Molly Metzger, PhD, Assistant Professor, Brown School
I have been disappointed by the mainstream media coverage of the protests demanding justice for Mike Brown and an end to policy brutality. Too often – in news outlets such as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch – protesters are portrayed as violent cartoons. This portrayal adds to the racial and class divisions within our region and does nothing to further compassion or understanding.
As just one example, the night after VonDerrit Myers Jr. was killed in the Shaw neighborhood of St. Louis City, the Post-Dispatch reported this story: “Violence Erupts After Vigil at Shaw Shooting Scene in St. Louis.”
According to the Post-Dispatch, the protesters were essentially violent and disorganized, failing to meet the clear and reasonable demands of the police. But there was a crucial detail left out of that story.
There was a turning point that happened at the intersection of Grand Boulevard and Arsenal Street a little after 10 p.m. Up until that point, the police had kept their distance from the protesters; the night before, that strategy had worked incredibly well. But a little after 10 p.m. that Thursday evening, two police officers started walking into the tail of the protest. They were not trying to talk to protesters, they were just walking east on the sidewalk on Arsenal. It was an odd sight. It may be hard for some to imagine police officers walking down the sidewalk as an “odd sight,” but my own personal reaction as soon as I saw those officers passively entering the crowd was that it didn’t look right.
The encroaching officers drew a lot of attention from the protestors very quickly. People swarmed around them and started yelling in their faces, which I’m sure was terrifying. These officers were exposed, being separated – for some unknown reason – from the rest of the police presence.
That moment seemed like it could get out of control and it soon did, as dozens of police rushed in, pepper spraying and clubbing people, tackling some to the ground, and establishing lines in riot gear. A very small number of people tried to fight back in that moment, though I personally didn’t observe any bricks or other weapons on the protesters’ side, as the Post-Dispatch had reported.
Obviously, I’m not saying that any violence or destruction of property was justified. It was scary to see windows being broken, particularly since we were just a couple blocks north of my home. And personally, it scares me when protesters scream directly in officers’ faces. There are moments when I fear that the officers will “crack” and start shooting us.
But I think that it is strange that the Post-Dispatch story did not mention the awkward incursion by those two officers that then resulted in violence.
My observations from that night are certainly incomplete. Maybe a protester did hit a cop with a brick – or engaged in some other kind of violence – before the pepper spray and billy clubs and riot gear came out. I didn’t see anything like that, but it certainly could have happened. But the fact that the more nuanced dynamics of that march (and many other events that I have attended) were left out of the headline news story makes me deeply skeptical of mainstream news coverage at this time.
I am glad that I have participated in Ferguson October and I look forward to continuing to support the growing movement. It makes me proud of our region to see the quickly growing organization for justice. And I urge others to see the story for themselves and to participate directly, rather than relying on the news.
If you are not the protest type, or if you have other important issues keeping you away, I encourage you to follow the ways in which the movement is reporting its own news. The youth at the heart of this movement are increasingly organized and tech-savvy. We should all be proud of them and follow their lead. One place to start for news and calls to action is fergusonoctober.com.
There is too much hand-wringing about “marginalized” and “disconnected” youth. We now have a clear opportunity to stand up and show these youth our love. Let’s not waste it.