‘Things will never be the same’: the oral history of a new civil rights movement
Saturday 9 August 2014: ‘Oh my God, they left him in the street’
PATRICIA BYNES, Democratic Committeewoman of Ferguson Township: At first I did not even know his name. It was actually the committee woman of the seventh ward that sent me a text that day. I was out running errands, on my way to the barber shop. And she said, “Tricia, what’s going on in your city?” And I said, “What are you talking about? Which city?” And she said: “In Ferguson.”
PASTOR STARSKY WILSON of Saint John’s Church in St Louis: I saw it on Facebook and then began to look on Twitter and confirm with one of my church members what happened, and just saw it kind of evolving over the afternoon. My first response had to do with how we take care of our young men – I’ve got three sons, and my church has a lot of young boys in it.
So I thought: What is the word for this kind of day? Was a young man being shot dead in the middle of the street, and lying in the street?
DARNELL MOORE, writer and organizer of the Black Lives Matter ride to Ferguson: The video that I was exposed to were the short clips of Michael Brown’s body that had laid in the middle of the street for hours. And I just remembered that – and it haunted me.
PATRICIA BYNES: Everybody who lived in that area could not leave for four and a half hours. And this is what people didn’t understand at first, unless they had been to Canfield Apartments: all the doors and windows to the apartments were facing the street, so everybody had to see his body lying on the ground. I talked to grandparents and parents who were crying. They were angry because they had to keep their kids away.
I mean, he got killed right before noon.
MONICA DENNIS, northeast regional coordinator for Black Lives Matter and co-founder of the Spirit of a Woman Leadership Development Institute: It’s very easy to become numb, really as a defense mechanism to seeing these mutilated or dehumanized black bodies; it’s not a surprise and yet it’s still painfully devastating when it happens. And I remember: Mike was left out in the sun for four and a half to five hours without being covered.
PATRICIA BYNES: People were crying. People were yelling. What was was very unusual is that I saw several police officers from all types of municipalities. So there were all these police officers who I’m not familiar with, they have no idea who I am, and they did not care.
UMI SELAH, executive director of the Dream Defenders: The story, upon first hearing it, didn’t seem too different to me. I remember seeing the picture and thinking: Oh my God, they left him in the street. That was particularly barbaric. It just showed the value they placed on his body, even in death.
PATRICIA BYNES: A state rep and I, we went to Family Dollar to go get candles so that we could start a vigil right there. Because the family wasn’t moving, they weren’t being answered. Lesley McSpadden was not able to go to the scene to even where her son was.
By the time we got back, the body was gone, and they are trying to clear off the street where he was. You could tell. They had some sort of soap they tried to use … But they still could not wash away his blood. Even underneath all the suds and all the water, his blood was still there.
PASTOR STARSKY WILSON: That night, all the people gathered in the streets, mostly grieving. Some wanted to go down to the police department to demand some answers, but it was more communal grieving than anything else.
Someone said to come back the next day. Because we were going to do a march.
PATRICIA BYNES: There was a vigil when the family was able to get back to the scene, flower petals were laid down over the blood, and they put the candles down in the middle of the street. It was during that moment when someone – I believe it was either Anthony Shadid or Zaki Buruti – said to come back the next day. Because we were going to do a march, from that spot to the police station, to demand answers.
UMI SELAH: The thing that really turned me on to Ferguson and I think what turned other people on to what was going on in Ferguson and a lot of other places like Ferguson was the reaction of the community. I remember looking at the pictures and seeing the dogs and seeing the community coming out and surrounding the police cars and [getting] really, really getting excited.
BRITTANY PACKNETT, activist and educator from St Louis: I heard about it Saturday night on Twitter, and then on the news. And I remember not really being about to sleep very well. I woke up way earlier than I normally do on Sunday and could not stop reading my Twitter feed. Then I woke my mom up and said, “We have to go.”
