Six summers ago, protests against police brutality and racism brought the eyes of the nation to Ferguson. Now the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis has set off another round of protests around the world — including Ferguson and St. Louis.
“[There] is a lot of build up and frustration and anger” in the St. Louis region, state Rep. Rasheen Aldridge, D-St. Louis, said. “Seeing these images again and then having to relive it. Seeing how this criminal justice system has constantly told black people that their lives don't matter.”
Aldridge was active in the 2014 protests that followed the death of Michael Brown. He has continued to lead protests in the years since, including the weeks of action that followed the “not guilty” verdict of a St. Louis police officer charged with murder in 2017, and now, in the wake of Floyd’s death, four consecutive nights of local protests.
On Monday, Aldridge helped to lead a protest that drew hundreds to the Arch grounds and the streets of downtown St. Louis.
“You had thousands of people come to the street, and we went to the Arch, and we took over the highway,” said Aldridge Tuesday on St. Louis on the Air. With just seven people or so serving as organizers, he said, “We still were able to keep things very structured and safe.”
However, that evening, hours after the protest disbanded, the night turned ugly. Among many acts of looting and vandalism, four St. Louis police officers were shot. Retired St. Louis Police Captain David Dorn was also shot and killed while guarding a pawn shop in north St. Louis.
Aldridge witnessed the shooting on Facebook Live.
“To see his body on Facebook, it was almost like just how we’ve seen George Floyd’s body. And that’s not the change that we’re pushing for,” he said.
Aldridge has joined other activists in condemning the events of that night. He said he couldn't help but feel guilt over the violence that erupted and that he hopes that the protestors’ message does not get drowned out by the violence.
Part of that message, said Aldridge, is a five-point plan for reform in St. Louis city, St. Louis County and the state of Missouri. That includes a request to defund police departments, disarm and dismiss officers, close the minimum security city jail known as the Workhouse, free political prisoners and make reparations — “all key things that can be helpful in changing the way our criminal justice system is currently working,” Aldridge said.
Like Aldridge, Ferguson Council Member Fran Griffin’s political career was sparked by the death of Michael Brown in 2014. She started protesting at City Hall the day after Brown’s death. Soon she began attending Ferguson City Council meetings and, in 2019, ousted an incumbent to join the council herself.
She said what is happening now is an extension of the work she and others started in 2014.
“It’s just furthering the message that until you actually represent the people, until those policies are fair and just for everyone, we’re going to continue to work,” she said. “We’re going to continue to speak out. We’re going to continue to make demands and let you know — let the powers that be, who have the ability to actually create the change know — that until then, we will not stop.”
Aldridge said he’s weary from pushing the same message that first echoed out of Ferguson six years ago — that “Black Lives Matter.” But both activists indicated they are far from giving up. For those feeling disheartened, Griffin offered this advice:
“Like my granny taught me, if you’re going to be a teacher, be the best teacher you can be. If you’re going to be a trash collector, then be the best trash collector that you are going to be … Serve your purpose, first and foremost, definitely look out for one another as a community. Do what you’ve been called to do. Do the best that you can ... because we’re in a moment in time where I think it’s just inevitable: change is going to come.”
Listen to the conversation:
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.
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