Student Blog 2017-2018
By Ashley Taylor, AP Student
No singular moment had polarized the state of Missouri more so than what occurred on August 9, 2014. To say it was simply an act of police brutality, to say it was protests in the streets of Ferguson, to say that it was just another slaughtering of an unarmed black man would be terribly irresponsible. What happened that day--and what followed for years after--will never be forgotten. The fourteen-year-old me who experienced that Hell will always live inside of my mind.
I remember it all as if it happened yesterday: the killing, the rioting, the tears--my own and my parents. It was strange to experience as a fourteen year old, not because it was a subject that I should have been too young to fully grasp, but because it was a subject I was all too familiar with.
The beginning of high school had just begun around the time of the murder of Michael Brown, it was my freshman year. I remember that, for some reason, every kid at that school became suddenly very interested in politics. At least that’s what they wanted to believe. In reality they were nothing more than faucets spilling out whatever their parents had said around the dinner table. It was horrendous. Suddenly every white child in a five foot radius of me just needed to explain exactly why Michael Brown got killed, suddenly it was so important that I know exactly why that police man had every right to shoot an innocent person. It was at that time that I became the “spokesperson” for every black kid in that school. I couldn’t sit around and let those ignorant children become emboldened because teachers were so impressed by their “grasp of such an adult topic”. Every day in history class for the first three months of that year was a debate, me vs every white kid in the room--so me vs everybody. The amounts of times I got yelled at or name called is too many to recount. While the people of Ferguson were fighting their own battle in the streets, I was fighting in my school. I remember getting so fed up by everything that I begged my mom to borrow her “100% black” shirt to counter against that many of kids who wore their “Blue lives matter” gear. My father didn’t want me to become an even bigger target, he thought me speaking out was enough already. If I have one regret, it’s that I didn’t go against his wishes and wear that shirt.
There were very few teachers who liked me at that point in time, of course all of the arguments I’d gotten into with my peers didn’t go unnoticed by the staff. Suddenly teachers and students alike were giving me leery glances as I crossed their path--if you asked me to recount any of their eye colors I don’t think I could. You would think that administration would have at least a bit of moral and intervene when students would take their “political views” too far, they never did. Having an entire class of 26 of your peers all yelling at you, calling you every name from “overly sensitive” to “un-American” was suffocating. It’s a wonder that I didn’t leave most classes crying if I’m being honest. And the teachers did nothing.
I remember around this time that I had started to develope a bit of a fear of walking by police cars by myself, maybe it was more out of self preservation than actual fear. There were three cops who worked at my school, many kids were friends with them, I never even got to know their names. It was a sort of reality I and every black kid at my school began to live in, we keep quiet and to ourselves or we surround ourselves with people who would be some sort of shield for us. I did the latter. Being one of the 200 black kids at a school that held 1600 people meant that more often than not you became the token black friend of a group. I surrounded myself by the best white kids I could; the smart ones, the teacher’s pets, the well liked ones, the ones who would say “sometimes I forget that you’re black, you just act so...white.” Of course that statement drove me to insanity, but when you’re just trying to make it through the year you begin to allow things like that to go. These were the friends who could get me out of any dangerous situation. They were the friends who would say I was the “cool black girl” and suddenly any worriment to my person would disappear. If I was around a group of white girls, suddenly I was no longer a threat. Cops wouldn’t look at me like I was a criminal, teachers wouldn’t have their finger on the security button, I was simply an accessory to an otherwise homogenous group. It was shameful but it was the truth of that time. I, and other black kids, did what we had to do to survive day after day in such a cruel school.
There was a boy in my grade who I liked. He said I was different than other girls. We talked everyday about whatever we pleased, at that time, I thought no one in the world understood me like this boy did. My mother warned me that one day he’d say something or do something that would make me regret spending so much time on him, she said that we would never be a couple because his family would never let him date a black girl. She said he would never understand me fully, that the ability to comprehend what I feel as a black girl would never become him.
The constant blur of violence against my people had overwhelmed me. I texted the boy and confessed my fears. I worried about what would happen in our small suburb of Dardenne Prairie. I worried of protests. I worried about getting hurt. I worried about being killed. He replied, “Don’t worry, those people who are protesting against the cops won’t come over here. And if they do, they’ll have hell to pay.” I had never felt like such a fool. Because in his mind, the biggest threat wasn’t the cops who pepper sprayed protesters, sprayed them with rubber bullets, pulled hoses on them, or killed innocent black people. The biggest threat was black people. Because in his mind, “being unlike the other girls” was really code for “you might be black but you’re I can tolerate your blackness”. Because in his mind, Black Lives Matter and Michael Brown and mothers weeping over their dead sons was nothing but an inconvenience for him.
My mother was right, I was filled with so much regret that night.
“What is the difference between the sound of fireworks and the sound of gunshots” became my most frequent search of August 2014.
The difference being that fireworks echo throughout the sky and paint the dark night vibrant shades of red. The sound of a gunshot ends quicker than an unarmed black man’s life and leaves the sidewalk stained dark red.
