Like many across the US and the World, a little more than four weeks ago, my attention turned to a city just outside of St. Louis that I had never heard of – Ferguson, MO – after the shooting death of Michael Brown, Jr.. On August 9, 2014, Brown an unarmed 18 year old African American teen on the verge of manhood and college entrance was killed by Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson while on duty who was then placed on paid administrative leave. Since the shooting several witnesses have come forward, many of whom have stated that Mike Brown was shot several times while his hands were up in surrender. After the shooting Brown’s body lay in the street in the hot Missouri sun for more than 4 hours, to the disgust of many. To date nothing has been heard from Officer Wilson as he has left the Ferguson area, gone into hiding and is being shielded by the Ferguson Police Department who has at times released information that has later been discovered to be untrue while illegally withholding other information. To date Wilson remains unindicted and unarrested although many throughout the community and country have called for his arrest including Brown’s own parents.
The killing of Brown not only sparked racial tensions and heightened hostility against some members of the law enforcement community, but revealed tremendously oppressive conditions in this suburb of a major Midwest city that many of my peers and I never thought could possibly still exist in 2014 in these United States.These conditions range from a host of elected officials who don’t reflect the racial make up of the city which is 67% African American who are grossly out of touch with the needs of their constituents and satisfied with maintaining the status quo to a “ticket happy” police force which uses frequent traffic stops – for sometimes unfounded violations – to not only fill the city’s coffers but also the local jails.There is also a history of police harassment and abuse of power and a county Prosecutor with a track record of not indicting police officers when improprieties exist and exhibiting racial biases when dealing with cases involving minorities and police officers. Many of these conditions seem to have lead to a major disenchantment with the local political system and a lack of voter registration and participation by many of Ferguson’s African American residents.
In the wake of Brown’s killing, as thousands of all ages from Ferguson and beyond staged nightly protests, officers from local police departments descended upon the area in droves not only donning riot gear but camouflage and olive drab military attire and armed with surplus Iraq and Afghanistan war artillery including Armored Vehicles and at times even sicking police dogs upon gathered crowds. During this law enforcement show of force, protesters – including elected officials – and members of the national and international media were fired upon with teargas, smoke bombs, sonic grenades, rubber bullets at times without warning – whether they were abiding by the officers’ orders or not and in some cases even on their own property.
These scenes did not look AT ALL like any America I was used to living in!! Watching a lot of live streams not just mainstream media, I witnessed scenes that reminded me of the Ukraine and many other nations across the globe – NOT these United States that I am accustom to living in!! Civil liberties were violated along with constitutional and human rights. The silencing and arrest of peaceful protesters and members of the media including Washington Post and Huffington Post reporters and photographers was unlike anything seen on US turf in any protest situation. All of this along with the strange and deceptive actions of much of Ferguson’s leadership drew media from across the globe, much of whom stayed in place 2 – 3 weeks and some even remain to this day.
Since the eruption of Ferguson the world has been exposed to realities that many thought existed in a bygone era. Ferguson although close to 70% African American is policed by a force that comes no where near the city’s racial make up with a demographic of only 3 of their 50-something officer police force being African American with most of the rest being White. Their Mayor is also White as are five out of six of their City Council members. Residents are subjected to a horrendous traffic ticket and fine system where an unpaid ticket can earn you a bench warrant and jail time most often resulting from an inability to afford the initial fine. This practice has even resulted in some residents losing their jobs thus creating a vicious cycle of: an inability to pay fines > warrants > incarceration > unemployability due to a criminal record and the cycle all starts over again!
The revelation of all of the things that have been happening in Ferguson in many years has shined a federal spotlight on the area first leading to a visit from Atty. General Eric Holder then to two ongoing investigations by the Department of Justice – one focusing on the Ferguson Police Department and surrounding police department’s policing practices and the other a civil rights investigation focusing on the murder of Michael Brown, Jr. and the handling of the case itself.
Having witnessed all of this really disturbed me and sparked an interest in helping to move this senseless murder and revelation of so many ongoing injustices from a moment in history into a movement. My desire wasn’t to participate in protests in Ferguson, as there was no shortage of protesters in that small town, but to lend my talents to the efforts there on the ground. In an effort to assist I searched for volunteer opportunities and located a wish list of skill sets which included New Media/Social Media and Tech folks (Data, Coders, CRM, Graphic Designers) amongst others. I reached out to the organization requesting support and offered my skills to help from afar and my willingness to come to Ferguson and pitch in on the ground. In the weeks after the unrest began I have designed several flyers and social media images to help organize, publicize and keep Ferguson in the forefront of the minds of the local residents, the nation and the world.
Some of the imagery has included:
In addition to the design support I have been very active on social media including Twitter, Instagram, Vine and Facebook posting updates and sharing important information related to Ferguson and efforts through the area. I am very glad to have been able to provide ongoing support and helping to pull things together in the Ferguson/St. Louis area in this small way and continue to explore the possibility of helping on the ground there.
Unlike any major protest movement in the past decades social media has played a major roll in keeping the issue on the radar of many and the quest for justice alive by providing updates, articles, videos and photos of events happening in and around Ferguson as well as across this country and the world. WSJ captured the impact of Mike Brown’s killing on Twitter in their article How #Ferguson Has Unfolded on Twitter. Leonard Pitts Jr. of the Poughkeepise Journal also provides great insight into the unrest in Ferguson in A bitter sense of siege behind Ferguson riots.
If you are interested in staying abreast of things happening in, around and related to Ferguson I urge you to follow these hashtags on Twitter, Instagram, Vine and Facebook:
Twitter accounts to follow:
Deray Mckesson @deray
Antonio French @AntonioFrench
Maria Chappell-Nadal @MariaChappelleN
Wesley Lowery @WesleyLowery
Trymaine Lee @trymainelee
Goldie Taylor @goldietaylor
How you can help and stay informed: