(Join Joshua Saleem and Lewis Webb, Jr. on Tuesday, August 26 for a Google Hangout on "Injustice in the justice system." More details here.)
Eighteen-year-old Mike Brown was gunned down on August 9, 2014, just weeks after his graduation and days before he was off to college.
His shooting death by a police officer in Ferguson, MO has sparked a national conversation about racism and police brutality. Locally the response has been varied and has included peaceful protests, violence, and sadly, more police brutality as a result.
This reflection is by Joshua Saleem, AFSC Peace Education Director in St. Louis, where AFSC is working to transform schools and communities into peaceful and just environments by equipping youth with conflict resolution, civic engagement, and community organizing skills.
I weep for my community. I weep for Michael Brown. I weep for a mother who will live knowing that her son was killed for no reason. I weep for a city that is eager to get back to business as usual and return issues of race and inequality to the background. I weep for a community that so neglects the anger and frustration of its youth. I weep for a white community whose response to justified anger of African Americans was to buy more guns. I weep for a nation that doesn’t want to talk about the systemic and structural racism at the root of problems in Ferguson and communities like it. I weep for my 2 year old son, who could be the next Mike Brown.
Just four miles east of where Mike Brown was gunned down, Dred Scott is buried at Calvary Cemetery. The infamous 1857 Dred Scott decision denied Scott his freedom on the basis that African Americans could not be citizens and therefore had no standing to sue in an American court.
In the words of then Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, “[African Americans] had no rights which the white man is bound to respect.”
The murder of Mike Brown is the latest in a myriad of cases when the reality of Taney’s words has been proven to be true in America.
As events continue to unfold in Ferguson, AFSC in St. Louis is presented with a unique opportunity to speak into this situation.
We are on the ground with students helping them process the death of one of their peers. In these conversations we lead with listening and provide analysis of the tragedy from their own experience. One of the schools we have partnered with over the past two years is McCluer High School in the Ferguson Florissant School District. We have reached out to teachers there offering support and expressing our desire to facilitate dialogue that will help diffuse tension and again provide an analysis through which students can understand issues of racism and police brutality.
We stand with the family of Mike Brown, offering our condolences and deepest sympathy during this time. We want to offer those of you who wish to express written condolences an opportunity to do so by sending letters to the St. Louis AFSC office. We will get those letters to the family.
We stand with the leaders and community organizations that have been providing support and organizing protests and marches in the St. Louis area. Groups like the Coalition Against Police Crimes and Repression have been organizing against police brutality for years and continue to hold police departments across the region accountable.
We stand against and strongly condemn the heavy-handed tactics of the St. Louis County Police Department in response to peaceful protests. This response included rubber and pepper bullets, police dogs, and tear gas—militarized tactics that only escalated the situation. With such tactics bringing the militarization of police to the forefront of the national conversation, we feel confident that connecting with other AFSC programs will continue lifting up this issue, thus putting pressure on our leaders to make change.
We stand with the youth who have been dismissed and unheard. While we do not condone the actions of a few, we understand the anger and frustration with institutions that continue to oppress young people of color. Whether youth have felt that oppression in school or in the street, we know that frustration is absolutely justified in the midst of such circumstances.
Moving forward, we continue to equip, educate, and empower St. Louis youth to become peaceful agents of change in their schools and neighborhoods. With our first ever Freedom School, which is set for September 5-7 and modeled on AFSC Seattle program’s Tyree Scott Freedom School, we look forward to providing an analysis of systemic racism at the roots of Mike Brown’s death. More importantly, we look forward to helping young people organize in the St. Louis community so that another Mike Brown doesn’t happen.
Please continue to hold Mike Brown’s family and the St. Louis community in the light.