Article and Photos by Katina Parker
August 30, 2014
Today, I stood where 17-year old Mike Brown drew his last breath. Where the police left him lifeless. Bleeding. In the sun. On the street. For more than four hours. As an example to every neighbor, every friend, every loved one: “We can, we will snuff you out, with or without provocation.”
His blood, his body oils have seeped into the asphalt. Now covered by a makeshift memorial, straight down the middle of a residential road, crossing over into the left and right lanes. Aging flowers. Teddy bears. Candles. Photos. Hand-written notes. Cars driving up on the sidewalk. To preserve the growing tribute. And neighbors moving slowly, studying the bittersweet spectacle, still in shock.
While I was taking these photos, Mike Brown’s mother drove by. The depth of her sorrow weighs in her eyes, her teeth, her hair, her breath. She closed down the rally this morning because she was ready to march to the police station. She couldn’t take no more speeches. So we marched a good mile in the blazing sun. Shouting: “Hands up, Don’t Shoot!” They were waiting for us. With reinforcements. Standing in a line, a menacing front, behind caution strips, hands poised on tasers. Moments later, she said, let’s march some more. Maybe an hour later, she wanted to march again. And again. And again. Everyone obliged. Her body could not stop moving. When the marching is over, she has to go home. And there, with her husband, the sorrow, I imagine it engulfs her.
My feet burn from standing where that boy was murdered. My heart burns. My head burns. My hands. My tongue. I am fire. I am fury. I am convinced. No justice. No peace. If we can’t have it, we will shut this shit down. All the way down.
Current situation. St. Louis PD tear gassed us tonight. And arrested 20 people. There’s a certain sound the batons make when they advance, sounds like a whip cracking against a slave’s back. Then they shuffle march with shields, take your space, push you off the sidewalk and into the streets, tear gas you, lunge forward in armored vehicles. Hog tie you with one of a hundred zip ties suspended from a belt of many life-altering weapons. Shout at you over the PA. Warn you to go home or they will kill, I mean, arrest you. For peaceful assembly. Because you tired of seeing folks murdered and harassed. Tired of being in the line of fire. But we not done yet. We not done.
November 17, 2014
Report back. Yesterday, I witnessed a man, a Black man my age, double over in two. Grief. Generations of grief. Stress over the wanton disregard for Black life so unapologetically demonstrated these last 101 days by police and elected officials. And fear for what will happen next. Rumor is that the announcement will come today, after school. Teachers won’t let their kids go outside. Businesses all up and down Flourrisant are boarded. People in the streets are learning to make homemade gas masks. Meetings, trainings, meetings, planning to demonstrate — and strategizing to protect ourselves from the police. This pit in my stomach, this far-away look in my eyes is one I see reflected in the eyes of so many who are simply heartbroken by the ways in which the system, the people who benefit from the system, have been bragging about their intention to murder us in the streets because we have chosen to say: NO MORE.
The mounting tension is unspeakable. Like the man I talked to yesterday, it breaks me down in unexpected ways.
I am heartbroken, but determined. I believe that we will win.
In spite of, three things that made me smile yesterday. Like she does every Sunday, Cadillac aka “Mama Cat” showed up at the Ferguson Police Department (FPD) to feed what she calls her “protest family.” She had two big old pots of chili – beef and veggie, 2 types of cornbread and several cakes parked in the back of her mini van. We ate good and we ate food made by someone who loves us.
It snowed. It’s very cold. But that didn’t stop people from keeping vigil outside FPD. They set up a tent with a heat pump. Folks were off in there learning to be street medics. I love our resilience and determination to be seen/heard.
The snow. I ate several handfuls. Every chance I got. And I smiled and thought about my family. How good it is to be alive and how honored I am to do this work.
I am back at the hotel. Speechless. The shit I saw tonight. Deep breaths. As I type, the police have protestors trapped in the basement of Mokabe’s. Tear gassing them. Mokabe’s has been targeted by police because the owner allows protestors to have organizing meetings there – and she offers safe harbor.
My colleague watched police tear gas a woman who was having a heart attack and who was brought to them for help.
Mayhem everywhere. Buildings on fire. Car accidents in front of me. Police pinning people to the ground with automatic rifles.
My gas mask got snatched off my scalp. My phone got dropped. But my heart, my spirit, and my cameras remain on point.