Unfortunately this wasn’t new, right? This wasn’t a new phenomenon but for some reason it just felt different.
ROSA CLEMENTE, grassroots organizer, hip-hop activist, journalist and entrepreneur: Police kill us in this country every 28 hours, so I wasn’t surprised that another young black man or black person or a Latino person had been shot by the police. And his body lay out there for four and a half hours – the state and those in power that the act with impunity often won’t do something stupid like that, but they did.
There had been a couple of years of literally blows to particularly young folks who were at least seeing that things were not good or getting better for them under a black president. All of those things came together in that one four-and-a-half-hour period.
Sunday 10 August 2014: ‘Folks were having a grassroots uprising’
BRITTNEY COOPER, assistant professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and Africana Studies at Rutgers University: By the time we got to Sunday, it was clear this was going to be a different. Mike Brown’s name seems to be on everyone’s lips, and the stories coming out of Twitter feeds was that the community was deeply outraged – and that he had his hands up.
PASTOR STARSKY WILSON: At the end of the service, one of the community organizers came to me. I said, “Quite frankly, I don’t think anything is going to happen.” And then I said that I kind of wished they would riot, because at least then it wouldn’t be subject to the six-week rule – that we would talk about this for six weeks and then it would go away.
I didn’t think anything of it, and I then left for a study. By the time I got off the plane, another church member was sending me messages: there was rioting in the streets of Ferguson.
DEREK LANEY, organizer for Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment (More): We gathered that morning and started planning – you know, like what can we do? We need to go out on the streets and support folks who were having a grassroots uprising. We started organizing to be a bail sponsor, so that if people were arrested while protesting we would go to see about them and pay the bond to get them out.
BRITTANY PACKNETT: I jumped in my car and went over to the Ferguson police department because I had heard there was going to be a prayer vigil there. People just weren’t going home. So I just kind of stood and waited and listened and talked and tried to understand what had happened. There were several police officers out, so I asked why they had brought out police dogs the night before knowing how insensitive that is in African American communities.
An officer looked at me and said, “Did anyone die?”
PATRICIA BYNES: I didn’t want them to try to blow this off as just another shooting, because it wasn’t that. But I don’t think that I realized how big the story was: to me, the story wasn’t big until after the vigil. That was the evening that you know, QuikTrip burned, things were set on fire. That’s when I realized: Oh my gosh, everyone’s paying attention to this, not just in St Louis. Once all hell broke loose, that’s when the huge media storm started.
‘I’m fine, but we’re not OK’
DANTE BERRY, Executive Director, Million Hoodies Movement for Justice: The first few days of Ferguson were very scary for me. I remember hopping on the phone with a number of organizers across the country and realizing that this is even worse than what had happened within the last couple months [after the death of Eric Garner in New York City]. And as they kept going, you started seeing the police response to the folks in Ferguson who said, Hell no, we’re not going to let this happen in our town in this moment.
So when I first saw the teargas being thrown at community members who lived in Ferguson, I could not stop crying. I could not stop crying as I watched over a live stream all of the little kids, the 5-year-olds the 7-year-olds who were also getting teargassed for standing up for their community.
BRITTANY PACKNETT: I started to realize one of the most important things that I could do in that moment was bear witness. I was starting to get text messages from people saying, What’s going on? Are you OK? And I said, I’m fine, but we’re not OK. And I could get people to see that better than I could explain it to them. So that’s when I started to take to Twitter and Instagram and Facebook to amplify.
From then on, I was either going to meetings or going to West Florissant, getting teargassed with these folks, bailing some of these folks out of jail, trying to make sure that young people – when they were getting pulled over and told to sit on the sidewalk – weren’t going to be the next Michael Brown.
A lot of it was very surreal and a lot of it was about still trying to make meaning of not just what happened to Mike but what happened the night after that and what happened the night after that and what happened the night after that. And realizing that this was something that we could not let go away. And realizing that even if we didn’t know exactly what to do, that showing up on West Florissant was going to be important, showing up that church was going to be important – to make sure people knew that we weren’t going to go away until we got answers, until we got justice.
