What happens to a protest when the cameras go away? How does a cause maintain its legs? These are the questions that many in Ferguson, Missouri, have been wrestling to answer these last few days as media attention has faded with the quieting of the violent confrontations between police and agitated residents (plus an influx of outsiders with varying agendas) that engulfed this St. Louis suburb for two weeks following the shooting death of Michael Brown. But just because there’s been a break from the tear gas and riot gear doesn’t mean the protesters and activists have given up. They’re still out on the streets of Ferguson.
A group of mothers remains posted up outside of the Ferguson Police Department. A tent city of teens and twentysomethings who’ve named themselves the Lost Voices are stationed in an empty lot next to a furniture store. Busloads of freedom riders from Black Lives Matter are marching Saturday from the Canfield apartments where Brown was killed to the Ferguson PD. Below are mini-portraits of some of the stalwart protesters and Brown family supporters, the ones who’ve been out since the beginning, and who plan on sticking around or coming back as often as they can.
Anthony Livingston, 21, employee at Family Dollar and Bailey’s Range burger joint
That’s my little cousin, Mike Brown. I was with him the day before it happened. I was scrolling through Instagram and I see someone say #MikeMike. That made me rush over here. It was the last thing on my mind that it was gonna be him.
The first couple days, the only thing that kept going through my head like over and over again was that a few days before he’d been like, “Man, I feel like I’m gonna be famous one day. I feel like I’m gonna be the next Lil Wayne!” He was a really a quiet, gamer type, but he started rapping and making music and people started gravitating toward this. It was just funny ‘cause it was just like out the blue. Like overnightlike Mike Mike is a rapper now. And you couldn’t tell him that because he was taking it so serious, but you had to go with him. Whatever he had his mind on, he was gonna do it and he was gonna take it serious. I’m not gonna lie, I wasn’t taking it as serious as he was, but as I seen him, he was serious-serious! We was talking about making our own mix tape.
The first couple of days I ain’t watch the news. Then the first day I watch it, it was crazy. You know, somebody you be around every day and to hear white people, even black people talking bad about somebody you be around every day, you actually know this person? It hurt, you know. It really did, for real. And you can’t do nothing about it but just listen to it.
Tim Snead, 23, Sam’s Club employee, photographed in Canfield Green
My first case of getting locked up was in 2009, here in Ferguson. I was jogging to the bus stop and supposedly the street that I was jogging off of, there was a burglary. They pulled up, one cop maced me, I fell on the ground, he put the cuffs on me, he told me to open my legs. I figured he was gonna help me get up. He kicked me in my nuts. If I’m lying, I’m dying. After I already had mace in my eyes! This was my first time getting locked up, my first offense, my first charge. They charged me with property damage. The property damage was that the cop that was chasing me supposedly ripped his pants. My bond was $1,400, and I got 14 days.
I’m always gonna be out here, because I know what’s really going on. I’m gonna be here till God come.
Anthony Bell, 3rd Ward Committeeman, photographed at St. Marks Baptist Church
Day one, I was out here negotiating to get that young man’s body out of the street when he got killed, when the Ferguson police wouldn’t take his body out of the street. Chief Jackson lied to me three times out on the scene. First was when I asked him why he was keeping that young man’s body in the street. He said he was doing an investigation. They never did no investigation work on the body. I was standing there watching with the rest of the people. Secondly, I asked him if I could come up and view the body. I asked that because I didn’t want them to plant no gun on him. But when it came time for me to come up and see the body, he got several police to hold up canvas around it so you couldn’t see it. Thirdly, he asked me to move the people back so he can do his investigation. So we moved back. When they moved back, he go and bring out all these police dogs and sic them on us. It’s a tinder box. It’s low-income housing; they’re struggling because most of them don’t have jobs. It was a tinder box waiting to happen, and it ignited the whole country. We’re registering people to vote, giving out hot dogs and soda. Last election we had 12 percent voter turnout. We need to change that.
Norma Brooks, 67, nurse and street minister, Florissant, Missouri, photographed at St. Marks Baptist Church
We were the first responders because the Lord sent us to the scene to pray. The young people didn’t join us. They were just very dissatisfied and loud and boisterous. The Lord allowed us to walk up and down and keep it peaceful. This is what we do, we’re community workers, but we’re on the Christian side. We’re not activist-activists. We display Christ-like behaviors. We came to pray. We got there at about 12:40, and we prayed right up until we got that body up off the ground. We will march if we have to, nonviolent — Martin Luther King. And we will help when we can help. But it’s not to be on the scenes. It ain’t to be in the public eye. We just know that God has got to work through the men to work this out.
Synetra Evans, 32, artist-rapper, Ferguson resident
The day after he got killed was my daughter’s birthday. She turned 10, we celebrated, then we still came out. It was a circle, everybody holding hands, and I just bust out and start singing. I want justice. I gotta live around here. My kids gotta live around here. I got two daughters, 10 and 11. Ain’t no shame in my game. I’m not scared. I got the tear gas in my system. It wasn’t the police. It was just people acting ignorant, and if you act ignorant with the police, they gonna act ignorant back. But I don’t get those people protesting for the officer. I’m not racist. But why you out there protesting about this officer like he did right when he did wrong?