People kept asking me if I thought it was gonna get bad once the announcement came. People, it was already bad. When a woman’s child can’t make it down the street to his grandmother’s house without being hemmed up and murdered in front of friends and family by the police, when people who are justifiably aggrieved and angry can’t express what they’re feeling though peaceful protest, when the child’s mother is told by police to “get it together” and she done watched her baby boy’s body cook on the asphalt for four and a half hours, it is already really, really bad. We don’t need to see shit burn to measure just how deplorable our living conditions have become.
If all you watch is the news, you’d have no idea that there are thousands upon thousands of people across the U.S. who are peacefully jamming up the system by shutting shit down, making the powers that be uncomfortable, consuming their lives the way they consumer ours, engaging their humanity. We come at it from all angles. Those middle-age police in riot gear are no match for the sleeping giant that their tyranny has awakened in us. They gone learn.
If you want to know what’s really happening, follow these people on Twitter:
Follow these live streams:
Yesterday. At Ferguson Police Department. As we stood in the rain and snow, watching the National Guard switch out, I encountered one fifty-something White man in a hooded camouflage jacket, tannish, mustached, wearing a baseball cap and jeans, standing with protestors. He claimed to have driven from Tennessee. I found his questions and side-eye responses to other protestors rather curious. I refused to engage him. Clearly, he was not on our side.
His presence reminded me of the White man who drove up in a white bus, and parked it across the street from the Hands Up office last week. Understand, a White man in a white bus with tinted windows on the streets of Ferguson — at night, people, at night — is going to attract attention immediately. When we approached him to ask why he was there, he claimed to be en route to Nebraska. Said it was an army bus and he had re-routed to come see what all the “hub-bub” was about. He told us the bus was empty and invited us in. WE DECLINED. He pulled off immediately.
You cannot re-route an army bus. Military resources like fuel are supposed to be tracked carefully. In recent days, I’ve seen several of those buses on St. Louis highways.
The local Ku Klux Klan have been threatening protestors with lethal force and are rumored to have started some of the fires that occurred the night of the announcement.
Protest family, keep your eyes peeled for provocateurs and intimidators – and compare notes so we know them when we see them.
Yesterday, a moment of sheer magic and possibility.
I was walking down South Florissant with some live streamers, when we saw a news reporter and his camera guy setting up to do a 90-second live spot.
Reporter aka Josh Marshall: “Protesters were grabbing everything they could get their hands on and throwing it through windows.” He leans down to pick up a snowy rock to offer an example. Cheesy as hell.
Rebolutionary_z (livestreamer): “What did he just say?”
We all stop to listen. And then we surround him.
What proceeded was 30 minutes of going in from all angles. At first Josh was smarmy, smug, condescending. He ignored us and kept reporting until one of the guys stood between him and his camera, staring down viewers. He was forced to cancel his broadcast and face us.
In short, this is what we said:
“Some of us have been out here for more than 100 days protesting peacefully. This is our first time seeing you here. When you come to this city to tell stories about the aftermath of the grand jury’s announcement without placing it in the proper context of why some people have become so angry that they would tear down the buildings that house businesses and institutions that don’t directly invest in their communities, you endanger the lives of protestors – because you influence public opinion to support police in beating the shit out of us. You endanger independent media makers when we are confused with the likes of you. You endanger yourself. You are a White man who no one has seen before and you are stirring the pot on a dark street with no one around.”
He tossed out all kinds of excuses. “I’m just doing my job.” We told him get a new job or change the way the job is done. It’s just a 90-second spot. “Well, then I guess you better talk faster and think more strategically about what you say.”
He got all cocky and said he didn’t have to care about our feelings. But we didn’t budge.
He softened, then offered that he’d come to do a piece about this woman who’d lost her store in the rebellion. We told him her story was important, but never more important than the lives or dignity or safety of Black people.
Now, mind you, these live streamers are mostly White. When I tell you that they rendered Mr. Josh Marshall speechless…
So now, we’re launching Operation#GetItRightOrGetShutDown.
Media, you’ve been put on notice. If we see or hear you in the streets of any city, not just Ferguson, telling stories that sensationalize rioting, looting, or property loss or focus on upholding the police while framing protestors in a negative light, we will shut your shit down. On site.
You will not continue to defame, misconstrue or assassinate the character of our Movement. You will tell balanced stories that capture the complexity of the social and economic constructs that have brought us to this point.