DEREK LANEY: Some nights I was out there and witnessed the severity of the violence – rubber bullets being fired, flash bombs, teargas, macing, police dogs, all of that. And it was really clear that people in the streets weren’t violent: they were angry, they were upset, they were agitated, to be sure, but they weren’t in the streets acting on any kind of violence, hurting people. None of that.
That broke whatever patience so many black people in the country have been holding on to – or maybe more than that
BRITTNEY COOPER: That week we talked about Mike Brown and every night, you knew when nightfall came, there was this anxiety. We were calling and texting, bracing ourselves for the nightfall. It was like: How does it feel to wake up and know that you’re going to spend your night watching people who look like you being harassed and being mistreated by the police because they’re outraged over the killing of this kid?
DARNELL MOORE: It felt like a moment that broke whatever sort of patience or grace that so many black people in the country in the last few years have been holding on to, or maybe more than that. I was so angry and I really wanted to figure out a way to express that that righteous rage, that black rage.
One night I was up in the middle of the night walking, and I got a text from a another friend of mine, Darius, who lives in Brooklyn where I live. He wanted to get in the car and drive to Ferguson, because he was so angry and so hurt. He just wanted to do something.
DANTE BERRY: I’ve seen the bravery and the courage of queer and black women who are taking the front line of the demonstration and taking leadership. And I also experienced a high level of police violence.
After separating all the white people and the media away, they ran and charged all the black people. It got to a point where they pushed me down to the ground, I had my face in the cement, and I had four police officers point a loaded gun into the back of my head. I kept screaming – I don’t have anything, I don’t have a gun, my hands are up, I’m just protesting, I’m supporting the community – and finally got out and was able to walk away. But I’m being chased by a helicopter with a spotlight over me, following me.
And just a couple days later, the Ferguson police department and some other localities raided the safe house, which was a church, and took all the gas masks and waters and all of the milk folks used to flush out their faces from teargas. So nothing felt safe for us. It felt unsafe. We were always on high alert. You didn’t know whether you would be alive one minute or dead the other.
And it’s a reality that after August 9, 2014, things will never be the same again. Because that was the moment when black people fearlessly and courageously decided that black lives matter and are driven to create a world – not just a country but a world – where all black lives matter.
Black Lives Matter: ‘It becomes a rallying cry’
DARNELL MOORE: I was on a phone conference with Patrisse Cullors, who was one of the early creators of the Black Lives Matter hashtag intervention, and a few other people – sort of a public call to address state violence and black women specifically, figuring out a way to get to Ferguson to help. So, over a two-week period, we organized the Black Lives Matter Freedom Ride.
PATRISSE CULLORS, founder and executive director of Dignity and Power Now and co-originator of Black Lives Matter: Over 500 black folks gathered to be in solidarity with the community of St Louis and to be present for them. But really it was against a much larger battle – this age-old battle of black folks around our lives not being valued.
So August 9 happened, Black Lives Matter got uplifted in this conversation: it becomes our refrain, it becomes how we communicate, it becomes a viral hashtag on Twitter, it becomes a chant, it becomes marching orders, it becomes how we express our love, our rage, our anger. It becomes so many things for so many people and so many black people. And most importantly it becomes a conversation that’s literally about all black lives – that’s about valuing black trans lives, blacks that have been incarcerated, black folks who are disabled, black folks who are women, black folks who are queer.
It becomes a rallying cry and we are still in this moment now one year later, still fighting for the value of black lives.
