As the fiery protests that erupted in Ferguson, Mo., after the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teen by a white police officer appeared to be on the wane, several St. Louis-area young people reflected on the incident and talked about lessons learned.
While many were demoralized and saddened by the shooting of Michael Brown, 18, by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, they said it came as no surprise. For years, they said, police have had an adversarial relationship with blacks, especially young men.
Indeed, racial parity, or lack thereof, on the police force seems to be the crux of the problem. Ferguson, a suburb on the northern outskirts of St. Louis, is 60 percent black, yet virtually all police officers are white. The raw numbers are even more telling: Only three of Ferguson’s 53 officers are black. Not only that, but the police chief and mayor are white, just one City Council member is black and only one school board member is black.
Three young black men and a teacher at Lift for Life Academy, St. Louis’ first independent charter school, spoke with The Root about aggressive police tactics by white officers in the black community.
Jarrett Cross, 18
The high school senior, who moved to Ferguson two years ago with his family, says he hopes to attend Southeast Missouri State University next fall. And to ensure that he gets there, Cross plans to steer clear of the police. Brown was gunned down the weekend before he was to start trade school. Cross said he went to observe the protests, but didn’t partake in them, saying he wanted to show support in a peaceful way.
“The biggest thing is not about unemployment,” the teen, who works part-time at the St. Louis Zoo on weekends, told The Root during a telephone interview. “It’s more about how police treat people. As a citizen of Ferguson, they are not nice. They are very mean.”
To illustrate his point, he recounted how one day this summer he was bumping popular rapper A$AP Rocky’s hit “Peso” in his 1999 Chrysler LHS while filling up his tank. Suddenly, an officer yelled at him to turn it down, in a confrontational manner that could have escalated quickly, he recalled.
“He started yelling and cursing at me, saying he was gonna give me a $500 ticket,” Cross said. “He was just a spot over from me. All he had to do was ask me to turn it down. I felt very threatened and did what he asked me to do.