‘The killing of Michael Brown stung my heart’ Organizing for justice in Ferguson

September 25, 2014

Police block demonstrators from gaining access to Interstate Highway 70 on September 10, 2014 near Ferguson, Missouri. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Police block demonstrators from gaining access to Interstate Highway 70 on September 10, 2014 near Ferguson, Missouri. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

By Ernest Coverson, Field Organizer for Amnesty International USA-Midwest Region

When I wake up, I check the news in Ferguson, Missouri, a 37 day old habit I picked up since the killing of Michael Brown. The cameras have gone, the smoke has literally cleared, but the organizing in the community is still going strong.

When I was in Ferguson, I wondered to myself if this would just be a blip on the radar, another example of the type of injustice that we see so much in communities of color across the country, or could it be something else? Had we slipped out of our paralysis into a movement?

The killing of Michael Brown stung my heart.  I grew up hearing I needed to be extra careful around police. As a young black man, I felt afraid around those who were supposed to be charged with ensuring my safety; instead, if I ever had to have an interaction, my one and only goal was to get home safely. On August 9th, Michael Brown did not get that opportunity, and hearing that this young man was unarmed when he was shot and killed by a police officer, that he was left in the street covered in blood for up to 4 hours disturbed me tremendously. As a human rights activist, I knew that I not only needed to pay attention, I needed to act. While steps have been taken by the Department of Justice to address the militarization of police, there is yet to be a full investigation into Michael Brown’s death. There is yet to be justice.

This was a young man set to start college this fall, a man who had dreams, a family, and a life in front of him.  Just think of people you know that headed back to school this fall, started a new job, began a new family during this time.  As human rights activists we know that all lives matter, and I know many of you share my outrage that police brutality and racial profiling continues to happen. That’s why we need to keep fighting, and standing up for human rights everywhere.

Ferguson is a microcosm of many cities across this country, and that’s why I cannot let what happened there be just a blip. We cannot stick our heads in the sand and think this was an isolated incident; there have been at least 5 questionable police killings this summer. When you have a police department that has no commitment to the community it serves, a leadership that is unresponsive to the needs and concerns of the local community we have a problem. For decades, Amnesty International has documented cases of police brutality and racial profiling, and it’s beyond time for change.

These issues seem insurmountable at times, but change starts with engagement from local communities, and that’s what’s happening now.  The people affected usually already have the solutions, and when we organize, when we engage in dialogue and solidarity, we have the ability to make the change we want to see.

Since the uprising that took place in the streets of Ferguson, true grassroots organizing has been taking place.  Young organizers as well as seasoned organizers meet on a weekly basis to discuss strategies to bring substantial change in the lives of the people of Ferguson.  This is a true coalition of change that includes all races, faiths, and genders.  The work has come in various forms: from community educational events to addressing city council meetings to nonviolent demonstrations.  We’ve moved from moment to a movement that has crossed state lines, and many communities across the country have begun to build momentum for issues in their own backyard.   Just a few instances that have taken place since the uprising:

  • Labor Day weekend thousands, from around the country converged of Ferguson for a national march;
  • The Ferguson city council has announced a warrant recall, a civilian-run review board & investment in community infrastructure;
  • The Department of Justice has launched an initiative to build trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve;

But there’s still work to do. Every movement has its moments, has times when the tide turns and the opportunity to make serious strides toward change arises. New activists wake up, more people take a stand, the message of justice and dignity spreads.

This is that moment when we all need to stand up and fight against bad policy, police brutality, and racial profiling.  Our voice is imperative to this conversation if we want to see justice that respects human rights.  Here are a few things you can do:

  1. Bring these issues to light: host community conversations about race and policing, and educate people about human rights
  2. Work with likeminded organizations fighting for justice
  3. Organize your community around local policing issues
  4. Circulate our Ferguson petition
  5. Mobilize actions in solidarity with the community of Ferguson on October 11th, when the next major convergence will happen there
  6. Join lobby weeks to demand that Congress pass the End Racial Profiling Act

When we organize together, we can make a difference. The community of Ferguson is proving that once again, and I’m proud to be standing with them.