This weekend, I, along with several other students from the University of Missouri-Columbia, traveled to Saint Louis to stand in solidarity with the protestors in Ferguson. What I saw and experienced there was astonishing and enraging. Every night there are strong, young, and radical voices engaging in nonviolent, but militant, civil disobedience. They’ve organized in groups such as Lost Voices, who have slept out on the streets and protested nightly since Mike Brown was murdered. They’re critiquing not just the police state, but also patriarchy and white supremacy in an attempt to take back their community for themselves.
Friday night, we arrived in Saint Louis around 9 p.m. and immediately started marching to the Ferguson police station, following a candlelight vigil. The march was loud, focused, angry, but not violent. We were stopped momentarily by a few police checkpoints, but kept marching through. Once we reached the police station, we were greeted by a group of about 400 other protesters, and together we marched to the police barricade shouting chants such as, “No justice! No peace!” and “Mike Brown means we’ve got to fight back!” I stood together with others, arms locked, as we provided a barrier between the police and the peaceful protest. When we were finished there, we marched back to West Florissant Street, chanting all along the way, as police in helicopters beamed down on us.
Saturday morning, we woke early, got breakfast, and headed to the staging site for the biggest organized march of the weekend. There were representatives from the St. Louis community; seminaries; trade unions; Socialist Alternative and some other socialist groups, all gathered to support tearing down police brutality and white supremacy as an institution. We marched for a mile, chanting and dancing, until we gathered at a park where we heard some local preachers and organizers speak.
That night, we returned to the Ferguson police station. With so many people from out of town there, with the amount of media around, the tone was much different from the protest on Friday night. Nonetheless, the scene was jubilant, but focused. Protesters chanted to music played on a speaker as police stood in front of them full riot gear, claiming that anyone who so much as brushed up against an officer would be arrested for assault. From Ferguson we traveled to Shaw, where Vonderrick Myers was murdered by a member of the Saint Louis police department simply for being black at the wrong time. We marched from Shaw to a Quik Trip about a mile and a half away and peacefully engaged in a sit-in. (Brown and Myers were both killed after making purchases from convenience stores.)
Any reports that there was violence, looting, or rock throwing are unabashed lies. I sat with my brothers and sisters, arms locked and chanting, as the police moved in on us, with what seemed like an endless amount of cop cars and riot gear. They began to beat, arrest, and pepper spray any one of us engaging in the peaceful sit-in that they could, and the organizers quickly had us regroup and reform, again and again, until we were pushed into the street, and finally, across the street. Before we got there however, several of us had been pepper sprayed, arrested, kicked, or otherwise terrorized. As we marched back to Shaw, riot police lined up on the sides of the streets, protecting private property while banging on riot shields, in what I assume was a failed attempt at intimidation.
Altogether, being in Ferguson, seeing the injustice first-hand, further lit a fire in me to organize the fight against injustice. Every night in Ferguson, there are youths putting their lives on the line for basic human rights. They do it whether there are 200 of them or just 10, and they do it whether the media circus is around or not. They deserve all of our solidarity, and all of our praise.
Ed Note Cornel West and 18 more were arrested at the Ferguson protests on Monday.
Femi Agbabiaka is a Young Democratic Socialists Coordinating Committee member who is organizing a YDS chapter Mizzou YDS at the University of Missouri-Columbia.
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