Activists still fighting, a year after Ferguson unrest

2015-08-07 22:47
Police officers work their way north on West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson, Mo, clearing the road with the use of tear gas and smoke bombs. (Robert Cohen, AP, St Louis Post-Dispatch)

Police officers work their way north on West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson, Mo, clearing the road with the use of tear gas and smoke bombs. (Robert Cohen, AP, St Louis Post-Dispatch)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Ferguson - At another time, the fatal police shooting of unarmed black teen Michael Brown in the St Louis suburb of Ferguson a year ago might have gone virtually unnoticed.

But this time, the stark images - of his body left in the street for hours; of torched stores, tear gas and riot gear; of protesters with their hands raised - galvanised a new generation of activists in the United States.

"Ferguson was a spark for a larger play which is now a brushfire in America," said Jeffrey McCune, a professor at Washington University in St Louis who studies race and gender.

"You have all these organisations across the country resisting, shutting shit down, advancing the cause of black people and black liberation and reducing the amount of violence that black men and women face."

The violent unrest which engulfed the Missouri town in the wake of the fatal August 9, 2014 shooting is nothing new in America.

It happened more than 20 years ago in Los Angeles, after the 1992 acquittal of four white police officers videotaped beating Rodney King, who is black.

What's different this time around is how the outrage over the deaths of Brown and a series of other African Americans at the hands of police in the past year has been channelled into a sustained nationwide social movement.

Key role for social media

Police tactics, especially in minority communities, are at the centre of the movement, which also encompasses questions about social justice and troubled race relations.

Social media - and the fact that most bystanders now have video cameras on their cell phones - have played a critical role in the movement's expansion.

"This has created a whole new level of visibility in the sense that whenever police officers are doing things wrong, we can catch that on video and send that to a million people immediately, whether it be Vine, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter," said Waylon McDonald, an activist with the St Louis-based Organisation for Black Struggle.

Social media allows people to bypass traditional news outlets and tell their stories with a level of immediacy and intimacy that lets people "be a part of the moment without being here," McDonald said.

"It's been a really good tool to be able to mobilise and do some initial organising," he told AFP.

The constant stream of videos and stories showing heavy-handed police behaviour has forced the nation to acknowledge the reality of systemic racism, said DeRay Mckesson, an activist with We The Protesters who has nearly 200 000 Twitter followers.

"So much of the work in the past year was focused on exposing and convincing and saying to people, 'This is what happened' and 'This is what's wrong, believe me and listen'," he told AFP.

"A year ago, people thought there was an issue in Ferguson, in St Louis. They did not realise there was a crisis with police across the United States. And now they do."

Hard work ahead

Mckesson says that one year on, the much harder work is at hand - actually resolving the crisis.

That involves more than just expanding the use of police body cameras to prevent violence, he said - it means reforming the criminal justice system, expanding economic opportunities and fixing broken schools, for starters.

But while much work remains, activists should be very proud of what they've accomplished in a year, said Michael McMillan, president of the Urban League of Metropolitan St Louis, a leading civil rights organisation.

The US Justice Department answered calls to investigate allegations of racial bias in Ferguson's police force and issued a scathing report that promises federal oversight and significant change.

Municipal courts across Missouri are no longer allowed to send people to jail for minor infractions such as not paying parking tickets, and the state has placed limits on how much money towns can raise from traffic violations.

Ferguson police are now wearing body cameras and answering to an interim police chief who is black, and who has pledged to instill the force with the "respect, cultural awareness and the professionalism this community deserves."

The city manager and a controversial judge have also been replaced, along with police officers and a court official who sent racist e-mails from their work accounts.

Perhaps more importantly, activists say, police and politicians across the country are on notice that they are being watched.

Activists "have done a great job of bringing all these issues to bear and continue to do that," McMillan said.

"You have to have activism and agitation to make the powerful uncomfortable at times in order to show that everyone does not have access."

Read more on:    michael brown  |  us

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
5 comments
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

 
/News

Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
Traffic
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.