Some days–some periods in your life–you just don’t forget. They remained etched on your consciousness and you rehearse them at length every time something reminds you: a sudden loud noise, a tense crowd, the smell of burning buildings. The memory haunts you like a ghost, even when you’ve done everything in your power to cast it out. One incident has the ability to irrevocably alter your world. Such was the case of the afternoon of August 9, 2014.
It was a Saturday, and I was trying to get from my house in Ferguson to the West End of St. Louis for my family reunion. I turned onto West Florissant from my street when I saw traffic was at a standstill. Now, West Florissant is known for being extremely hectic on a Saturday, especially in the summertime, so this didn’t raise anything more than the typical amount of driver’s frustration in me. However, as traffic inched toward Canfield Drive, I noticed a man standing on the corner holding a huge cardboard sign. It read:
FERGUSON POLICE JUST EXECUTED MY UNARMED SON!!!
I scanned the street, concerned and confused. It was then I noticed the stream of police vehicles turning onto Canfield. Police from all the nearby municipalities. I grabbed my phone and tweeted that something happened, but I didn’t know what. I said to myself, “the police done fucked up this time. This many police vehicles don’t come over here to protect us. They’re trying to protect themselves.”
Once I got past Ferguson Avenue, traffic resumed its normal pace. I made it out of north county and to my cousin’s house. I did my best to focus on the reunion festivities happening in the backyard. I went inside the house as the news was coming on. Police still weren’t giving any real information. One of my older cousins walked up beside me and asked what happened.
“Police killed an unarmed boy,” I told him.
“Well, what was he doing?”
“He must’ve been doing something,” my cousin said rather matter-of-factly as he walked back into the kitchen.
At that moment, I began to feel a conflict that plagued me for nearly a month. Being from the “bridge generation,” I completely understood both positions being held by black people. Living as a black person in St. Louis, you learn that police aren’t there to protect you. They protect themselves and the white people. Rather than get upset about it, the older generation mastered playing “the game.” They learned where all the speed traps are, which municipalities shake down black drivers with tickets and arrest warrants, and most importantly how to “behave” while interacting with officers. The younger generation, on the other hand, defiantly questioned why we have to be “good negroes,” and “know our place” when that still doesn’t guarantee our safety. Mike Brown was unarmed. Everyone in the vicinity said he had his hands up as he approached the officer.
That evening, I and people I knew began trying to explain the racial climate in St. Louis to people on Twitter. We talked about our run-ins with the “County Brown,” a nickname given to St. Louis County officers that typically patrol unincorporated areas, and “curb service,” the humiliating practice where police often make black motorists they pull over on traffic stops get out of their vehicle and sit on the curb of a busy thoroughfare, often with hands on their head, until the officers run their plates and driver’s license.
I saw my twitter friend Netta’s tweets all evening. We had only met once before, but we talked to each other nearly everyday. She had driven from her home in St. Charles to the murder scene in Canfield Green and had been talking about it. She grieved openly and went through a range of emotions in her tweets. She said she’d be back in the morning. I felt somewhat ashamed. She made a good 30-minute drive to my neighborhood because of this tragedy and I kept busy. I hung with my cousins downtown because I wanted to be a “good host” to my out-of-town family. I decided to skip church the next day pay my respects as well.
I thought I could say everything I wanted to in one post, but this is getting rather lengthy. I will continue this tomorrow. -cjc.