DENISE PERRY, leader Black Organizing for Leadership and Dignity (Bold): I was sitting with Opal [Tometi, one of the originators of Black Lives Matter] at my kitchen table as she was in dialogue with Alicia and Patrisse about the ride out to Ferguson. The caravan that opened up, kind of taking Black Lives Matter from the original sort of platform from Trayvon Martin into how people know and recognize Black Lives Matter now. And so I just remember sitting there and thinking, “OK, what is our role? What do we do?” And just really watching these women fall into an amazing action that was clear that they were a group of folks who knew what they brought to the moment so they were organizing. They weren’t going to sit and wring hands or be just observers, but they were going to actually organize, to bring their skills and expertise of organizing a black community to Ferguson.
NAKISHA LEWIS, senior strategist, safety at Ms Foundation for Women: [About a week after Mike Brown was killed,] Darnell Moore sent me a text message. I think it was very casual. It was like: Hey, you trying to go to Ferguson? And I said, Absolutely.
We spent a couple of weeks with some other amazing people around the country putting together the logistics to be able to have hundreds of people go on our modern-day version of a freedom ride to Ferguson. That was the catalyst.
16 August 2014 : ‘It felt like we were at war’
PASTOR STARSKY WILSON: I was there on West Florissant and St Marks where the state of emergency and the curfew was called. After we had screwed up a few different things trying to be out front, we began to see that the role of the clergy was to stand behind young leadership, because the police acted differently when the clergy were there. Most of the time.
BRITTANY PACKNETT: I remember standing on West Florissant. The sun was just going down and I was talking to a middle-schooler. This announcement comes over the loudspeaker from one of the armored vehicles that’s in the middle of the street – a line of what looked to us like tanks, with fully armored police officers with billy clubs and riot gear on and helmets and bulletproof vests – saying, You are no longer allowed to assemble. You’re ordered to disperse immediately.
And then a few seconds later, you can hear the teargas getting launched. The crowd start running, so I started running in the opposite direction of the armored cars, and this middle-schooler is starting to run in front of me. And I’m trying to keep track of him with my eyes, which is really difficult as there’s chaos around. You are definitely coughing. Your whole face starts to burn. Your eyes start to water really heavily and you feel like you’re choking because you just cannot breathe and you’re totally disoriented. Like you cannot figure out which way’s up and which way’s down.
By the time I had spotted this kid, he was just dusting himself off, picked up his sign and walked right into the middle of the street.
The gassing was almost surreal, because it felt like we were at war but that doesn’t make any sense. It felt like I had just been attacked by a group of people that are supposed to serve and protect me in my community, which is where I was.
DERAY MCKESSON, activist, organizer, and educator: On August 16, I was sitting on the couch. It was one in the morning and I’d seen it on Twitter and some Instagram videos and I’d seen some other tweets and I was like: This is pretty wild. I want to go bear witness. I want to go see it with my own eyes.
So I got in the car at eight o’clock in the morning and drove to St Louis. I didn’t know anybody. I told my friends on Facebook I was going: it was a nine-hour drive, and, seven hours in, a friend of a friend knew someone in St Louis and found someplace for me to stay.
There was a lot of community – that was the stuff you didn’t see on the TV. The woman who came out every day with her grill and hot dogs and hamburgers. The inordinate amount of water – there was so much water, so much pizza and stuff. Such great community, so many people coming out, just to say: We don’t want the state killing people like this.
This is not a professional class. This is not the Al Sharptons and Jesse Jacksons.
ROSE CLEMENTE: I went to Ferguson because my friend, the hip-hop artist and activist Talib Kweli, called me and said we need to go. And I said we need to go, we need to document this and we need to be supporting the young folks on the ground because this is a different type of young people. This is not a professional class. This is not the Al Sharptons and Jesse Jacksons – even though they started to come in there that week. I knew this to be different response.
CHARLENE CARRUTHERS, national director of the Black Youth Project 100: I was there about two weeks after Mike Brown was killed. The folks were still going out every single night. The National Guard was there, the tanks were there. They had everything occupied. There was a checkpoint. With the exception of Hurricane Katrina, I hadn’t been aware of any major occupation in my lifetime that was targeting black people.
