Listening is a two-way street. As part of a new project here at St. Louis Public Radio, we’re visiting communities throughout the region to ask about the issues that matter most. We’re calling it St. Louis Public Radio Listens.
Last week, we visited the Ferguson Municipal Public Library with an open invitation. We asked residents to share their thoughts about what has changed, and what hasn’t, in the past two years. Here is a sample of their responses.
Kiersten Powers, college student and library employee
"When I was growing up in high school I started driving, my mom said, 'you can tell the color of someone here by how many cop cars are behind them when they get pulled over.' That’s something we joked about and I think we took it for granted as being normal. Now that there’s people paying attention to it, and a lot of people are starting to see that it’s not just us exaggerating or us complaining about things that really don’t exist. It’s kind of helped, and it’s kind of made people feel less crazy. I think it’s made me feel less crazy because it’s like, 'oh — I’m not the only one seeing this.'"
Larry Miller, political activist.
"I came up during the Dr. King area as a little boy. And I always was wondering, when I asked my mom and dad what was going on out there, why were people marching. Isn’t it unorthodox to speak out, to say something that no one else has an opinion about, or people look down on you for complaining?
.... In Ferguson, I couldn’t even control it. I couldn’t even hold myself back and set to the sideline, that’s how I ended up getting involved. We started filming the police. When we would see something happen, one of us would pull over — not interfere — but we would pull over and take our camera out and start filming. Just to make sure that they do their job right, and to make sure that the citizen does the right thing also. We just so tired of it we didn’t know what else to do but to do that. It turned me into something I didn’t even know I was going to be, a political activist."
Jerry and Ruth Benner, retired schoolteachers.
Jerry: "Actually, one reason I think I wanted to stay in Ferguson, is I wanted to live in an integrated world. My children grew up in that, and I wanted that. We both did."
Ruth: "We were a little blind to things. We thought we were doing a good job."
Jerry: "Fortunately a book I’m reading right now is called “White Trash,” which is a history of class in America. It’s institutional. As a white citizen I have not experienced any of that. And I didn’t see it."
Ruth: "Maybe I’m still kind of Pollyannaish, but I think even if Ferguson wasn't the worst, Ferguson might have the best tools for making change."
Corey Townsell, father of two.
"It’s been two years, but it’s still like it happened a couple days ago, a week ago or something. But … it’s cool now. I mean, every police officer, they stop, they talk, they pullin’ up. They’re trying to interact, they’re doing what they say they’re going to do. And they trying to live by that and stand on it. Gotta hold your word; your word is your bond. That’s all you got."
Katy Keller, social worker
"We could see the police station from the baby’s bedroom window and could hear everything. There were nights when it was just really loud. We just kind of kept the windows closed and would turn on the fan and hope that it would kind of drown it out so it didn’t wake him up. Today it’s totally normal. I definitely hope that they would fix things, and I certainly don’t think it’s going to happen overnight and it’s only been two years. So to change social systems and structures takes a little bit of time."
Felicia Pulliam, Ferguson Commission member
"The most important change that’s happened in Ferguson regarding the citizens is the enhanced civic engagement. Having so many people at the City Council meetings, the protest ... "A large segment, especially of our young people, don’t see a future for themselves. And they’re very, very young. But I was happy to see them out there saying that they matter.
"You know I say often, N.W.A. was inducted into the Rock and Roll [Hall of Fame] this year. And 25 years ago, those young men were talking about the conditions in their community, the oppression, and people criticized them. They said that they were thugs. But what if we had heard those young men? What if we had valued them? And worked on police-community relations for 25 years. Our country would have been a much different place. And I hope this time we don’t squander the opportunity to correct course."
Do you have a reflection about the past two years in Ferguson that you would like to share? Fill out this form with your thoughts.