And, Josh Marshall, from KCMO TV, we will be watching future broadcasts. Report responsibly or we will share your phone number and email in all forms of social media, encouraging concerned citizens to contact you and your producers. As I told you yesterday, that 30 minutes of candor was for you, not us. You’ve made life-long friends. We’ll be watching.
We must transform our spending habits. Buy local. Support small businesses. Support Black-owned, Indigenous-owned, Women-owned, Latino-owned, Asian-owned, White-owned, LGBTQ-owned businesses that support you and your family. Support artists whose work promotes the values of our movement.
In America, your money is your lifeblood (sadly). Be in conversation with the people you pay your lifeblood to, and with friends/family/community. Discuss and develop shared values, and systems of reciprocity.
These acts of discipline and self-transformation will turn the system on its head, causing big business to go out of business.
But we must never become like them. The money we make is to seed and sustain our freedom.
We watched police snuff that man’s life out in front of us, after he’d broken up a fight that they would have likely used excessive force to resolve. Over some damn cigarettes.
The numbness that I feel, the rage behind it, ooh. It’s taking everything that I can to, I don’t even know what to say.
Other than, it’s on. You want a revolution. We will give you a revolution. Keep telling us we don’t matter. Our ancestors breathe life into us every time we close our eyes and we wake up stronger, more determined because of them.
I believe that we will win, even now. Even in the face of your racist disregard for our families, our children, our progeny.
Stay woke y’all and get ready. Nothing will be the same again. We can’t allow this to continue.
#icantbreathe. literally. my chest has been tight for days. i need a break from the police. seems like they’re lurking everywhere i go. the grocery store. the car rental place. outside my home. ready to pounce. poised to over-react.
since thanksgiving, i’ve been laying low, recovering. this is the longest i’ve sat still since the end of july. i feel like an outpatient in my own private sanitarium. drifting through life, trying to make sense of what i’ve seen. in recent days, i’ve walked the dog, shot some hoop, took my little girl roller skating, slept for the first time in weeks.
sometimes, i find myself breaking down. flashbacks to the night of the announcement. the evil energy that threatened to consume us when we showed up at the ferguson police department to voice our frustration. they shouted and tear gassed and herded and threw flash bang hand grenades and set things on fire and marched and marched and tear gassed until thousands dispersed into the local neighborhoods, enraged. the humvees packed with snipers eager to shoot. the drones. the fear-drenched air. merciless intimidation tactics. 400 years of threat and murder.
it’s been a long time since i’ve been on the losing end of a gun. that night, i can’t say how many scopes found my body and passed me by, which ones had real bullets, which ones had “rubber.”
i wasn’t afraid for myself. i was afraid for the people around me, people i’ve grown to admire for their kindness and their courage.
when i go to st. louis, i take everyone i love with me.
i also take a gas mask, goggles, a bullet proof vest, a hard hat, cameras. i move through the streets with the jail support phone number markered on my wrist. i meet people in person because my phone and internet are being monitored. friends are receiving death threats. all of my survival skills and warrior healer training are put to task.
i am grateful to friends and family who have prayed me through, who’ve texted when they caught something on police scanner or twitter to give me a heads up, who’ve housed me, who’ve held me, who’ve hired me, who’ve welcomed me home with extreme compassion and offers to feed me. thankful in particular for Sammy Truong, Rachel O’Leary, Orlando de Guzman, Thaddaeus Allen Edwards, Beth Bruch, Serena Sebring, Emily Chavez, Daniel Stout, and Sarah Holtz Stout.
i am thankful to ms. davis, the tsa agent who i first met back in april, en route to my great grandmother’s funeral. i was holding everyone up, disoriented. i’d left my shoes on the other side. when i told her why i was flying, she apologized for chastising me, stopped the security line and gave me the most heartfelt hug. she asked me to come find her whenever i flew out, as if she lived at the airport. but sure enough, the last couple times, coming and going, she’s been posted up. when she sees me, she stops everything, holds both shoulders, looks deep into my being, tells me that my work is necessary, and encourages me to keep going. she reminds me of gladys parker. i love that my grandmother still sends for me after all these years.
i am thankful to dr. angelou. whenever i set foot in st. louis, her home city, i feel her calling me forward. i catch extra air in my lungs and hold my head up even higher because of her.
