Eighteen-year-old unarmed Michael Brown was shot and killed on Saturday afternoon in Ferguson, Mo. He was black in a city that is two-thirds black with a white mayor; one black and five white city council members, a white police chief, 48 white and three black members of the police force, and one Latino and six white members of the school board.
I went to the Monday morning rally outside the police department. Sunday night, there had been rioting and looting, and a store had been burned down. The Monday gathering was sober and angry. The police stayed at a distance, but they were in riot gear.
A coalition had already formed that includes the Tauheed Youth Organization, Organization for Black Struggle, New Black Panther Party, Moorish Science Temple, Coalition Against Police Crimes and Repression, Nation of Islam - Mosque 28, and the Universal African Peoples Organization. The emcee, Zaki Baruti, called on us to join an organization. You can't stand for justice alone, he said. And he and other speakers at many events said, "Vote." Ferguson's white governance would seem evidence that blacks there haven't been voting, and the black St. Louis County Executive just lost a primary race in a nasty fight.
We marched about three blocks with our hands high, as if at gunpoint, and one of the chants was simply, "Don't shoot."
The coalition had four demands: that the officer involved in the shooting death of Michael Brown be identified; that he be fired and charged with murder; that the Ferguson Police Department "Protocol Handbook" be distributed throughout the Ferguson community; and that the racial composition of the Ferguson Police Department reflect the racial demographics of the community. On Friday, police released the name of the police officer who shot Michael Brown: Darren Wilson, a six-year veteran of the police department.
Monday night, the NAACP held a meeting at a local church. It was televised on our local NBC affiliate. The invited speakers were all men. They gave strong speeches and offered some conflicting strategies for action and change. Then the mike was opened, and the women were angry.
"You community leaders went home last night and left our children out on the street. They didn't know how to show their anger. You were not there to give them guidance."
"Where are our young people now? We're in here and they are outside."
"I came here looking to hear a coherent plan, but there is no plan."
Then a woman said, "Would all the mothers here please stand for a moment? Could any of us have stood as Michael Brown's mother stood in the street for four hours while her son lay behind that yellow tape? They didn't even have an ambulance there or an EMT to declare him dead. And she stood there."
That is the account that sears my soul: the black mother, the black child, the white police securing the scene.
Some facts are still unknown. An autopsy may be able to tell whether Michael Brown was indeed shot while 35 feet from the police officer, facing him, with his hands up. Witnesses may clarify how the incident began. A rumor says there is a cellphone record in police hands. But whatever information comes to light, I will in my heart be standing with Michael Brown's mother outside that yellow tape parameter.