Tonja Bulley, 49, social worker, and Tyler Foster, 2, Jennings, Missouri
I just heard two or three different tales from the chief of police and I was like, “They should be more transparent. They holding something back. Something ain’t right.” Like [Officer Wilson] getting hit in the face. Come to find out he never got his eye socket broke. I have black children; I have a black son. I don’t know how the shooting happened, but isn’t that too many gunshots?
He’s 18. How many young kids do you see doing stupid stuff like taking stuff out the store? If he took something at 18, later on he may wind up being the mayor if he lived! And he could say, “I was dumb; I did some stupid stuff.”
My grandson may not understand this, but one day he’ll read about this movement, and he’ll know he made this change right along with his granny. If it was a white person, I would do the same thing. It don’t matter. I just want justice, that’s all.
Rev. Cecil Rodgers, 61, Pentecostal Church of God
I been out here two weeks. All the clergy have stepped in, young and old. Young people be young people — they angry and they may say and do things they don’t mean. They don’t understand what we been through as a people, what we experienced, what we came out of, where we come from, how our ancestors were raped and whipped in slavery. We have a lot of young black boys killing each other and we have to tell them, “There was a time when we didn’t even have the right to vote.” Martin Luther King and Malcolm X had to be assassinated, standing up for our rights, to get us where we are. Some of them can’t really comprehend that, because if they did, I don’t think they’d be doing the things they did. Now let me ask you a question: Have you accepted salvation? Don’t you think it’s about time you know the Lord?
Marcellus Buckley, 22, poet, St. Louis , photographed at Canfield Green
I come out every night, and I write a poem every day. They showed them on CNN and now I’ve been getting calls from people in Africa, China — I can’t hardly understand what they’re saying. The poems are for the community. I’m just showing them, Look, youth have some knowledge in our brains.
Carey Jenkins, 37, organizer and consultant, Atlanta
I have a 17-year-old son, so seeing folks get shot with rubber bullets, I saw my son being shot. Seeing Mike Brown lying on the ground, I saw my son, I saw myself.
I think that the older clergy and the youth of this city needs to have a conversation off the record. There’s a changing of the guard in leadership. As soon as we got teargassed and shot with rubber bullets, all that Martin Luther King shit went out the window. We ain’t sucking his dick no more, we ain’t sucking Malcolm’s. All that’s out the window. We out here as long as the community is out here and as long as they want to fight. This is youth driven, youth led. You’ve never had this militarization of police, and young black men standing up to, really, the United States government. There is no leaders. That’s the beautiful thing. We’ve learned from the death of Martin Luther King, Fred Hampton. Nobody’s trying to be celebrity organizers, nobody’s trying to be in the limelight. Everybody who is a part of this movement who you see in the streets right now, they’re not getting talking points on MSNBC. They’re in the streets.
Rev. Osagyefo Sekou, 43, First Baptist Church in Boston
I’m here for the long haul. I have children out here, 21 to 7. I have five babies here and an ex-wife, who gave me these tennis shoes, because I threw my back out running from tear gas for four nights in church shoes. My boys have been okay, thank God, but every black parent gives them the talk. There’s a black-parent talk, like, “This is how you interact with the police. Keep your hands on the wheel, don’t put your hands in the pocket, do what they tell you to do, we’ll deal with lawyers later. That’s how you stay alive.” Every black parent gives that talk. I got that talk as a child.
Angela Whitman, 44, DJ, activist for Mothers to Mothers, the group camped outside the Ferguson Police Department
I had lunch with the general attorney of the United States of America, Eric Holder, him and I and seven other people, and it was the best experience I have ever had in my life, because I was able to speak freely to him about what was going on. He came with pen and paper wanting to know what is it that is needed. He bought us lunch, then I went to sleep on him. I was tired.
Missouri is the last slave state. There is no way we are 67 percent African-Americans in North County and there is no blacks on our school board, only three blacks at the police department. And we’re supposed to be okay with it? We not okay with it. And I blame us as a people, because we didn’t get out and vote. But if nothing else, I promise you, this right here, everybody, when it’s time to go start voting, everybody’s gonna start voting.
Cathy Daniels, 52, culinary student, and grandson DeAndre Smith, 10
I started coming out maybe a couple of days after the incident. I saw the call to action and I responded and I been coming out daily, bringing water, making sure that everybody’s hydrated. Get out there with my signs, put my signs up in the air. We gotta change some things right now. Change start with us.
