Ferguson Resident: “You Can’t Talk about Race and Class and Privilege in a Soundbite”

TRNN’s Jaisal Noor interviews two local Ferguson residents who say the mainstream media has failed them

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JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Ferguson, Missouri, has been inundated by local, national, and international press ever since the fatal shooting and killing of unarmed African-American teenager Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson. We’ve been speaking with local residents here both about the job they feel the media has done and what the media should be doing in covering the killing of Brown and subsequent protests.

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NOOR: You described what was happening here earlier as a revolution. Do you think–what role does is the media playing in suppressing this revolution, as you’ve described it?

ELIZABETH VEGA, LOCAL RESIDENT/EDUCATOR, ORGANIZATION FOR BLACK STRUGGLE: I think it’s interesting, because there is definitely a division. I see people going to Twitter, Facebook, blogs, that sort of independent media, to get the story behind the story. And then I see other people that are just going to mainstream media and–.

CARMELITA WILLIAMS, LOCAL RESIDENT: And forming an opinion.

VEGA: Right, and forming an opinion.

WILLIAMS: And that’s how it is, and we are all wrong. The young people shouldn’t be mad. If you’re a white male, you don’t fear the police.

VEGA: Right.

WILLIAMS: You don’t fear the police. And that’s teenage. That’s teenage. That’s teenage up to college. You know, you don’t fear the police. But you can get a little five-year-old black boy, and he’s scared of the police already. So what does that say? If he’s five, at five he should be playing and on his bike. He shouldn’t know terror from the police in his neighborhood. But he does, because maybe his brother went through it or maybe his mother went through it. But somebody’s [then (?)] went through it where he’s scared of the police already.

NOOR: And so what role do you think the media should be playing in events like this?

VEGA: I think it’s all in shuffle right now. I think that mainstream media is increasingly becoming a bit more obsolete. More people are getting their news online. Antonio French via Twitter–I don’t even Tweet. I’m part of that generation. I’m like, Twitter? But it’s like, you’re on Twitter. And I was like, I don’t even Tweet. But I know friends that all over the world were following Antonio’s Twitter feed and getting up-to-the minute insight into what was going on, and because it was so relevant and so current that you could get a sense of what was going on. It was fairer coverage. So I think that there’s a shuffle going on. The same tension that you see in black and white communities, that tension is going on between independent and mainstream media.

NOOR: Do you think things changed once it was the white reporters that were getting pushed around and tear gassed?

VEGA: Absolutely.

WILLIAMS: I thought that–I’m glad that happened. I’m not going to lie to you. I am really glad that they were out here in the trenches the night–they gassed for, like, four nights. And the last night that they gassed, we were out here. And it was peaceful. They made us march around. We couldn’t stand still. And for 30 minutes they told the reporters, the media, to go up to Solway, and they had a little area for them. And everybody else, they came all the way down through Northwinds, where the QuikTrip is. And for 30 minutes they said, stop, you, in front of the QuikTrip, stop throwing rocks, literally for 30 minutes. And it just bothered us, because it’s like, we’re close. And we’re like, who’s down there? So that made us get closer to seeing it’s, like, well, nobody down there. But they said it over and over again to put it in your mind, to say, so you will say, oh, it was people down there–

VEGA: Throwing rocks.

WILLIAMS: –throwing rocks.

VEGA: And there wasn’t anybody doing that.

WILLIAMS: And then, all of a sudden, they just got to throwing gas, and they just got to throwing the tear gas. And everybody literally was peaceful. And we start going back to where the media was. So when we got down to where the media was, it was this thing where, okay, media, get in your designated area. And then they literally just start pushing us back into the tear gas. I was like, oh my God, how do you take human beings–I can only imagine how dogs are getting used to Nashville now that I’ve been gassed to where it’s in your eyes, it’s in your throat and your mouth, you can’t breathe, you can’t see, and they’re telling you to disperse. And how they’re telling you and making you disperse is by shooting rubber bullets at you.

VEGA: Right.

WILLIAMS: How can you make a person that cannot see and can barely breathe–you can’t even get your man mind together to know which way to go. And now they’re shooting you with rubber bullets. And when I say I’m glad some of the media got shot with rubber bullets–and I have to give it to the hardcore media that was down there–they had on helmets and gas masks and they were trying to get the pictures–because it was no pictures of anybody–they said they were throwing Molotov cocktails; there was no pictures from that night of anybody throwing Molotov cocktails. So I tell people, stop–the mainstream media, stop listening to them. They’re lying. And they listen to the police. If police come back and say, yeah, they were throwing rocks and they were throwing Molotov cocktails, you know, mainstream media eats it up and says this is what’s going on.

