Meet Me in St. Louis
The Ferguson Files
The first thing to know about me is that I am not a “fully funded organizer or activist”. In other words, I spend almost no time at conferences, conventions, trainings, etc. As an independent paralegal and legal observer, I spend my time, mostly, on the streets of North St. Louis, MO, helping people to access the system or getting it to work for them, instead of against them. I do what I do because social justice advocacy is my passion and I was raised to give back to my community the best way I can.
Much has been written, or committed to other mediums about the Ferguson area, but perhaps a bit more history is in order so that someone who doesn’t live here can, perhaps, catch a glimpse of why Ferguson happened.
The first totally nuts thing about St. Louis, is that the city limits were “set in stone” in 1863. Yes, right in the middle of the Civil War, the Union Army General Grant dictated that the boundaries be set so that the Union troops, including enlisted freed slaves, would be out of the reach of the rest of the State of Missouri, which, while it never left the Union, was a slave state. The Union let them keep their slaves so long as they didn’t secede. So, you had a very diverse population within the St. Louis city limits and a very white, slave owning, one everywhere else in the state. St. Louis County surrounds the city, but is not a part of it.
This concrete division was taken even further with the inner city division along DelMar Blvd. which runs east to west and divides the haves from the have nots in a starkly realistic way to this very day. Even the cemeteries are segregated by this divide.
When the Delmar Divide failed to keep people of color “in their place”, an attempt to re concentrate the black populations to the city center was undertaken when they built public housing units which eventually failed. (I recommend “The Pruitt-Igo Myth” on Netflix/Amazon etc.) And when this failed, the era of white flight began to head out into the county.
The Ferguson Files
There are 90 municipalities within the 524 sq. miles of St. Louis County, and more in the surrounding counties. That means almost a “city” a square mile. All but a few have their own police force, mayor, city manager and town council, and 81 have their own municipal court the rest contract out to other police departments, jails and court facilities. Some of these places have as few as 700 residents in that “city”. Ferguson is one of those “cities”. While a fairly diverse community for this region, it too has gone through the “race change”. 10 years ago, the demographics were 2/3 white and 1/3 black or other. Now, it’s 79% black and 11% white. This type of demographic shift is, unfortunately, not uncommon in the area as, mostly white people move further and further to the west of the county to avoid communities of color. So, what happened in Ferguson and why was that the straw that broke the camel’s back?
. I have often been told that “community workers, organizers, activists” need to take breaks from whatever they are doing in order to avoid burnout. I was doing exactly that, for the first time in years, and then my phone went insane. The following are the facts as I know them from pictures, videos and first hand witnesses, including myself at the protests.
What happened was all “too normal” in that a young black man was stopped by a police officer, something happened, and the young man ended up dead on a St. Louis street. But, it was the middle of a really nice afternoon, on a weekend, in the middle of an apartment complex with people of all ages out and around. This means there were people watching as the tragedy played out in the middle of the road.
The most common question I’ve been asked is, “Why did the people get so upset since this happens all the time in “those” areas?” The information I got via text, pic and calls before I got home showed that Michael Brown lay in the street, uncovered, for a full 47 minutes. After someone finally covered his body, he lay there for a further 4 hours. Then, and no one can explain this, since no 911 call was made by police, the ambulance/hearse did not come to pick up his body. So, the police stuffed him into the back of a SUV and drove away. I don’t know about you, but it offended me on the most basic human level of caring for the children and the dead.
After the police had left, about 7pm, Michaels’ mother, with help from her local state legislature representative, scattered rose petals over the blood left on the street and placed a candle there. This evolved quickly into an impromptu memorial space. A short time after this, at least 2 police units returned to the scene. One was a K-9 unit and the officer let the dog out and allowed it to urinate on the memorial. Then they drove off……over the candles and flowers.
I’ll stop here to let you think on this for a moment. How would you feel if someone in your family etc. was subjected to such disrespect in full view of friends and neighbors?
I can tell you that MikeMike’s neighbors were very upset. They had also noticed that traffic into and out of the apartment complex area had stopped since the first time police responded. Perhaps that was why there weren’t more people coming to witness the tragedy or the growing upset within the neighborhood. So, they decided to walk a block and take their upset and protest out to the main street of W. Florissant. And so it began…
Much of it was televised, internetized, vined, facebooked, tweeted etc. so I won’t go into all that as you probably have formed some sort of opinion about the protests, riots, raids, racism et al that came out via media. However, you may not have seen that, the initial peacefully protesting crowd, of about 100 people, were the ones that prompted the M-Raps, assault rifles, rubber bullets, teargas and flash bangs to be deployed, prior to any looting or arson. Despite that, and the media trying desperately to spin it to be about “a militarized police force”, the incidents in Ferguson were about racism first and foremost.
Racism means that the youth in Ferguson suffer under a 50% unemployment rate. And we’re not talking “good jobs” here, we’re talking flipping burgers isn’t even an option. It means the schools there are so severely underfunded that some are even unaccredited. A high school diploma from an unaccredited school is not valid to get into most colleges. Racism means being stopped for “manner of walking” (yes, a real charge). It means being picked up, detained and questioned for hours by the police hoping you’ll turn in a friend or two. It means being stopped for minor traffic infractions so often that you don’t even bother to show up to court because you don’t have the money to pay the ticket, which will then result in a Failure to Appear ticket (more $$) along with a Failure to Pay (more $$) ticket and a warrant being issued. Racism means that you are so ground down by the system that you don’t even bother to vote because you’ve seen too much corruption in the politics around you. And there’s more…
Now, the major press presence is gone, and what we, in the neighborhoods, call “Poverty Pimps” or “iPhone Activists” are out in droves. I can’t count how many people I’ve seen over here that wouldn’t come with me when I was given an introduction to the area by residents and told what they needed almost 4 years ago! And the hordes of different organizations I’ve seen suddenly form and put up websites or fundraisers that are supposed to be about helping the people of Ferguson. I personally know of a 100K grant given out by a national organization to a local one here……..and no one seems to know where the money is now. Pretty much par for the course as far as these things go. Hopefully, at least some of the funding and the projects will actually get to the people in Ferguson, but there are at least 50 more little St. Louis County towns as well as North St. Louis that are just as much of a bomb waiting to go off.
The people of Ferguson want peace, but they also want justice. Those people are still protesting, disrupting city and county council meetings and planning next steps both in protests and progression forward for Ferguson. They’ve also just been handed more to deal with i.e. the term for the grand jury was just extended to January 2015. Perhaps the powers that be don’t expect people to march or sleep out in the cold. I will bet they are wrong, and I’ll be in my usual place, out in the streets with the people.