Ferguson ignites tensions that reveal divisions in the US
The most powerful image in Ferguson on Thursday night was not the handful of protestors, surrounded by twice as many camera crews, in the parking lot opposite Ferguson Police station. Although that does tell a story, but we’ll come back to that.
Instead, it was a short drive away, into the neighbourhoods where there are no street lights, and no gutters at the edges of the roads. The Ferguson neighbourhoods where the only brightness is cast by porch lights glinting dimly against the night.
On Canfield Street where Michael Brown was shot and killed on August 9 by the white police officer, Darren Wilson, there is a modest memorial. A traffic island of flowers in the place his body fell after he was shot six times.
Tonight, clustered around that island were those who’d decided this was the place they needed to be. Not amid the media scrum, but in the darkness, in the middle of the road. One young woman with long hair, stood silently, the flickering candle she was holding casting light up onto her face. Another woman, slightly older and thick set, stood further along, alone in her remembering, head bowed. There appeared to be a few other people off to the side of the road, but it was hard to see.
For protest organisers like Johnetta Elzie who we spoke with in the early afternoon, everything comes back to Michael Brown. She told me ‘The start of this movement is because of one dead black boy in the street for four and a half hours.’
She says the media are missing the point that protestors too could have been hurt by the shots which hit and injured the two police officers on Wednesday night.
But there is a narrative from the police that suggests the shooter was somehow among the protestors, or the protestors among the shooters – a version of events strongly denied by protestors like Johnetta, and not borne out by the police search for evidence which we witnessed up the hillside, well away from the area directly outside the police station where the protestors had gathered.
Protests were repeated Thursday night on a smaller scale by those who continue to demand police accountability, empowered in part by the damning Department of Justice report that described shocking levels of institutionalised racism, in the courts, in City Hall, and among police.
Yes there were lots of camera crews. But what happens in Ferguson is now viewed as a national and international story, revealing divisions in American society that are often obscured. What started with one dead black boy in the street for four and a half hours cannot stay hidden any longer.
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