Residents in cities around the nation – and police departments – are awaiting the grand jury decision on whether to indict Darren Wilson, the white Ferguson police officer who shot and killed an unarmed 18-year old Michael Brown on Aug. 9 in Ferguson, Missouri.
If the grand jury fails to indict the policeman, groups in as many as 75 cities around the country are expected to protest. Announcement of the grand jury decision is expected on Sunday.
Meanwhile, law enforcement and government officials are gearing up for the protests. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon already has declared a state of emergency in Ferguson, calling in the National Guard and militarizing the local police force.
Other cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Oakland have readied their police forces as well in anticipation of demonstrations.
Seeking to provide a voice for what young people in Ferguson have to say, the PICO National Network organized a nationwide telephone press conference this week, moderated by Rev. Michael McBride of Berkeley, who is director of PICO’s Live Free Campaign.
During the press conference, youth activists on the ground in Ferguson, as well as religious and community leaders, spoke to the deep issues surrounding this controversy; which they say no one is addressing.
Those who participated in the teleconference included Rev. Traci Blackmon, Pastor of Christ The King United Church of Christ in Missouri; Teff Poe, youth activist and rapper; youth activist Rika Tyler; Patrisse Cullors of Black Lives Matter; T-Dubb-O, youth activist and rapper; and Tory Russell, co-founder of Hands Up United in St. Louis.
“While media and politicians like Gov. Nixon are focused on the threat of violent protests, looting and rioting, they are still not addressing the root of the problem – a broken justice and political system that systematically leaves communities of color devalued and disenfranchised,” Rev. McBride said.
“The issues that brought us to situations that caused the killing of Michael Brown are not new issues. They are deeply embedded issues of race and educational inequity, economic disparity, all things that we have known about for generations,” said Rev. Blackmon during the conference.
Rev. Blackmon has been appointed to a newly created Ferguson Commission, a group of 16 people appointed by Gov. Nixon this week to address the “social and economic conditions” highlighted by the months of protests following Michael Brown’s killing.
The commission includes lawyers, CEOs, clergy, educators, police officials, and one youth activist, according to press reports.
“This commission is not so much focused on changing heart as it is in changing behavior, and we plan to do that by pushing through very aggressively legislation to change the way law enforcement acts, legislation that hopefully will level the playing field for our children in terms of academic pursuits,” Rev. Blackmon said.
While the newly organized commission has yet to prove its impact, youth activists in Ferguson have been relentless in the struggle for justice.
Rika Tyler, an HBCU student and mother of a young boy, addressed a letter to President Obama posing the question: Are you really your “brother’s keeper” Mr. President?
The letter, posted on Change.org with 1,300 signatures, asks the president to “call on Governor Nixon for the immediate de-escalation and de-militarization of law enforcement in Ferguson and St. Louis County.”
As a protester who has been on the ground in St. Louis for 103 days, rapper T-Dubb-O criticized the governor’s state of emergency. “It’s a declaration of war for the protesters, saying that they would do whatever they can to prevent us from punching the system in the mouth again,” he said.
“A system (has) been put in place to oppress a lower class of people and feed off of their poverty, and we’ve punched it in the face, something that hasn’t been done since the 60s,” he added.
Responding to published promises that police will not target nonviolent protesters, T-Dubb-O said his experience speaks otherwise.
“I’ve either seen an extreme act of policing or a lack of policing,” he said. “I’ve been tear-gassed and shot at, and I’ve always been a peaceful protester. I watched the police force allow rioting and looting to go on while they just pointed at people who were protesting and continued to gas, pepper spray and shoot at them.”
Rapper Teff Poe said, “America’s done an excellent job of making it seem like Black people are telling ‘boogey man’ stories when we talk about the police killing us in the middle of the street.”
He traveled to Geneva, Switzerland when Michael Brown’s family went to speak to the United Nations about their son’s tragedy.
“These are real people, they have a real life, they have other children outside of Mike Brown, they have a family that has its own culture,” he said, reflecting on the trip. “That just showed me that we have a lot of work to do, and we’re shooting ourselves in the foot if we continue to localize this fight.”
“We have to humanize ourselves on a worldwide level,” he said.
According to reports, Mayor Jean Quan addressed local residents in a letter saying, “Although we don’t anticipate problems to occur, keeping peace on our streets and protecting the safety of Oakland residents and businesses is our top priority and we will be prepared.”