VEGA: Yeah, and that’s–they don’t question–.

WILLIAMS: And we need–yeah, we need people like y’all out here getting the real story about really what’s going on out here.

NOOR: And how could the mainstream media help what you’re doing, help this case for justice? What kind of stories–.

WILLIAMS: Tell the truth.

NOOR: What kind of stories do you want them to be covering?

WILLIAMS: I want them to not only cover this story in-depth and truthfully, but I want them to cover why this is happening to so many young black men and it’s getting swept up under the rug.

VEGA: Yeah. I mean,–

WILLIAMS: It’s getting swept up under the rug.

VEGA: –the reality is is that everybody says that this issue–I hear this a lot from the white community–oh, everybody’s making it about race. Well, it is about race.

WILLIAMS: It is! [crosstalk]

VEGA: I mean, the fact of the matter is is that men of color are racially profiled. They have a higher incarceration rate not because they’re doing more bad things, but because they’re racially profiled, convicted. We know this. This has been established. But nobody covers that. And you can’t talk about the issues of race, class, and privilege which run very thickly through this in a soundbite.

WILLIAMS: No.

VEGA: It’s a complex issue. And I think that the mainstream media wants to distill a doubt to a soundbite. And it’s far more complex than that. And in order to have a real conversation, you have to sort of unpeel the layers and do some true investigative reporting.

NOOR: And so has this moment made clear for this community whose interests the mainstream media are serving?

VEGA: Oh, we knew that long before this, right?

WILLIAMS: Yeah. Oh my goodness.

VEGA: Long before.

WILLIAMS: Ask any young teenaged black man, you know, ask them how do they feel about how they’re getting treated in their own communities. I don’t care–you could be wonderful, you can work with blind kids, you can walk dogs for free, you could be in the community, you could be a Boy Scout, a Girl Scout, you can graduate, you can go to high school, but when you get done, when they make an assumption because of your skin color, it’s like you’re doomed before you get started.

VEGA: Mhm.

WILLIAMS: It’s like you’re doomed. And that’s what they do. They don’t get to know these children. My daughter lived out here about a year and a half ago when–I have two nephews, her boyfriend, and my son, who came back and forth. I live in Ferguson. You can literally jump my fence and the on West Florissant. So they came back and forth here constantly when she lived here. And it was instances, two different instances where the police pulled up on them and told them to get the F out the street. So when I heard that from that young man, I said–my heart dropped, because I said, that could have been my children. There was an instance where my two nephews were walking down the street and they were handcuffed and had their book bags searched. Why, if they’re walking down the street?

NOOR: And it’s not uncommon here. That’s what you’re saying, right?

VEGA: It’s just–it’s, like, a reality.

No, it’s not uncommon. Ask these young men, ask these young people what’s going on, and I bet you 100 percent of the time you’re going to get the same story, a situation where they was driving while black, walking while black. I done seen these police pull over people on bicycles. And I always say to myself–and I laugh, but it’s so serious–where could a person on a bicycle have been?

VEGA: Right?

NOOR: And so–.

VEGA: And they don’t–. Can I–.

NOOR: Yeah, go ahead.

VEGA: They also don’t talk about the orbital fracture that the officer supposedly had, which was released by the police department, which totally came to be unfounded.

NOOR: And Fox published that, right?

VEGA: Yeah.

WILLIAMS: Oh, well, that’s Fox. Come on.

VEGA: And then there was the tape, the notorious tape of this robbery.

WILLIAMS: Of a supposed robbery. Then they said [crosstalk]

VEGA: And everybody’s trying to rush to get deadline and meet deadline, that they’re not checking their facts. And then that then fuels the people who are like, oh, we’re supporting Darren Wilson and we’re raising $350,000 with racist comments.

NOOR: So they’ve raised more money for him than has been raised for [crosstalk]

VEGA: And the comments. Don’t look at the comments that people are making.

WILLIAMS: Yeah, they’re downtown. They’re downtown.

VEGA: It’s about race.

WILLIAMS: And I listen to NPR every day. On the way here, I was listening to a NPR report where they was asking the people if they’re in support of him. They was asking them what they think about what’s going on. And a guy was like, well, we should wait till all the facts are out. Well, I don’t know all the facts. But I believe the three eyewitnesses. You don’t have an eyewitness–no one’s came to his defense but a woman that he told the story to that said it in a phone call. And my thing is with her, like, there’s questions that’s not being asked, because I think it’s procedure. I’ve never been a cop, but I would beg to differ with anybody that it’s a procedure, and that procedure is not–you don’t shoot somebody dead in the street and you get to leave the scene.

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NOOR: Reporting from Ferguson, Missouri, this is Jaisal Noor.

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