Continuing yesterday’s recollection of what transpired in Ferguson that fateful weekend in August 2014…
When I walked over to Canfield Green on Sunday morning, the tone was somber but somehow peaceful. Remnants of Mike Brown’s blood stained the street where his body laid for hours in the sun the day before. The police’s attempts to remove it were unsuccessful. A makeshift memorial was quickly growing around a nearby streetlight: stuffed animals and roses began to pile up. The air reminded me of a wake: sadness surrounded us, but we were buoyed by a quiet sense of strength that black people are known for possessing in situations such as this. So many people came to the site, including my good friend Larry. We talked to so many people for the better part of the morning/early afternoon and agreed to return for the candlelight vigil–a rather commonplace practice we engage after violent deaths–that night. I left feeling better. Feeling hopeful that we’d get past this atrocity as a community.
My friend Tasha asked if she could park in front of my house and walk over to the vigil. Of course, I said yes. Cars were already lining my street and the other streets in my subdivision by the time I left the house to walk over that evening. As I turned the corner onto West Florissant, I saw a crowd the likes of which I’ve never experienced outside of a festival. The congregation was so large there was no possibility of even making it over to Canfield Dr. I found Tasha toward the back of the crowd. We attempted to press forward.
The scene became increasingly intense and chaotic, nothing like what I had experienced only hours before. I saw the police lined up, putting on riot gear, and blocking off West Florissant, making it impossible for anyone to travel any further south than Ferguson Ave. They had the canine unit out, for reasons I still don’t understand to this day. The dogs made many in the crowd uneasy. Spontaneously, people would begin to run back in our direction. I stood still in complete confusion. Tasha called out for me to move out of the street, but I looked around trying to assess the situation. Still trying to make sense out of the circus that the overzealous police had created out of what I believed was going to be a beautiful experience for a community that was still trying to come to terms with the knowledge of how little their lives meant to police sworn to protect them.
Tasha grabbed me by my arm and pulled me onto a nearby parking lot. “We need to get out of here before some real shit pop off,” she said, trying to bring the gravity of the situation to me. I kept watching in disbelief. Police cars drove back and forth through the crowd, officers glaring at the masses with obvious contempt.
“Fuck this,” I heard someone say. A group of young men began moving quickly past us like they had a plan.
I became even more nervous but unable to leave the scene. We moved to a higher vantage point on the lot to take it all in. You could feel the anger of people who felt repeatedly disrespected rising like a pot being brought to the boil. They began throwing cans of energy drinks at the passing patrol cars in defiance. They refused to be bullied and brought into submission when all they wanted was the respect due to them, to mourn corporately this grievous act. The sound of the cans hitting the cars jarred us both.
“CJAY, WE NEED TO LEAVE NOW,” Tasha demanded. I couldn’t argue with her at this point. The crowd was reaching critical mass. Tasha and I headed toward the QuikTrip, a gas station/convenience store and neighborhood hub, for cover and to figure out our next move. I stopped in my tracks, just feet before the doors, as I realized what was happening. The store was full of people, some jumping over the counter, grabbing whatever they could–food, drinks, lottery tickets–and running back out.
“TASHA!” I yelled out. “STOP! THEY’RE LOOTING!”
We ran to the corner of Northwinds Estates Dr. and West Florissant to a grassy space to get distance from the anarchy. We ran into Larry, Netta and her friend Taylor there.
“What the hell is happening?” Larry asked. I can’t remember how I responded. I just remember my disbelief. Tasha and I told them it wasn’t safe. People were breaking out the glass of nearby bus stop shelters with heavy metal trash cans. I smelled something burning and turned to find the interior of the QuikTrip in flames. Someone set off a fireworks shell across the street from us.
“Nope. That’s it. We’re leaving,” I told all of them with certainty. “Y’all can come back to my house until this dies down.”
The rest of the night remains a blur to me: sounds of helicopters, people yelling, sirens. We sat in the front room of my house, still in shock. We started tweeting because we didn’t know what else to do and we knew no media was there to properly tell the story. They would only be regurgitating the lies the police fed the following morning. Then we realized, people were listening. People wanted us to tell what was happening, minute by minute.
I didn’t realize it then, but I was witnessing Larry and Netta find themselves and their voices that night. We tweeted our thoughts, our frustration, and whatever information we felt needed to be shared with the world watching. That night sparked a movement. What the police intended to quash with brute force grew into something so big that, eventually, the Department of Justice had to step in. I know we weren’t the only ones telling the story, but we did our part in that moment. We learned the power of social media and how activism takes many forms in this digital age.
I don’t know how to end this because the story, truthfully, isn’t over. Justice hasn’t been found for Mike Brown and the countless others killed by police for no other reason than being a “threat” that apparently all black people are to them. We still live in a system that doesn’t want to address its implicit racism. We still live in a country that would rather paint police as selfless heroes than address their abuse of power among people of color. A country that would rather call us liars than address the cognitive dissonance created by the lies it attempts to perpetuate regarding us and itself.
Postscript: I could go on about everything that transpired in the weeks and months that followed, but it took two years to feel like writing these two blog posts. Maybe I’ll write about it all someday. Maybe I won’t. I feel like much of it was said on Twitter at the time.