So, like I was saying yesterday, I’m crazy now.
It’s been an interesting past few years to say the least. I've done some things I never expected, and I've seen some things I never imagined and can't forget. My beliefs and my vision of the future have changed almost beyond recognition as a result, but I can't pretend I don't know what I know, that I haven't seen what I've seen.
So, I'm trying to connect my dots from relatively mainstream to clearly crazy — or stubbornly radical, to put it more optimistically — to see if you reach the same conclusions I have about what it all means and what it means we need to do.
I can see looking back that the wheels have always been in motion for me, but this evolution really started to accelerate a couple years ago when I spent a few days in Ferguson and started taking a look at some things with my own eyes.
I rode out to Ferguson from St. Louis with DeRay Mckesson on the night after the one-year anniversary of Michael Brown’s murder. We parked on a side street and walked a few blocks to the intersection of Florissant Ave. and Canfield Dr.
From there, we walked into a buzz of people and activity.
Florissant Ave. runs north and south and basically acted, at least that night, as the dividing buffer between the police, who were occupying the area east of the road, and everybody else. Lots of people were carrying signs and actively demonstrating, while even more were just there, for lack of a better explanation. Like a peaceful occupation, except that’s a weird way to put it, too. For the most part, the point was just to be there. There were kids out there even, men and women of all ages.
At the same time, everyone was deeply aware that a long line of armed police officers were watching from across the street. Everything was infused with a sense that things could erupt at any moment. Someone commented, for instance, that maybe I, being white, would be the reason we wouldn’t get shot that night. It was said with a sense of humor, but it wasn't a joke.
I did see a lot of guns, but except for the one strapped to the security guard at one of the local businesses, every single one was being held by a police officer.
I heard in real-time from Lindsay what she was seeing on the news describing the “violent” protests and aggressive behavior, and then looked around me to see just how skewed the news reports were.
In person, the only true aggression was coming from the police, with the steadfast presence of the people living in response. If there was a dangerous, unchecked contingent out rioting that night, it was the men and women who wore masks and carried shields and weapons.
They would move in quickly and without warning, encircling and isolating unarmed people before forcefully arresting them, often with tasers used in the process. Take a look and listen for yourself to one example:
At one point, when an incident like this was happening right in front of me, DeRay grabbed my shirt from behind and suddenly we were running, along with most of the crowd, just as shots were fired in our direction by the police.
We’ve learned more and more about nefarious tactics used by police during the periods of resistance in Ferguson. What I was witnessing that night just scratched the surface.
What I had seen for sure was that there were two sides at work here, and that it was painfully easy to recognize right from wrong when you were there to look them both in the eye.
I got a brief glimpse just how willing the U.S. police force is to use violent force against the people it supposedly exists to serve and protect. It’s one thing to hear police described as militarized. It’s another thing to stand next to it — or worse, to see that military might being used against regular people. It’s jarring.
They shot their guns at us that night. An 18-year-old kid was killed that night. Imagine that — even in the shadow of the first anniversary of Michael Brown’s murder. So, I learned as well that the police have no shame, and that nothing must be sacred to a government that would deploy them that way.
On the other hand, I experienced that it is possible for anybody to take direct action against injustice, and came away knowing that this means we are obligated to do so. Obligated to show up. All the opinions in the world don’t do any good if they never leave your living room, but when we give our beliefs life with our actions, we create a ripple effect that spreads indefinitely. If you see something that needs to be done, that means you are the one to do it.
I started to see how quickly those ripples could spread, too. I took this photo that night in Ferguson. By the next day, Shaun King had used it in his latest article and I had a photo credit in the Daily Kos. Some other photos and videos I took that night ended up as the basis for a music video.
And when we got back home, Lindsay and I were able to talk with friends and family about what we had seen and what we had learned. Julian was able to talk with his first-grade class a few weeks later about who he had met and what it had meant.
It wasn’t more than a few months after this that I started writing this blog, and started digging into education in Seattle in earnest. It all seemed connected from the beginning. I’ll get to that tomorrow.
Thanks for reading.