UMI SELAH: I’ve been an organizer for a little while, and it’s not easy to get community members usually – people who have jobs, working-class folks, people doing things that could cause a considerable risk to their livelihood. It’s not easy to get those people out and consistently have have the protest be felt in the streets, and those people needed not even the slightest bit of a push or a call to action to be out there.
People were being very courageous because, you know, it was just pandemonium: the police were there every night to teargas people, to do whatever they had to do to stop people from exercising their quote-unquote constitutional right to peacefully assemble and to protest, and they were determined every day with military-grade weaponry, military-grade equipment, military-grade technology, and military-grade maneuvering to keep people from doing what we are supposed be doing.
Every single day it was unpredictable.
‘And so we went on to Ferguson’
DARNELL MOORE: We traveled to Ferguson a week before the Labor Day ride. We didn’t want this to be an opportunity for voyeurism – or activist voyeurism. We wanted to get permission and ask if it was OK to come.
NYLE FORT, minister, organizer, PhD student: We had been in the same spaces but didn’t get the chance to really build relationships. The beautiful thing of how it all came together was, on the bus, finding out what each other do and how we can collaborate. We got to mourn together.
NAKISHA LEWIS: There were queer folks on the ride; there were queer folks leading the ride. And we were like all going to be OK. It was like the dog days of August – no wi-fi, no air conditioning, for 24 hours – but it was so beautiful. We sang, we laughed, we told jokes, we had a serious talk.
MELINA ABDULLAH, organizer and professor and chair of Pan-African Studies at California State University: And so we went to Ferguson. It was a challenging drive [from Los Angeles]: we didn’t account for everybody’s bodily functions, which was why it took so long. Then we met 600 black organizers and we committed ourselves to an international movement. We recognized the importance of having black folks from Ferguson really take the lead on directing our actions. And we also recognized that the killing of Mike Brown in Ferguson was connected to the killing of Ezell Ford in Los Angeles, a killing that happened just two days later.
So we recognized that all of these killings were connected and we needed to have a mass response – an international response. Recognizing that this is really kind of genocide that we’re experiencing, that the killings of black people at the hands of the state is not coincidental. It’s not because black people – or young black men, this was the narrative – that young black men were walking around with their pants hanging down. That’s not why we’re being killed. It requires a rejection of the push by mainstream society to embrace respectability politics, right? And it requires us to recognize that – regardless if our pants are hanging down, regardless if we speak with deference, regardless if we hold college degrees or not, regardless if we’re as innocent as a 7-year-old, or you know, have criminal records – we all have targets on our backs.
And that’s what Black Lives Matter is about: recognizing that we have targets on our backs and the state has targeted us for killing – that we must take on the work of liberating ourselves.
MONICA DENNIS: We weren’t going into Ferguson to rescue anybody. The local folks in Ferguson – Ashley Yates, Johnnetta Elsey, Tef Poe, Tori Russell – they had already demonstrated night after night and so many others had already demonstrated night after night that the Ferguson community was more than capable of taking care of themselves. That was the spirit in which we came: with support.
NYLE FORT: The first thing I thought was: Oh my God, this looks exactly what it looks like on the television. I mean, I saw the pictures of businesses things looked – it looked almost like a ghost town. And when we got there, it really did. Seeing how the local community responded to that was one of the most inspiring things. To see a local community – and I’d never heard about Ferguson, to be honest, so even just that, seeing where it is in the Midwest – and how it responded: you had black youth, people who were previously not necessarily activated in that way, become activated.
BRITTNEY COOPER: There were some tough moments, but when we marched into Canfield, there was a tension. On the one hand, Mike Brown had become a national symbol within a matter of days and he felt like he belonged to us. But the reality was that people knew him day to day – that he was part of a community. So there was this trying to negotiate: Do we have the right to mourn for someone we didn’t even know?
But I cried anyway. We all did.
