Ferguson, Mo., community activists talk to WW

Ferguson, Mo., Aug. 24 — Abdul Syed marches courageously and in solidarity with the hundreds of protesters who march nightly demanding justice for the family of Michael Brown and an end to police terror. In spite of the intense police repression and the fact that he is Pakistani and Muslim and therefore subject to further repression, he proudly helps to build the solidarity between his community and the Black community here in Ferguson.

This horrible tragedy of the recent multiple murders by the police in Ferguson, beginning with the shooting of Michael Brown, has had an impact on the progressive movement that is most unwelcome to the powers that be in Ferguson and all the way up to the White House. That effect is the tremendous outpouring in the streets here that’s been echoed not only all over the United States but internationally as well, with statements, protests and other messages of solidarity from Palestine to Europe to Africa.

Syed reflects that international and domestic solidarity. Not only does he join the nightly marches, he also helps run a mosque, Muhammad Mosque #28, in this predominantly African-American town of Ferguson. The mosque is just a mile away from the protests on West Florissant Avenue and serves hot meals to those in need every Saturday.

“My parents came here to give us a better life, but we’ve seen many injustices happening, so we must show our support and solidarity. What happened to Mike Brown could happen to any of our brothers and sisters.” Syed is wearing a kaffiyeh to show his support for the Palestinian people. He said there were many parallels between the genocide against the people of Gaza and what’s going on here in Ferguson.

Syed adds how disappointed he gets when people say they support Israel’s war: “It breaks my heart because, sadly, we have people who are pro-Israel, and our tax money goes to their war. It doesn’t make sense because that’s the same money used to support Israel while Africans there are denied basic rights.”

Abbas Ali also represents the mosque and the food distribution program called “Project Downtown St. Louis.” He explained that one of the goals of their work is to help build unity within their community. “We have a command from our creator to help. We give out 100 meals every Saturday and if there is leftover food we’ll send it to the Ferguson protesters,” Ali said.  “There are lots of generous people in this community,” he added. The money, about $400 per week, is raised from local donations.

Duwan Duncan, a young Black man, and Kira Shane, a young Black woman, are also members of the mosque. They told us how the surrounding community appreciated this mosque in the middle of the Black community: “A lot of families are struggling to make ends meet and they just want a job to take care of their kids. People are doing the best they can. One grandma comes with five of her grandkids and she really needs our help,” said Shane.

With poverty also comes repression. Having lived here in Ferguson, they both have witnessed police abuse.  “A couple days ago, I was driving,” said Duncan, “and saw all these Black kids being handcuffed and all you see is a bunch of white cops surrounding them, and this was when the protests began. I don’t know if they did anything, but it looked like they were just minding their own business.” He explained that you don’t see police even get out of their cars in mostly white communities.

Said Shane, “I think people are pretty upset because police have been brutal and they’re saying, ‘Enough is enough.’”

A significant number of protesters are also coming from the surrounding neighborhoods and counties that are predominantly white. Mike Klellan and Hanna Britness, who are white, live in the city of St. Louis and came to Ferguson to show support. “We’re all in this together and things need to change and hopefully awareness will build,” said Britness. “Hopefully it means people are taking this more seriously and feeling that pressure.”

“It doesn’t look like anyone is going to give us justice,” said Klellan, “so we have to go to government. It’s been a constant uprising unlike anything that’s happened in St. Louis and it’s something you really can’t ignore and Obama can’t ignore it.”

Britness mentioned the solidarity of her neighbors, who got together to bring canned goods, and said that some people have even taken care of other people’s children when they needed assistance or were arrested. “In my neighborhood, people came together holding candles but that’s not the dominant narrative being shown,” said Britness.

“Of course there’s unrest,” said Klellan. “With injustice there’s unrest going back to 1917 here in St. Louis. It’s part of the landscape of segregation and white power.”

Britness added: “People are actually talking about this issue and that’s great. Being out here makes you feel you can do something. Just the act of staring down police officers, even if you don’t call the president. Just doing that is the root of building democracy.”

There are many stories of extreme courage and solidarity coming from the Black community. With the increasing consciousness about racism and police brutality, and the willingness of additional communities to put their bodies on the line in solidarity, that type of unity is, day-by-day, creating a serious challenge to the continued and systemic violent state repression in Ferguson and every city where it exists in the U.S.