It’s been nine years to the day since the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, after the death of Mike Brown. Below is a short story by Osagyefo Sekou about the night Ferguson erupted and changed the landscape of protesting forever.
I am not sure of the details of that day. I do not remember what I ate or what else I did. I do know we developed a buddy system and packed jump bags. Each bag had a bottle of LAW (Lactaid and water, to combat teargas), some kind of face covering, energy bars, a portable changer, a change of clothes and bottled water. Rev. Nelson Pierce and PICO staff went over maps and we set up email chains and WhatsApp group chats. We made sure our phones were charged.
We went out at nightfall.
The streets were packed. Every time the police escalated; more people turned out. Their attempt at repression only strengthened our resolve. There was chanting and dancing in the street. Folks milled about as well. Journalists were interspersed throughout the crowd. Around 8:00 p.m., a couple thousand people crossed the demilitarized zone and started marching east on West Florissant. The police commandeered a shopping mall parking lot about two blocks away. The lot was the media staging area. The various police forces under Captain Jackson’s command were based on the lot as well.
As we marched up West Florissant, a MARP (Mine-Resistant Utility Vehicle) cut us off. “This is an unlawful assembly! Disperse immediately!” a god-like voice demanded. Without warning, teargas canister after teargas canister hit the crowd. The smoke was so thick that I could not see my hand in front of my face. People were screaming. A thousand coughs could be heard. We could not breathe and democracy was in chokehold.
“What the f-ck? It is only 8 o’clock,” someone said, as they caught their breath. As we were fleeing, another MARP came out and continued to assault us. The protestors climbed a hill on the side of West Florissant to get clear of the teargas. The MARP shot teargas at them as well. It was pandemonium.
Folks with LAW tended to the wounded. A line of MARPs formed and pushed west down West Florissant, continuing to fire teargas, followed by hundreds of officers in riot gear and gas masks. People ran and cried. Our group was separated but had plan. We knew where our cars were and kept by our buddy. The police were advancing so fast that people could not disperse. Folks were arrested up and down West Florissant while attempting to comply with police orders.
“Yo, grab this block and slow ‘em down so people can get out,” a young Black man yelled through the t-shirt covering their face. Several men began to pull large concrete barriers from the burned Quik Trip lot. The cement blocks stopped the MARPs, but police came around and started grabbing people. MARPs continued their teargas assault. Nelson went back to find a member of PICO’s staff who got separated during police action. Heather and I agreed that we would get the car and rendezvous near West Florissant to drive folks out.
Just as we agreed on that the MARPs broke through the concrete barrier and came towards us, still shooting teargas. The police were hell-bent on making arrests. About 20 folks ran like hell and jumped over a fence into a backyard. Police and teargas kept coming. Neighbors started coming to their backyards, helping protestors and yelling at the police.
“This is my backyard. It’s private property!”
“They are welcome here!”
Heather and I cut through a driveway and got to the street. “Slow down,” I said. “We have to walk like we belong here.” A patrol car rolled by. I waved.
With hearts pounding and out of breath, we walked at a normal pace through the residential area for a few blocks. We picked up our pace once we were back on West Florissant. It was dark and quiet, but we could see the flashing lights dancing in the plume behind us. The grenade launchers make a boom when they launch the teargas canisters. We could hear them in the distance. Heather spent years in Afghanistan as a volunteer with a Christian mission. She knew the sound of war. Every few feet, with each boom, she froze, trembled and hyperventilated. Somehow, someway, she pushed her way down the street.
“Freeze! Don’t move! Put your hands up!” a police officer yelled. We froze. Between us and the car, there were dozens of St. Louis County police cruisers and what felt like hundreds of police officers crouched behind them. We heard the double click. “We are just trying to get to our car! We are unarmed!” I yelled back. Then, we just waited, arms up.
“They going to kill us,” I thought to myself. “Naw, they won’t shoot me with the white lady,” I hoped. Then reality got the upper hand: “Dude, they already shot a white lady preacher!”
“Let them through,” someone commanded. “Keep your hands up,” the voice added.
We walked forever, it seemed. Both of us afraid, barely breathing. We make our rendezvous point. Then we met Nelson and the others and went back to the Hilton.
There are protocols for teargas. You do not touch your eyes. You take your clothes off, put them in a bag, and wash them separately (there is no guarantee they will ever be teargas free). Then you shower and shower. Sometimes the hot water actives the teargas, and you burn. In my experience, the most effective teargas antidote is LAW. If you can afford it (most of us could not), bathe in a tub of Lactaid before showering.
As I was observing the teargas protocols, Keiller—our media director, yells out, “They are lying!”
Keiller had gotten the official police press release before it was public. Don Lemon read the press release, verbatim, as though it was a news report; no introduction to cite sources.
The report stated that the police did not use teargas. Social media responded. Deray Mckesson, among others, tweeted at CNN photos of the spent canisters. The reports then said that bricks and projectiles were thrown at the police, justifying the use of force. This was not true. A couple of plastic water bottles were hurled toward the police, but never hit them. The crowd stopped that immediately. This kind of reporting, that only amplified the police line, bred a hostility on the ground. It was particularly bizarre because journalists themselves were often caught in the mess, victims of police repression.
The next morning, I went by my then 80-year-old uncle Richard’s garage to have him check on a beat-up van that my nephew lent me. “You got your asses tore out the frame last night!” he said, with his signature laugh and knee slap.
The Silent Strain: How Chronic Stress Impacts Black People’s Health
Ohio Issue 2: Recreational Marijuana Officially On November Ballot
Foodie Friday’s: Braxton Brewing Co.
Lincoln Ware Rewind: Thanks to the Grammys I Now Know What WAP Is
Donald Trump Suggests He’s Like Nelson Mandela Trying To Save ‘Democracy’
Hakeem Jeffries Nominated For House Speaker As Jim Jordan Ripped To ‘Insurrection Inciter’ MAGA Shreds
Kidnapped Ohio Woman Found In Kentucky
Kelce Brothers Praise Cleveland Heights Teachers In Hilarious Clip!