After decades of protests against police brutality, 19-year-old Kenidra Adams thought stopping officers from killing black people would be a top priority for the country by now.
Then she saw how a white Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd last month when he pressed his knee to Floyd’s neck for nearly 9 minutes.
For Adams, that was a painful reminder that little has changed.
“I’m angry. I’ve been angry, and the fact that I’ve been fighting for almost seven years now and we are still here,” said Adams, of St. Louis. “We came a long way, but we still have some way to go.”
Many in the St. Louis region are inspired that the wave of activism sparked by Floyd’s death is attracting widespread support from white people across the country. They’re hopeful that there may finally be a nationwide sense of urgency to save black lives, bring equality to the criminal justice system and boost social services.
That’s what led Roberta McWoods to organize a peace walk in Kirkwood.
“We should still do our part in trying to bring awareness to it by protesting and speaking up for people. But talking about systemic levels of racism, that didn't get there overnight,” said McWoods, an organizer of Kirkwood Teachers of Color and the high school’s track and field coach. “So it's going to take years of intentional change for that to happen.”
McWoods understands that some white people are unaware of how violent policing negatively affects the black community. So, she decided to use her rally to recognize other black people who have been killed by police and allow black educators to talk about their experiences or incidents related to police. One Kirkwood School District assistant principal spoke about the horror of preparing her son for police encounters.
McWoods said white people need to be allies in the fight for racial equality.
“When you're born into a system of privilege, it's kind of hard for you to lose the privilege because it's in your head mentally,” McWoods said. “But once you realize that you are who you are, then are you using your privilege to help others in this situation?”
Black Americans are aware that demonstrations will eventually cease, but many believe the expressions of support from corporate America could help.
St. Louis-based World Wide Technology has decried violence and racism and announced it will expand its $1 million Global Community Impact Program to support social employees working to eradicate racism and social injustice. Purina, another regional company, issued a statement against racism, discrimination, bigotry and inequalty, noting that it would support local leaders and organizations pushing for equity.
Companies across the nation are donating millions to support social justice and anti-racism initiatives and aid minority businesses. When corporations speak out against injustice, that reflects well on them, but it won’t necessarily change laws, said Demarco Davidson, a community organizer for Metropolitan Congregations United.
That’s why Davidson and other activists say it’s time to take their messages to corporate centers and affluent communities.
“People are recognizing where the real power is,” said Davidson, who marched in Ferguson in 2014. “We need to be in Clayton, and if we really want to get some attention, then we also need to be in Brentwood and St. Charles.”
With pop-up protests in various cities across the St. Louis area, Davidson said the people’s voices are being heard. But he is frustrated that it took that long for white America to recognize that the nation is still plagued by its racist past and continuing inequality.
“It took all of this and then all of the accumulation of all the other deaths over this many years, decades and centuries to finally get to a place where now corporations are actually acknowledging the systemic oppression,” Davidson said.
Now that many white people are listening, some protesters in the area are demanding that local municipalities defund their police departments. They want cities to examine police tactics, enact laws against excessive force and hold officers who violate them accountable.
Davidson said he knows others want to abolish police, but he doesn’t think that would be the best solution for ending police violence against black people.
He suggests more mental health screenings for officers and for departments to prohibit deadly police tactics.
Davidson also thinks the St. Louis region needs to address disparities in employment, education and health care that have long contributed to inequality.
“What we are aiming for is better policies for not just police, but for education, for children and we want to be able to have a healthier community for our future,” Davidson said.
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