For St. Louisans, Ferguson Is A Painful Push Towards A Discussion About Race
Ask most any protester in Ferguson what they think about the fatal shooting of Michael Brown at the hands of Officer Darren Wilson, and you’ll get a ready response. But in the greater metro region, people are less willing to talk. From Clayton to Belleville, north St. Louis to Kirkwood, as many people declined to talk about Ferguson as were willing to be interviewed.
Here is what those who spoke had to say.
In the Central West End at the Archdiocese’s Mass for Peace and Justice
“With Michael Brown, this is enough. And this is a time for a new start for all of us,” said Toni Amadon of St. Charles. She and her friend Rhonda Bowler said that they would pray for change and be a part of whatever the Archdiocese of St. Louis organizes. Archbishop Robert Carlson pledged to reopen the archdiocese’ human rights commission during his homily.
“Race issues have always been like a blemish on my love for the city. There are so many good things here, but there has always been this undertone, unfortunately, that makes me sad,” said Chris Cummings of Ballwin.
“I’m hopeful that there will be growth and that there will be a discussion and that what is kept quiet can be spoken openly without fear, and make St. Louis a better place for everybody,” he added, saying that was why he came to the Mass.
“It’s depressing that this continues to go on in city after city, and time after time,” said Barbara Moore of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet. “I hope we can do something to address the underlying issues.”
Moore said that racism is systemic and that everyone needs to vote in order to get good representation.
“For me there’s no excuse (for not voting)” said Moore, explaining that she had been part of the Selma, Ala., march for voting rights in 1965.
Moore attended the Archdiocese of St. Louis’ Mass for Peace and Justice with fellow nuns Thelma Mitchell and Monica Kleffner. Mitchell said that she agreed with everything that Moore said, before adding that she felt sorry for the police officer who shot Michael Brown.
“This policeman probably never had any kind of meaningful conversation, just an ordinary conversation with a black person, other than in his job as a policeman,” said Mitchell, who is a Franciscan Sister of Mary. “And I felt sorry for him, because he was acting out of some fear or some idea that he had about how this is how people act.”
In University City
“I just wish that they could stop the violence and try to focus on healing the family and the neighborhood,” Donna Martin of University City said in Heman Park on Wednesday.
“Let’s stop it now before it gets worse and focus on what needs to be done. You go through the legal procedure, going to court and get things done,” said Clint, who declined to give his last name. “Because destroying things, eventually a lot of people are going to get hurt, if it constantly keeps going like it’s going. It’s going to snowball and snowball and there are going to be more tragedies.”
“It’s very heartbreaking, really, that that’s what’s happening. That a community is really torn apart, and from what I understand a lot of the protesters aren’t even from St. Louis,” said retired teacher Marianne Unanue of Clayton, speaking of the disruption to school and business caused by protests.
Unanue said that racism isn’t something that she has had to deal with in her own life, but that she has witnessed it everywhere she has lived — from London to Massachusetts.
“There’s always those undercurrents of whether they’re accepted or not,” she said.
“It’s not (something that can be solved with) a simple salving over, putting a Band-Aid on it. It’s very deep that has to be solved now before it gets too bad,” said Unanue.
“I think it’s pretty sad. I don’t understand all the hate, and I think it’s unnecessary. The peaceful protesters I can agree with. I’m not too sure I agree with the way the police handled the situation, but it sounds like they’re starting to get a handle on it,” said Jill Berger of south St. Louis County.
When asked whether she thought the protests had brought up issues that needed to be discussed, Berger said “definitely,” adding that “it’s something that should have been addressed a long time ago. I don’t think it has to do with race at all. I think it has to do with our police force and trying to not let them have free reign.”
Berger did say that there may be an element of racial profiling among police.
“We’re a bit afraid that (the unrest) is going to impact our lives and spread to us,” said Lynn Randall of University City. “Probably six or seven blocks from us there’s a strip mall. And we got up one morning and ‘F— the police’ was vandalism that had been written across the side of the strip mall.”
“I tend to believe that no one unarmed, black, white or otherwise should be shot down,” said Kathleen Bibbins of Webster Groves. “Having said that, I don’t think we’re ever really going to understand what happened.”
“I believe there is white privilege in this country. I believe that because I was born white I have an advantage that others don’t, and I don’t think that is right. And I have a 15, almost 16-year-old son, and I don’t worry about him walking down the street and being stopped and behaving in a way that isn’t quite right for a police officer. He’s 16, he’s surly. He can be snotty. He’s also wonderful but you never know what’s going to show up,” added Bibbins. “On the other hand, I feel a lot of concern about cop hatred, police hatred. I think anyone who goes into that profession does it for a good reason. There are bad apples in every single bunch of wherever we work in the world.”
In O’Fallon Park, north St. Louis
“Do I think there is racism in the police system? Yes, I think there is racism in the police system. I mean, look at the stats,” said Robert Earl of north St. Louis. He declined to give his last name. “I mean, I understand the police because they’re afraid. But being tougher and bullying is going to make it much worse.”
“I don’t think nothing is really going to change until the money change,” added Robert Earl, who felt like a lot of the anger and frustration from protesters comes from lack of access to good jobs. “When the money change, then I think it will change. Until then, things are going to get worse. In my time of living — I’m 50. It’s not getting any better.”
“I really do understand the anger of the people of Ferguson over what happened,” said Becky Whisler of Belleville. “I’ve just been kind of on the fence waiting to see what information does come out as far as the investigation is concerned.”
“I am concerned about police, when they do overuse their power, and I think that it is possible in this case that that might have happened, but like I said I don’t know the full details of what happened. But maybe (the shooting of Michael Brown will) bring light to that and hopefully maybe bring forth some regulations as to how police should act in certain situations,” she added.
“It’s so sad, it’s sad and frustrating,” said Phil Elmore of Belleville. “Doesn’t seem like there’s going to be any winners, and everybody is looking for the blame, where to put the blame. And I’m not sure if there’s going to be anybody that is going to be happy with the outcome (of the trial) one way or another.”
He said that the St. Louis region needs “a lot of healing. A lot of patience and a lot of healing for people changing their attitudes. And change is tough.”
In Kirkwood, after a "Standing with Ferguson" vigil at Eliot Unitarian Chapel
Pam Wentworth of Richmond Heights said she attended her church’s vigil because she wanted to speak up for the children of Ferguson.
“It’s bad enough that there’s the business around them, that they aren’t sleeping at night because of the noise. But now they can’t go to school either. And so I just feel the strong need to let people think about what’s happening and what we can do to make a difference,” said Wentworth. “Protests are fine, but they don’t have to be destroying things in the process. It should still be safe for kids.”
Wentworth said she was horrified by the shooting and that she hoped St. Louis can put the hurts aside and work together for a better future.
“We’re pretty low now, we need to build up. We need to reach out to each other and take care of each other, and care about each other,” she said.
Tell us what you know
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