i am thankful to sis. my great grandmother. who wraps herself around me and ruthlessly extinguishes the dark things that seek me out.
i am thankful to my mother, who never balks when i tell her where i am going and what i am doing because of her own history of protest and being mistreated by police. she taught me to fight and she taught me well.
i am thankful to my aunt loretta, who calls the names of my ancestors on all sides of my family, even the ones she isn’t related to, and prays me up every time i deploy. if ever i’ve had a champion and an unofficial spokesperson to sing my praises and solicit prayer, it has been her.
i am thankful to Rachael Derello, who’s been holding it down with a very worried 5-year old and a boldly truant puppy for 3 months now. sacrificing personal time with me. missing me. concerned about whether i will come back alive and what state i’ll be in when i do. it is not easy to be selfless, even when revolution is at hand, it is not easy to love someone who will risk their life to make sure the story gets told. right.
to make sure the story gets told. right.
if you know my origins or you’ve felt my calling, then you know that i am like the thunder and the lightning. i come from the clouds. a force of nature, being tempered as i go.
weary, yes. sometimes. but, no. i am not afraid.
tomorrow is a new day.
It’s likely that some have begun to tune me out because I cannot stop talking about the ritualistic murder of Black and Brown people. The everydayness of wanton bloodshed that we’ve been brainwashed to accept as commonplace, and, perhaps, necessary. Our spirits are housed in bodies that feed a system that harms everyone involved, whether we comply or whether we rebel.
Resist! Like that moment your flesh comes into contact with cold steel and you jump back.
Resist! Like the first time you witnessed injustice and felt something in you die.
Resist! Throw yourselves on the gears. Shut shit down. And, no matter what, reconnect, stay connected to your humanity. When we behave and interact like robots, we become widgets. They win.
Your heart should leap out your body when you see another human being laying in the street or hanging from a tree.
If you can reason murder, you are too far gone. Come back. If you can justify tanks in the streets — any streets in any country, people being verbally or physically assaulted because they ask the police questions or document their abusive actions, you are too far gone. Come back. If you think that protecting businesses is more important than improving the quality of life for people, you are too far gone. Come back, friend. Come back from the edge.
If you are tuning me out because you are tired of the protestors being angry (as if we have not been angry for 400 damn years), tired of them disrupting your plans, or you think they are wasting everyone’s time, I need not call you back to the table. The system will find you just like it has found each of us who protest. And sooner than later, your own heartache will propel you to resist.
I will stand in solidarity with you even then. I know what it’s like to pretend that I am safe or to over-indulge in comfort so that I don’t have to face the dangers that await when I leave my home, perils that are being plotted against me even as I suspend myself in the illusion of leisure.
Coping. Everyone of us is coping in some way with the impossible task of thriving in the midst of White supremacy. I choose to fight. I refuse to be dominated. Or reduced.
I only have one lifetime in this body with this heart. And I want to sing. I want to dance. I want to laugh. I want to make love and benefit from lessons hard-won. I want to feel it all.
Upshot: I asked my cousin how she would respond if I called to say the Klan was in my yard. She said she and her boyfriend would roll out the house with all their guns before I could even get my sentence finished and would be calling all our people to my house while they drove talking about: “where they at?”
This is one of the things I adore about my family. You mess with one of us, you mess with all of us. My great grandmother would be so proud.
But then there’s this part: one day the Klan may be outside my door because of who I am and what I do. In hood or behind a badge. I’m not scared. I’ve been well-trained.
To donate to support continued documentation by #SpotlightOnFerguson, please visit: igg.me/at/dontshoot.
Katina Parker is a filmmaker, photographer, writer, graphic designer, cultural curator, social media expert, and communications consultant. Through her work she speaks to the multi-dynamic possibilities of technology and media to spark social and cultural change for voices who have traditionally been under-represented in media.
Born in Oklahoma City and raised in Wilmington, Delaware, she received her M.F.A. in Film Production from the University of Southern California and her B.A. in Speech Communications from Wake Forest University. Previously, she has been mentored by Inaugural Poet Maya Angelou, Poetry Legend Sonia Sanchez, Emmy Award-winning documentarian Alan Berliner, and veteran sitcom Director Peter Bonerz. Parker teaches social media and film through the Center for Documentary Studies (CDS) at Duke University. To follow her posts about Ferguson and beyond find her on Facebook, Vimeo and Twitter @katinaparker.