I moved to Florissant from California, I’m from New York. My husband grew up here, so I’m a recent transplant. My husband retired from the military and we bought our home here, and when I got here, I’m not gonna lie to you, I hated it. Because of the way people was treated! African-Americans don’t get a chance around here. You get looked at like, “What are you doing in this neighborhood?” Well, I was able to buy a house here. So I have every right to be here. My husband was able to go and possibly die for this country. My children was able to possibly die for this country, because they served, too. My grandchild served. So I deserve to have a home here too. Racism is horrible in Missouri, I’m not gonna lie to you, but now I see a light at the end of the tunnel. I hate that that baby died, but his life meant something. His life meant change.
Cheyenne Green, 21, activist Lost Voices, Delwood, Missouri (right up the street), photographed in tent city
I’m an activist, or I recently became one. I came out a week and a half ago. I was tired of watching it on the news. I figured, “I live just down the street, there’s no reason I can’t just come and march and show my respects.” The first night I did that, I ended up staying the whole entire time. The next day, we got a free-assembly line, we got an empty lot, we started sleeping here. We didn’t have anything at all, it was literally with our book bags or nothing, sleeping on the concrete. Then the next day we got cardboard boxes from stores. Then the next day someone brought a sheet and a couple pillows, then the next day someone brought a tent, then we got more tents, then we started getting ice water. Now we an organization called the Lost Voices. We got the name because we’re talking about people from the past until now. Our grandmas and grandpas saying, Oh we shoulda did that, oh I shoulda said that. We’re speaking up. We’re speaking up for the people who are not heard, this young generation.
People are still coming, it may not be a bunch of groups at once, it may not be media showing it, because media doesn’t show the truth. I realize that. I’ve seen the police agitating when the cameras are on and then when it’s night, we won’t be doing anything, just standing here quietly: Why do you guys need six or seven police cars for the ten of us that are not doing nothing? They say, “Oh we’re just coming to check on you,” or smart stuff, or drive by and flick us off. Just rude things. Not all, mind you, but them rude ones; they try to agitate you to lock you up. I’ve only seen it happen once, but once is all you need. You have a badge on. You’re supposed to protect and serve.
Troy Woods, 48, porter, St. Louis, tent city
I got arrested Monday for failure to disperse. It was after they did all the looting, during a peaceful protest. We were leaving the area and the gentleman who was taking us to our cars and bus stops, and we ran into a road block and they stopped us, and next thing we know, ten of them surrounded us, holding M-16s. And then they lied and said there was a Molotov cocktail on the truck. They didn’t charge us with the Molotov cocktail because CNN caught it on tape, thank God.
Right now you got a lot of TV cameras and a lot of people watching. I think some of this is theater — the politeness for the last few days. I hope for the day in which it will be a permanent fixture, when they treat me like a man regardless, you know what I mean? I shouldn’t have to walk out my door and see a police officer and wonder what the heck gonna happen. Or my son or my grandkids to have that burden. I don’t want that to be the fabric of this country any longer. You know, we’ve contributed a lot to America, and we should’ve been treated like human beings a long time ago. And the changes we’re asking for are just human changes. Treat us like a human being. I’ll be coming out here, like Martin Luther King said, “Until justice screams down like a mighty river.” After work I come out here every night. This is my job. I gotta be free.
Steven Wash, 26, contractor, Lost Voices
We’re trying to get justice, trying to get peace, immediately. I think if it would’ve been a black man shooting a white cop, it wouldn’t be no six months down the line just to get a trial date. I knew Michael Brown from the community. I got a whole bunch of friends that stay in Canfield. I always used to be over there a lot. Everybody trying to twist everything around. He was an A/B student, he was on his way to college. Everything went the drain right there. For what reason? Over five cents? They want to say it was over a ‘rillo, but it was really over five cents. It’s just crazy.
I go home to charge everybody’s phone and take a shower. Otherwise I’m back here 24/7. All the community bringing us different kind of stuff. Everybody watch each other’s backs out here. When a couple sleep we got a couple people watching out for them. Me, I never sleep anyway. This probably my sixth day up without any sleep.
Desha Jones, 19, student, secretary of Lost Voices
I’ve lived in Ferguson my whole life. Mike was a good friend. They really did call him the Gentle Giant. He was really gentle.
I actually walked in on the murder. My daughter’s dad stays in the heart of everything and I was on my way to get her and I heard some shots. The first thing a mother thinks is to run where my baby is. I gotta make sure she’s okay. I had her stroller and I’m walking down the street and I see his body there. It’s just laying there. And the police officer was standing there looking at him. And when I was trying to walk up faster to get to him, the police got in his car and sped off. All I saw was a person laying there, not moving, brutally killed. You can just look and see that someone really killed him with passion. When I saw that I was just like, “That could’ve been my daughter laying on the ground.” To see the police officers are not really there to protect and serve, I want new people. This isn’t anti police. We do need people to help us. But we need it the right way.
My daddy got killed by a police officer ten years ago. I have him tatted on my leg.
I’m not going anywhere until justice is served. This is my home now. I go home to shower, then back out. My daughter is currently with her father. My momma take care of that for me because she knows that this is real and this is bigger than us.