of these protesters being labeled as rioters – it speaks to the whole black criminality issue,” said Justin Hansford, a professor of law at St. Louis University. “When what you have is youth with courage who stood up and amplified their voices.”

A small percentage of violent incidents get the bold face print above the fold, but the most compelling story is the resilience and unification of the masses to fight for justice and challenge a flawed policing system that has antagonized blacks – black men, in particular – throughout the nation for decades.

“We are not looters, we are liberators,” Rev. Al Sharpton said to those in attendance at Greater Grace. “Ferguson and Michael Brown Jr. will be a defining moment on how this country deals with police and the rights of its citizens – and to address how police behave in this country.”

Casualties of war

“The people suffering the most in all of this are the children –and we can’t forget them,” said Brittany Packnett, executive director of Teach For America St. Louis. “And we can’t forget them or we will be raising a generation of hopeless people.”

They’ve been forced out of school. They can’t go outside. They have watched their neighborhood become a battlefield where protesters stand against police. Some have even been caught in the crossfire while attempting to peacefully protest with their family.”

“There are lessons being taught,” said Donald M. Suggs, publisher and executive editor of The St. Louis American. “One of them is that it’s dangerous to be young and black and speak out. It’s as if the police reaction to these protesters is saying, ‘This is what happens when young African Americans amplify their voice.’”

And while Michael Brown’s death took the strained relationship between black men and police from the boiling point to explode before the eyes of the world, there is an opportunity in the wake of this tragedy.

The conversation around building better relationships between law enforcement and black citizens have taken center stage – as are the need to develop systems and policy for successful policing within the African-American community.

“You all ought to be thankful to the Brown family for Michael,” said Captain Ron Johnson, the Missouri Highway Patrol official charged with overseeing law enforcement operations in the midst of Ferguson’s unrest. “Michael’s going to make it better for our sons.”

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