By Rika Tyler, Hands Up United Director
The commemorative anniversary weekend of the death of Michael Brown Jr. has come to an end. Weekend warriors are packing their bags and heading home. It was a beautiful and uplifting weekend, but we knew it wouldn’t last. After all the silent marches, vigils, memorials, sermons and concerts, people in the street are still screaming,“No justice, No peace!” because we’re still living in a state of crisis.
While out on West Florissant Avenue between Canfield Drive and Ferguson Avenue, in what we call “Ground Zero”, several events transpired but the most terrifying one was to see video footage from a known activist, Tony Riss, who witnessed a young man lay handcuffed face down in a puddle of blood, with police pointing guns at him. I was on my way there when watching the video, and I felt extremely sickened and worried at who it could be.
Arriving to the scene, I had flashbacks of what I saw a year ago, but I was numb to it. I walked down closer to the crowd to see the militarized police huddled and starting to form a line. I was standing in the Ferguson Market parking lot and felt angered immediately at the fact we are here living the same nightmare a year later, and we are still dealing with this. The lack of familiar protest faces out that night also made me extremely uncomfortable. The crowd was filled with a lot of out of town people hoping to get a photo op, and a lot of media anticipating disruption between the people and the police. Then there were the front liners, as we are called; Hands Up United, Millennial Activist United, Lost Voices, OBS, Tribe X, Ferguson Freedom Fighters, and known faces in the movement who were out peacefully protesting and documenting our own stories.
But before we could get a feel for what was unfolding in front of us, we received phone calls that our friends were getting maced on the other side of ground zero closer to Canfield. We went behind what were previously burning buildings and made our way over to where resistance was truly happening. It was such a powerful sight to see the community and everyone out as one against the police. We had our local clergy members praying for us and standing between us and the police but that did not stop them.
It did not take long for the police to mace and throw flash grenades at us. They were actually way more aggressive and organized this year as far as their new tactics on peaceful protestors. Looking around I saw everyone gearing up with masks, bandanas and shirts to cover their faces against the chemical munitions that they were about to shoot at us without much notice. There were babies as young as three years old out there and elders as old as seventy-five experiencing this hatred as militarized police pointed M16s at protesters from atop MRAPS while we were shouting, “We do this for Mike Brown!”
As always, the media outlets distort information about what actually happens out on ground zero. I would just like the world to know this is not a game, and we did not choose to live like this. The people of the Greater Saint Louis area (Ferguson) started this uprising a year ago. The bravery, courage and trauma we will forever bestow inspired the world to act. We are the new radicals trying to sustain this work while constantly being attacked by a more ruthless and technologically advanced enemy. So when you all head home just remember, all eyes on Ferguson. This is everyday life for us, we are in it for the long haul and we will win.