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Michael Brown’s death echoes on six years later

The killing of Michael Brown, a young unarmed Black man, by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, six years ago, sparked protests which changed the civil rights movement in the nation. Brittany Ferrell, an activist and organizer for the political advocacy group Black Futures Lab speaks with Ivette Feliciano about the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests and her experience in Ferguson.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Six years ago today, Michael Brown, a young unarmed Black man, was shot and killed by a police officer in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri. Though questions still remain about what happened that day, the protests and the movement that it sparked have changed the course of civil rights in the U.S. Brittany Ferrell is a St. Louis-based activist and organizer for the political advocacy group, Black Futures Lab. Newshour Weekend Correspondent, Ivette Feliciano, spoke with her about the Ferguson protests and about how the killing of Michael Brown led us to where we are today.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    So first off, I want to ask you to take us back to 2014. How did the shooting of Michael Brown initially impact the Ferguson community and how did it change your life?

  • Brittany Ferrell:

    I was actually in New York on a vacation with some peers that I was currently at the time in undergrad with. I found out about Mike Brown's murder when I opened up Twitter and another peer of mine who was here had tweeted, "Ferguson Police Department just shot and killed an unarmed Black boy." And it was that moment that I was just instantly glued to my phone. Even from hundreds of miles away, the grief and the pain and the anger that the community was feeling was palpable, like it was so strong, you know, the response that folks had to such an atrocious act of violence. That is what urged me to book my trip home the very next day. It rocked our communities, it rocked our communities. And when– when people here gathered to grieve and when folks were met with violence, the response to that from the community, the response to the police violence from the community was that we're not going to let you kill us in the street and then tell us that we can't grieve. And it was that response that sent this ripple effect around the world where this civil rights movement that we are now living in has emerged from.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    What are your thoughts about how the media covered the protest? You know, many people outside of Ferguson saw images of fires and destruction to property and viewed the protests largely as riots. You know, how is that different from what you saw and experienced on the ground?

  • Brittany Ferrell:

    You know, the framing of our movement, the framing of our uprising at that time, it really put– it– they needed to control the narrative. So in order to do that, they pit the protesters, peaceful demonstrators, folks who were having vigils, who were met with violence, as– as the rioters, as the looters, as the dangerous ones. And the police were framed as being heroic, trying to save the community, trying to save the community from destroying their own community. It was very clear what they were trying to do. We see it today, right, when Donald Trump, he calls the protesters rioters and looters– looters. It's a very important part of his message because it gives validation to the fact that federal agents get to snatch people off the streets and no one should be concerned about it. It's a repetitive theme that I believe the media in the past has used a lot and that people get to hold onto to continue to perpetuate this– this narrative that police are necessary, violence against protesters is necessary because all they do is riot and loot, there's no purpose in– for them being out in the streets. And that's just inaccurate. And I'm actually very happy to see now, six years later that people are beginning to see how inaccurate that actually is.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    Back in 2014, former officer, Police Officer Darren Wilson was not indicted for Michael Brown's killing and he was cleared of any civil rights violations. What impact did that have on your activism and on the national movement that was sparked by this incident?

  • Brittany Ferrell:

    I felt like a sense of rage and anger and deep sadness and grief all at the same time. And it was in that moment that I knew for the rest of my life my work was going to be geared towards fighting for the justice and dignity and power for Black communities. And I have been on that same trajectory since then. Ever since the non-indictment came out in November of 2014, folks here and, I would– I would feel safe to say, around the globe have not– have not stopped mobilizing, have not stopped moving in pursuit of justice for Black people in this country.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    We're once again in a period of widespread protests surrounding the killings of unarmed Black people by the police. You know, six years later, why are we back here again? Is there anything about this moment that feels different to you?

  • Brittany Ferrell:

    Yes, this moment, it feels different, definitely. We have shifted in how we interrogate power over the past six years and we have also begun to reimagine justice. It's no longer, "Arrest the cops that killed Breonna Taylor." It's also "Defund the police and invest money into communities that need that type of investment, Black communities. Invest in things to help Black people thrive," you know?

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    How do you sustain a movement such as Black Lives Matter? What more needs to happen to truly shift policy and people's consciousness?

  • Brittany Ferrell:

    I believe that this movement is going to continue moving forward because we– we have to. We have to. We know that the only other option at this point, what it looks like is we are on the pathway to a dictatorship. America is falling into fascism. Is that what we want for our country? Absolutely not. I think that we have no other choice but to organize around the message that Black lives matter, because we know that if Black folks have justice in this country, everybody has justice in this country.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    Brittany Ferrell of Black Futures Lab, thank you so much for joining us.

  • Brittany Ferrell:

    Thank you.

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