Days after protests erupted in Ferguson, Mo., streets over the Aug. 9 police shooting of an unarmed black teenager, Kansas City community organizer Damon Daniel emailed a St. Louis friend asking how Daniel could help.
“He did not hesitate,” Daniel said of his pastor friend. “‘Come now, please.’”
Daniel headed to St. Louis the next morning. He stayed a week and returned to the St. Louis suburb for six consecutive weeks, staying two or three days at a time, organizing rallies and prayer groups for peace, justice and dignity.
He is among many in Kansas City, including faith leaders, University of Missouri-Kansas City students and staff from Communities Creating Opportunity (the social justice organization Daniel works for) who have marched and rallied in Ferguson in the three months since 18-year-old Michael Brown was killed.
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Autopsies revealed that Brown was shot at least six times, once in the top of the head.
Now, as the St. Louis area awaits a grand jury verdict regarding whether Officer Darren Wilson, who is white, will be indicted, Daniel and others said they are ready to go back to help in any way.
“For us it is not just about the shooting, but about what led up to it and what will happen after,” said Andrew Kling, a CCO spokesman.
“The worst thing that could happen is for everything to go back to normal there because normal is what got us here in the first place. Normal is broken.”
Kling, a white man in his 30s, said he and other young people describe Ferguson as “a highly significant civil rights moment for our generation.”
“We see ourselves in St. Louis because what happened in St. Louis has implications for what happens all over the country,” Kling said.
“Our destinies are very much wrapped in each other.… If from this we can figure out how to talk about systematic racism because of fear, then there won’t be another Michael Brown or a Darren Wilson.”
The killing of Brown drew hundreds of St. Louis area residents into the streets in what was mostly nonviolent protest against what people said had been a history of police brutality toward young African-American men.
The protests brought out police in riot gear with dogs and military-style vehicles. Some businesses were looted and vandalized. Police tossed tear gas canisters and fired rubber bullets.
The unrest put an American suburb in an international spotlight and brought U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and other national leaders to town.
Now, ahead of a grand jury decision expected sometime this month, Gov. Jay Nixon and members of Brown’s family have called for peaceful protest. And community organizers have led training on nonviolent protest for hundreds of people.
Daniel and some CCO staff have been among those providing training and hosting listening sessions with Ferguson residents who think racial tensions have kept them from being heard.
Kling, who arrived in Ferguson a week after the shooting, said he was there eight days to help organize trauma healing teams to listen to residents.
“People were so traumatized by this and you could see it in their faces,” he said. “This community had been violently denied its right to grieve.… I showed up with a lot of humility.”
Darrell Satterfield, a junior at UMKC who grew up in Ferguson, was there when the first protests were held. The shooting occurred around the corner from his home.
Satterfield stood among “a sea of people” during a candlelight vigil the night after the shooting. And he ran with other protesters from blinding tear gas and rubber bullets.
He joined the marchers “because I could relate to what happened to Mike Brown. That could have been me. And because I felt like this was a cause I had to fight for — respect for young African-American males, equality, basic human rights.
“It was bigger than one community. The world was watching. We had people from the Gaza Strip tweeting us about how to deal with tear gas.”
Satterfield, a member of the UMKC track team, said his college schedule has not allowed him to go back to Ferguson, although he will be home for Thanksgiving.
“I have still supported from a distance,” he said. “The media, social media, is our biggest tool. We can be there without being there through Twitter, Facebook, email and Instagram.”
UMKC students Shadae Carr and Taylor Blackmon, members of the UMKC chapter of the NAACP, traveled to St. Louis last month to participate in a national peace rally. “Thousands of people were there from all over the country, all over the world,” Blackmon said. “I felt like I was able to have a voice.”
Being in Kansas City during the school year hasn’t kept them from speaking out, the students said. They have held a petition drive for police to wear body cameras, an “I am Mike Brown” march around campus, and a series of talks titled “I Matter.”
“We want to keep the issue fresh in people’s minds,” Satterfield said.
It has been on the mind of the Rev. Vernon Howard Jr. of St. Mark’s Church.
“We are on standby and in contact with people in the St. Louis area,” said Howard, who is executive vice president for social justice at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City.
“We are waiting for the call. We will mobilize and go.”