The Battle for Justice in Ferguson Runs through the Soul of the Democratic Party
TRNN’s Jaisal Noor speaks with Ferguson residents, activists and politicians about the future of the movement sparked by the killing of Michael Brown
JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: In the wake of the killing of unarmed African-American teenager Michael Brown, a movement has arisen from the streets of Ferguson, Missouri.
MONTAGUE SIMMONS, ORGANIZATION FOR BLACK STRUGGLE: The family understands that this is not just about justice for Mike Brown. This is about making sure that there are no more Mike Browns.
NOOR: A debate continues to rage in the community about how to achieve justice.
REV. AL SHARPTON, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: We’re going to have a drive in this town.
SIMMONS: The only way they’re going to continue to take us seriously is for us to stay in the streets.
TOMMIE PIERSON, MISSOURI STATE REPRESENTATIVE: I admire these young people for what they’re doing, but what they’re doing is repeating the past.
CAMERON, FERGUSON RESIDENT: Yeah, it mattered back then and people marched for it back then, but that ain’t this time or day.
SHARPTON: Sixty-seven percent of the city black, three black cops out of 53.
CAMERON: They’re going to pick whoever to be in there who they want to be in there. It don’t matter about nobody voting or nothing.
CARMELITA WILLIAMS, LOCAL RESIDENT: We have to start somewhere. Why do these people feel like their vote don’t matter, and what can we do to change that?
PIERSON: I marched and I rallied to get them the right to vote, and they are not taking advantage of that.
TAUREAN RUSSELL, ORGANIZATION FOR BLACK STRUGGLE: Didn’t we just vote for a black president? Don’t we have the first black attorney general? So voting can’t just be the solution.
NOOR: Ferguson is majority African-American, but the city’s city council, law enforcement, and mayor do not reflect this.
RUSSELL: Our first demand is the same demand we had the first day when we went in, which is the immediate firing and indictment [snip] to be prosecuted and locked up of Darren Wilson, the officer who executed Mike Brown Jr. in the streets.
JAMES KNOWLES III, MAYOR OF FERGUSON: What’s the problem?
PROTESTER: That’s the problem.
KNOWLES: What’s the problem?
PROTESTER: You are white,–
KNOWLES: Yeah, that’s the problem?
PROTESTER: –we need you out here,–
KNOWLES: No, that’s the problem.
PROTESTER: –and you sit at home–
KNOWLES: That’s the problem? Okay.
PROTESTER: –and watch television with your wife?!
KNOWLES: I just hope everybody saw that that’s the problem.
PROTESTER: Of course! It is the problem! It’s no secret! It’s no secret!
PROTESTER: You’re a white man and have no connection to the black community that you’re a mayor of!
PROTESTER: You are disconnected!
RUSSELL: Just a week ago, they were tear gassing us. You know, my hand’s messed up from tear gas. They pointed me out of the crowd, locked me up. So those people need to be held accountable. And where was the mayor the first couple of days when we asked him for just a sitdown? Where was the police chief? The first night, he drove off. So those people need to be held accountable as well. But then we also have to get people from the community who reflect the community to take those positions.
NOOR: The actions of St. Louis County and its prosecutor has also drawn outrage. He alone has the power to indict police officer Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown.
LESLIE BROADNAX, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: The current prosecutor is Robert McCulloch. He’s been the prosecutor for the past 24 years. There has been not just this Mike Brown incident, but several other incidents involving police officer shootings.
NOOR: Earlier this month, McCulloch defeated Leslie Broadnax in the Democratic primary.
BROADNAX: From my memory, from my experience, I don’t know that a police officer has ever been indicted, and I think the community feels as though that they don’t have confidence that it’s going to happen this time either, although many people feel that it should.
NOOR: Democratic state rep and pastor Tommy Pierson opened up his church as a safe space for protesters after the killing of Michael Brown. He says things won’t change in Ferguson if the people don’t vote.
PIERSON: And that larger problem is who represents you. And you cannot send three African-American Democrats to a state house that is controlled by Republicans and think they’re going to go up there and change everything.
What I’m calling for today is that everybody across this nation should teach their children that the ballot box is important. People died to give us the right to vote. Surely we could get up and go do it.
NOOR: But others argue people don’t trust the political process and have lost faith with the Democratic Party.
WILLIAMS: I don’t care how many people you get. You still ain’t going to be–get people to come out. You need to–they need to–some kind of way get some trust. And I know if [incompr.] goes back to if you don’t vote, you can’t get the people into office. But when you’re trying to get the people into office and this goes on year after year after year and you still don’t see no change, I’m telling you, we’re going to be right back to the same thing. I bet you. I bet you any money. I’ll bet you it’s going to be no different. I bet you it’ll be the same 6 percent. My name is Carmelita Williams. Please call me and tell me if it’s any different.
GERALD HORNE, SCHOLAR, HISTORIAN, AND ACTIVIST: Even wrote Rev. Al Sharpton, who is one of Obama’s closest comrades, has analogized the relationship of the Democratic Party to the black vote as a husband dealing with an abused mistress.
NOOR: St. Louis native, scholar, and activist Gerald Horne says the challenges facing black voters in Ferguson and across Missouri mirror those they face across the nation.
HORNE: Even though the Democratic Party [are certainly dependent on (?)] black votes and upon our turning out in great numbers, given the conservatism that you too often find in the Euro-American community, they don’t want to acknowledge that and they don’t want to speak out on our issues. The New York Times had a telling story just a few days ago about how the Democrats are all hiding under their desks with regard to Ferguson because they don’t want to go on record.
RUSSELL: There’s no such thing as a Democrat and a Republican. We saw that.
BROADNAX: The African-American community is caught in the middle and not being served by anyone.
RUSSELL: Some people just put on a show. Bob McCulloch, Jay Nixon, they’re the Democrats, right? Are they out here with the people? So sometimes people are caught up in a party when it’s really about policies.
NOOR: Grassroots activists are also keeping up the pressure. On Tuesday, demonstrators used civil disobedience to enter the Thomas F. Eagleton U.S. Courthouse in St. Louis and secure a meeting with the U.S. attorney there.
SIMMONS: This Thursday, more than 600,000 signatures from coast to coast in this country are being presented at the White House. We’re there. Our people will be there. I believe some of the families are going to be standing with us, meaning the family understands that this is not just about justice for Mike Brown. This is about making sure that there are no more Mike Browns.
NOOR: Protesters’ short-term goals include securing a special prosecutor to oversee Michael Brown’s case, and requiring all law enforcement across the country to wear cameras.
HORNE: This is going to be an uphill climb, a steep climb, a long-term struggle. But I’m convinced that we’ll emerge victorious, and I think that when historians look back at this period, they’ll no doubt conclude that in a central part of that process was the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, over the death of Michael Brown.
SIMMONS: This is not the end.
UNIDENTIFIED: That’s right.
SIMMONS: It’s not over. There’s so much more. And we need you up front. We need you to keep organizing and to stay present, to stay in this, and to stay forward.
UNIDENTIFIED: Free the land.
SIMMONS: Free the land.
NOOR: But achieving their long-term goals, including ending mass incarceration and stopping the criminalization and people of color across the country, will require getting the support of the so far reluctant Democratic Party or finding an alternative to it.
From Ferguson, this is Jaisal Noor.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.