I wake up after an incredibly long nite just#heartbroken after 100 days of protest & decades of abuse of power#Ferguson#LiveFree.
The Tuesday morning tweet comes from Kansas City minister Deth Im. The night before, he sent this: I’m getting tear gassed#Ferguson#LiveFree#BlackLivesMatter.
Since the shooting of Michael Brown in early August, Im has been in Ferguson for stretches of three to four days at a time. Then, he drives home for a few days, before returning to across the state. It’s his job. He’s a director with PICO, a national organization that helps communities organize.
His perspective is that of one person. But it’s a powerful one. He’s not from Ferguson and he’s not African-American. He’s Asian; Cambodian, specifically. And he’s extremely conscious of the difference that makes.
“Every community has its tension,” he said Monday night, hours before the announcement of the grand jury’s decision not to indict. “But there is something here in Ferguson that is really distinctive.”
Some of it comes from striking division: poor black people split from white people of varying economic levels. Latinos are not widely seen. It’s about raw anger in young black adults and white officials who, even when they try to address things with sensitivity, somehow always sound off-key. Disconnects, everywhere.
Here’s my take: Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and CNN wouldn’t show up unless a spotlight had already been focused. For months now, Im’s been aligning with the young adults who are responsible for the national attention. His is an observational role, letting them lead.
But it’s these young people — not opportunistic looters and thugs — who deserve notice and support. Many have marched peacefully more than 90 times since Brown’s death. They made Ferguson a national issue.
Many are not camera-ready. Raw language abounds. Some have been verbally confrontational with police. I’ve seen videos of it Im has posted. It’s not my style. It’s not Im’s.
But I don’t live in a neighborhood where a dead body would be allowed to lie in the street for hours. My neighborhood would not, I would not, be so disrespected.
That’s not the reality of these young adults who Im says can be broken into two groups: late teens and early 20s; and those in their mid- to late 20s. Im calls one young man “the poet,” for his eloquence with words. There are also stories of family dysfunction, struggles with basic comforts, like no electricity at home.
But they’re something their parents and grandparents in Ferguson are not. They are fed up enough to do something.
That much became apparent to Im over time, but especially after a forum at a St. Louis college. Nearly every African-American present could tell stories of being stopped by police in questionable encounters. Many related events escalating into near violence.
Im heard a bit of resignation in the older adults, a sadness over the decades of problems. The young people were angry. That’s why the details of Brown’s case, combing through the testimony, matter little to many. Brown is a symbol of police callousness. Period.
And Im grasps why, seeing differences in treatment. Im was arrested several weeks ago during a demonstration along with many clergy and notables who had flown into town. But he and the other clergy were treated with comparatively kid gloves. Im was in and out of jail within four hours.
About a week earlier, some of the young people he’s met also were arrested. Their experience was orange jumpsuits, threats of $1,000 bonds and being held 24 hours. It’s perceived power. Whom is it OK to push around?
He also questions differing police tactics. In the city of St. Louis, police have allowed protesters to march, staging themselves about eight blocks away. As the crowd peacefully approaches, police retreated, making space. Everyone got what they wanted, Im said. Police kept control, marchers made their statements.
He counters that scene with the more confrontational tactic outside the city in St. Louis County. Less space allowed and more orders to move off streets. Gov. Jay Nixon’s talk of a unified command, he says, hasn’t been present.
In recent days, the young adults in Ferguson have begun to shift their mindsets forward. They’ve begun to talk long-term about the work that would turn this moment into a movement. The efforts would be around voting, the quality of public education, jobs.
As the tear gas began to overtake Monday night, Im and his group moved off the street.
A bit later, he sent an update: Thx 4 prayers friends. I’m safe in a church out of the tear gas with the young adults I started w/#Ferguson#LiveFree#BlackLivesMatter.