NAKISHA LEWIS: When we walked from West Florissant over to the police station, I think that was the first time the police had come face to face with that many people. There were young people, there were children, there were old people, there were women. Folks from everywhere, really. From California and Toronto, folks came.
BRITTANY PACKNETT: In some ways, it was like a family reunion with people you were meeting for the first time. Because folks in New York who have been trying to stand up on this, folks in Oakland who’ve been standing up on this, folks in Florida have been standing on this, folks from around the country were awake to this issue and knew that they wanted to support the work on the ground. So everybody coming together was a lot of love. There was a lot of courage in that space.
PATRICIA BYNES: Ferguson October was an organized effort by a coalition, and when they got to the protests, even the protesting itself had evolved. In the very beginning, clearly the world knew that it was very hostile and explosive. But that only lasted for so long. Between August and October, it got more organized and it got more of a message to it. It went beyond anger. People started asking for certain things.
NYLE FORT: I think at that point one of the main conversations was about this intergenerational thing – you know, whether Al Sharpton and that generation represent this newly emerging movement, or is it shifting? One thing we see with this newly emerging movement is that there’s an emphasis on black women and black queer folk – that black boys and black men matter, but also the black women and black girls matter.
Sometimes in the media it gets spun like there’s more of a feud than it maybe is, but the question is important because we see, with this new generation, a shift: it’s not going to be one singular black male charismatic leader – usually from the church or some sort of faith community – that’s going to represent everyone. There’s going to be a more democratic space where folks who are not just at the margins – but the margins of the margins – are going to speak and be central to it.
MARY HOOKS, campaign organizer, Southerners on New Ground (Song): Someone was like, for all the traditional civil rights organizations, there’s a level of: Yo, we in these streets, what are y’all doing? And it’s been one of those things where it’s like: Yo, get out here, y’all are going to see who’s been on these front lines.
And so if you come into it with your traditional respectability politics or what is “appropriate” leadership and all this sort of stuff, your politics have to get all the way sharpened, all the way together. Just given who’s on the front line and who’s actually been going to the mat, I think it’s been really profound.
I think there hasn’t been a time, at least in my lifetime, where I’ve seen young black organizers that are like: Al Sharpton – sorry, buddy, not my leader. This is not your grandfather’s movement. And creating a space for people who don’t come from the legacy of civil rights is actually right, is cool.
PATRISSE CULLORS: I got arrested in Ferguson October, in an action outside a Walmart in solidarity with John Crawford . What happened with me is what so many of my family members have gone through – the humiliation of being arrested, the feeling of having handcuffs behind your back.
It was my first time being arrested. I thought a lot about what it meant to live in a country that has one million black people sitting in US jails and prisons. I thought a lot about what it meant to get arrested for protesting and trying to push a conversation around the value of life. I thought a lot about our ancestors – civil rights leaders from the past, and even abolitionists, freedom fighters like Harriet Tubman, where the things that were illegal were often the things that would help set us free.
ROSA CLEMENTE: We were still waiting to see if Darren Wilson had been indicted.
‘OK, this is starting something big’
PATRICIA BYNES: I was standing on West Florissant, in front of the Public Storage space once again, in front of a television camera, getting ready to do a Rachel Maddow interview. And then they cut into coverage from [St Louis county prosecutor] Bob McCullough to make his announcement. People knew that this announcement was coming, and I saw a lot of people who I’d never seen before. And I knew there were a lot of out-of-town people. I saw a lot of people wearing masks and covering their face, and I knew that something just did not feel right to me.
As I’m watching Bob McCullough’s announcement – and as it became very clear that not only was he not interested in indicting, but he seemed to want to defend the actions of Darren Wilson and the Ferguson police department during all this time – I just saw what the rest of America saw: I saw people taking off running.