If the story of what happened to Michael Brown wasn’t being played--but not the accurate story, instead they painted him as nothing more than your average thug--on the TV then all you saw were stories of cops doing good deeds. They would hug as many black people as their pride would let them of they would talk about how much they love giving back to their community. Of course my classmates and teachers used this as fuel for their “not all cops” narratives. There was one day when I asked, “but don’t you think that the cops have an obligation to report if one of their co-workers might have a prejudice against a certain group of people? If someone had reported that cop then maybe an innocent kid wouldn’t have been kidded.” The amounts of excuses people gave me to try and cover up the wrongdoings of the police force was amazing, there were some real creative thinkers in my class. Somehow, the cops could do no wrong according to them. Everyone saw them on TV acting nothing short of saints.
They ran the same sort of segments on the local news every night; you learn the cops name and face and where they work at, they do some good deed and they hug a random black kid. That’s great and all but what would have been greater is if even one of them showed any sign of mourning or regret for what had transpired in Ferguson. Missouri had become the hub of propaganda in a few short weeks, there was no news station you could turn on that ran the true story of what was going on and there were no stations that didn’t convey the Blue Lives Matter message. The sad part is that the news stations did this every time a cop messed up, they felt absolutely no shame for slandering the name of the dead and making Black Lives Matter into some violent riot. They felt no shame for not denouncing a man who killed a child.
The media painted Ferguson, Missouri in such a harsh light. The fires weren’t started by the citizens of that city, the people who looted didn’t live there. All of the violence captured on film was caused by individuals who cared little for what was going on. They weren’t angry about the death of a young black man, they were just looking for an opportunity to cause trouble. But the only headlines you would see are “BLM Protestors Rioting and Looting Again”. It was all false. The media never showed all of the good the protestors were doing, they never showed all of the tears mothers wept because they could see their own child in Michael, they never showed all of the white people flocking to gun stores and buying all of the ammunition up, they never showed all of the white kids who suddenly were being taught to fire at anything with color or being signed up for self defence classes “just in case” but that was the reality of it all. That’s what you didn’t get to see.
My parents drove me through Ferguson about two weeks after the protests ended. There were burned down buildings and broken glass but most importantly, there was a new memorial in the place of the last that had caught flames alongside the city. There was a picture on the web and it was of three cops who looked on as Michael Brown’s memorial burned but I bet that that photo never reached the mainstream. The new memorial was small--just a few flowers, some stuffed animals, a picture, and a pair of white shoes tied together swinging on a telephone line--but it was made by BLM protestors and the citizens of Ferguson.
Unlike what the national news showed, it wasn’t a dangerous place. It was just a city trying to mourn the loss of a child and trying to understand how the justice system could be so cruel. Truly, the most dangerous places in Missouri at that time were the white suburbs.
I don’t think that what happened in 2014 completely changed Missouri, it was already a messed up place. The majority of citizens had long of history there, generations upon generations. If anything, what happened in 2014 just peeled back a layer of the facade that the people put up, slowly the true ugly head of racism peeked through more so than before.
Last year I was in my government class talking about court cases and one case had to deal with offensive names getting copyrights. The exercise we were doing was based off of a real case, one of a bad called the Chinks trying to get their name copywritten. Everything was going surprisingly well despite us taking about such matter, that was until one of my classmates brought up NWA. It was a downward spiral from there, my teacher asked what NWA meant and of course the student answered. Suddenly the exercise we were doing was dismissed completely and every white kid who ha ever wanted to say nigger in class took the opportunity and ran with it fervently. Even my teacher was saying it too. Perhaps I should have been more surprised or embarrassed or uncomfortable but I wasn’t. All I could think of was back to 2014, it was the same concept all over again--”let’s all see how blatantly racist we can be in front of the black girl until she snaps”. My teacher stood up proudly, as if she had just come up with the most brilliant thought and said, “what if I we all went into Ferguson in 2014 wearing shirts that said ‘I hate niggers’ on them? Would ny of you be offended?” The class went silent. Absolutely no one said anything. I yelled from my spot in the back of the class that it would be very offensive and it was like everyone had realized that there was , in fact, a black person amongst them. She tried her best to convince me that she wasn’t trying to upset me and that there was “absolutely no way she was racist since she helped foster a black kid once”. The room was silent for a few seconds and then I stood up and told my teacher I was going to leave since I obviously wasn’t welcomed there.
Although it was years later, what happened in August of 2014 remained a big talking point in Missouri. Of course, when nothing else happen in such a boring state, people cling on to what they can, even if what they cling on to is the death of an innocent black kid.
Often times, I thought that the people of Missouri wished that another black person would die in their state just so they would have another reason to stock up on guns and say their true thoughts. Often times, it felt like it was me who they wanted dead next.
I do think that all of us think in poems.
-Naomi Shihab Nye
Contributors to the blog are students in Ms. Washington's classes: Seniors in AP Literature and 9th grade ELA.