“You are either alive and proud or you are dead, and when you are dead, you can’t care anyway.” ~Steven Biko
The events surrounding the one-year anniversary of the killing of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri by Officer Darren Wilson brought many to St. Louis It was both inspiring and challenging to live for a few days, in a police state, with local people. As Wellspring Baptist Church Senior Pastor F. Willis Johnson explained, “the sanctuary met the streets and the Socratic.” Together, we commemorated the tragedy of Brown’s death, while openly rejecting state violence through a cocktail of prayer and direct action protests.
Almost everyday authorities in the United States kill a Black or Brown person. The trauma associated with living under the constant threat of death because of non-compliance has enveloped people of the African Diaspora since 15th century contact. African people have responded by defending themselves against the tyranny of oppression, while helping to define democracy. The killings of our family members and children, in the streets are the 21st century’s bitter seeds of the strange fruit Billie Holiday hauntingly testified about to the world.
As a Scholar-in-Residence with the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference I was summoned to Ferguson to document events and to stand with and behind local organizers. Getting up-close and personal with youth, whose bodies have constantly been used by the prison industry and so-called “War on Drugs”, elicited many emotions and feelings. The worse of what we learn(ed) about authoritarianism in universities and from our ancestors came to fruition in Ferguson. The systems of white supremacy are pervasive, consistent and enforced locally by detention, surveillance and murder.
“Eric Garner means we got to fight back. Sandra Bland means we got to fight back. Tamir Rice means we got to fight back. Your little brother means we got to fight back” ~Ferguson activist, Alexis Templeton
Standing with the local youth of #HandsUpUnited, #BlackLivesMatter, Millennial Activists United, and others afforded an experience not easily forgotten. The emotional turmoil that comes from positioning oneself where Mike Brown met God, shot dead by a gun carried by someone charged with protecting him was almost too much to bear. Compounding the pain were the persistent testimonies; story after story of the trauma of gazing his body on the pavement for 4.5 hours is couched in the familiar narrative of the lynching era.