And that’s when the looting or whatever started. I will never forget that I saw things being set on fire. I heard gunshots. I could see firefighters trying to get to the building but not able to get in. They didn’t have enough coverage. I heard a semi-automatic gunfire go off in the air. I watched people drive up and down the street, just setting things on fire, breaking into buildings.
It was very – all I could do was just stand there and watch. And it was very hurtful. It was very painful. Not just to see people do that in the community, but kind of being able to sadly understand why they were angry. And I was just wishing they had expressed it very differently.
PASTOR STARSKY WILSON: I immediately went into the street. I had members of my church there with me. We saw people running back toward us because there was already a deployment of pepper spray. The police were gathered inside the fire department, but they were holed up in their positions. There were white men who drove up from the south, on top of buildings on South Florissant with guns.
I could see the energy of these weaponized vehicles, these tanks and raptors or whatever they were, with officers popped out on top with helmets on and riot gear and rifles. It was a war zone.
ROSA CLEMENTE: I was part of folks who shut down the 101 in Los Angeles. It’s just something we had to do. I feel great. You know, I don’t feel that anyone should be driving and enjoying the holidays when we’re getting killed like that. I don’t mind disrupting people’s comfortability or their way to work. We were there for almost an hour and a half on that highway and I’m sure we caused one of the biggest delays that year for California traffic.
I’d do it again. I wish that we could do it every day.
Solidarity is something beautiful that’s come out of this. But every day there’s another one that becomes a hashtag.
MARY HOOKS: We obviously knew that the police were going to not be held accountable, so we took over the Atlantic Station in Atlanta – it used to be an old slave market, where they would buy and sell enslaved Africans.
People stood for hours. And at the top of every hour, we were silent for four and a half minutes to be reminded of the four and a half hours that Mike Brown laid in the street. There wasn’t a huge police presence, but the moment we ended it, we looked down the street, and some of our anarchist homies had decided to turn it all the way up. And literally there were troops of militarized police marching down the street, picking folks up, people getting pepper-sprayed, anarchists busting out windows of the banks – all sorts of stuff.
NYLE FORT: I was in New York after the non-indictment came out [in the death of Eric Garner] and during the protests and the rallies, people were shutting down. We were at the Apple store, we were at Grand Central Station, and we were marching and shutting down different places. The energy – to watch the energy that I felt began in Ferguson become so present, that same energy in New York – it’s showing me: OK, this is starting something big because of Ferguson.
We always knew that folks were dying – that folks were being killed outside and all over the country – but now we’re seeing a response all over the country. You saw people from Ferguson come to New York, just like people from New York went over to Ferguson. Solidarity is something beautiful that’s come out of this. But at the same time it’s still so much weight. I remember feeling so heavy at that moment: When are we going to get justice? When are things going to change? It seems like every day there’s another one that becomes a hashtag.
MONICA DENNIS: People outside of Black Lives Matter said, Oh, there’s actually a structural pattern that is happening. So we just dug in and continued to organize deeper, we began to look at more policies, began to do more advocacy.
‘The best part of Ferguson is that they broke the rules’
UMI SELAH: Unfortunately, it took a death for this all to happen, but we saw something that you would think it would take years to build to this: a community standing up for itself. It happened quite dramatically and consistently over 100 days.
MARY HOOKS: You’ve probably had more protests and more people in the streets than you’ve seen in decades. I know we’ve seen the environmental justice movement able to move thousands – millions – but in particular when it comes to police and state violence, being able to mobilize black folks in particular, it has been huge this past year.
DARNELL MOORE: When the protests are gone, it’s the people who live there who have to fight. When the mass leaves, it’s the folk who are left – it’s what happened in Ferguson, when there weren’t TV cameras, when the media was no longer interested. So the goal of Black Lives Matter is to make space for people in their own communities, to figure out leadership models that work for them.
MELINA ABDULLAH: One of the reasons we’ve been able to pull in people that haven’t been traditionally active is because we really embrace a leadership model that elevates this group sense of leadership. And while the mainstream media loves to make celebrities out of people, you have to recognize that three people can’t make a movement. That kind of breaking the model, it’s harder.
ROSA CLEMENTE: I always tell people that the best part of Ferguson is that they broke the rules. They basically said: Fuck your respectability politics, fuck your preachers, fuck your elections. We’re not having this anymore – we’re talking complete structural change and not reform.
Now whether that’s going to happen, I’m not sure. But I understand that’s the politics that came out of Ferguson.
DERAY MCKESSON: It’s been powerful to see people find their voice, claim their voice. That’s been powerful across the country. I’m proud to stand with protestors everywhere. You think about a year ago – we didn’t know each other’s names. People came together who otherwise would never have come together – but there we were. That’s really powerful. What we will see, I think, is those communities translated into a different type of power that can challenge the structure.
PATRISSE CULLORS: It’s unfortunate that black people have to be sacrificed in order to make this country better. But it’s what happens and it’s what continues to happens. It’s more than sad. It’s depressing to have to watch another video, to see another hashtag. I want black people to live long. I want us to live long, full lives. I don’t want us to be the sacrifice for this country, to change this country’s lives. But we have been.
I don’t need my mind to be changed. I need this country to respond.
I don’t watch the videos anymore. I don’t engage in that way anymore because I don’t need to. Those videos are for the people that don’t believe what black people go through. Those videos are to change people’s minds. I don’t need my mind to be changed. I need this country to respond. I need this country to change its law. I need this country to re-invest in black communities, and this country to divest from law enforcement. I need this country to see a new way of public safety. I need it to value public safety as people’s ability to have access to a job, healthy food, proper education and a shelter – not a badge and a gun.
DEREK LANEY: We really are uncovering the myth of post-racial America. That President Obama has risen to the highest office is not the wider truth: America has a truly profound problem with racism. Racism is not a problem of people of color; it’s a problem with white people. It’s a problem of white people in office, in communities, in institutions like police and the courts that have this idea of what black is, what brown is, what yellow and what red is, and they act on those ideas. We have to change that. We have to change how they act. We have to heighten the contradictions, make people aware of them and change what they’re doing. That work is in front of us.
BRITTANY PACKNETT: This movement is really based on love. People like to think that we’re anti-police. We’re not anti-police. We’re pro-life and dignity for all people and for marginalized people in particular. Our only hope is that the systems and structures of this country do the same and respect our humanity and our right to life.
At the end of the day, we know that that fight is going to always be bigger than police violence. It’s going to be about education. It’s going to be about housing. It’s going to be about the planet. It’s going to be about health care. But we want to make sure that people are alive.
PASTOR STARSKY WILSON: I think the fact that people have connected the dots between Michael Brown, a Rekia Boyd, a Sandra Bland, an Eric Garner, a John Crawford and a Tamir Rice – I think that’s successful. And the fact that I’ve been in conversation not just with dedicated activists and organizers – but also with philanthropists and church leaders about work we need to do to sustain this movement – suggests that this movement has been successful. Perhaps if we get the kind of policy change that is required to reform our communities, then this will be deemed ultimately successful. That’s sustained work.
PATRICIA BYNES: There are people who are living in Ferguson, in the St Louis area, who are dedicated to not only fixing the issues in Ferguson – but this is not just a Ferguson issue. My gosh, it’s all over this country.
Nothing’s going to stay the same. This has evolved. We have had legislative changes happening all over this country – you had what they referred to as “the Ferguson agenda” taking place, that has passed laws related to body cameras, police accountability. They even passed body-camera bills in Texas. That we’re still talking about these issues is good, but we’ve got to do more than just talk.
The overall goal is to address the underlying issue of racism in general, and police brutality and lack of police accountability in general. Those are the real underlying issues that many people want to tackle or just confront and get rid of. We’re not going to be able to do it overnight. It might take an entire generation.
By Megan Carpentier
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2015