As we wait for the St. Louis county grand jury to reach a decision on whether or not to indict Officer Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown, ACLU national staff is in Ferguson, Missouri, to support the work of the ACLU of Missouri and to share the stories of who have been on the ground since August.

Larry Fellows III, a 29-year-old  accidental organizer from St. Louis City, talks to the ACLU about his experience organizing in Ferguson in the wake of Michael Brown’s killing.

How did you get into organizing in the aftermath of the Ferguson tragedy?

The Sunday after Mike was killed, I met friends and went to the memorial. Later that night, we were supposed to go to the vigil. My friend lives a block away from where it happened, so we parked at his house an hour and a half before the vigil. We didn’t make it to the vigil.

When we arrived there, the police were blocking off the streets. There were guard dogs. They already had riot gear. For them to block off a major street was crazy.

Did that surprise you?

Oh yeah. That is not a common thing in this area for police brigades. They made things very uneasy, not just for me, but for everybody. I checked in with my friend, and was like, “Is everything okay?” He said, “Yeah, we’re at the vigil.” Then your mind starts going in a different space. Like, what are they really preparing for? They know we’re angry. They know we’re upset. They know we have a legitimate reason to be uneasy right now. They didn’t seem to understand that people are mourning here.

Had you seen yourself as an activist before?

No, never. It wasn’t until the next day I went to a protest. That was the first being shot at with rubber bullets and having M-16s aimed at me, and seeing armored vehicles, and being teargased, with, like, these weird Pokémon balls that spit out gas. All this stuff I had never seen before in my life. 

It just showed me we should be able to fight for our constitutional rights without being terrorized by the police. That’s initially when I became upset and angry with everything that was going on.

How did you start organizing?

Initially, it would just be that we would show up for protests, and the next day we’d clean up the streets. A lot of the same people were out at the protests and going out to lunch and talking about what was happening. That became a cycle until a lot of us figured out we needed to have a strategy. The police would come with different tactics every day, so we needed to figure out other tactics of how to protest. Then a lot of organizers from across the country started to come in to help us do the planning and do the strategizing. That helped us start doing it on our own, and planning out actions and what our narratives were going to be. Our meetings and actions are geared toward getting something accomplished.

What are your fears or hopes of what is going to happen when the grand jury decision comes down?

My main focus has always been our safety. The safety of the protesters; the safety of the residents in St. Louis County. The fact that we are being painted as violent, but when you look at photos: Who’s been showing up with gear? Who’s been showing up with weapons? It’s been the police.

One thing the ACLU has focused on is how the militarization of police has a disparate impact on communities of color. Is that something you feel in your personal experience?

Most definitely. It’s sad we have to look at it that way. A bunch of black people unified — people automatically think something violent is going to happen. Why would you assume that? When groups of white people do show up and are rioting the same tactics aren’t used. Look at the New Hampshire pumpkin riots a couple months ago. Look at any NHL championship game.

If anything good can come of this tragedy, what do you hope it will be?

I think something good has already come of it. I’ve definitely built relationships and friendships with so many different people I hadn’t crossed paths with before, or if I did, we hadn’t noticed each other.

And it’s definitely opened our eyes to what is going on in St. Louis. There’s been this thing for years that hasn't been blatant racism. Since August, l’ve seen black people, including myself, be called ugly names. I’ve seen people spit on. It’s made people more open to be racist. So having to have these conversations about race, it’s definitely happening way more often now.

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Need2know

What did the case in Furguson MO. have to do with the businesses and owners of those businesses who were robbed,looted, damaged, etc. who for the most part,were impartial to the justice or injustice? And to make it worse, there were majority of those being shown doing those deeds ,were..other than white persons.
Why would you destroy your own town,city,village,etc? I can understand if the police station was attacked or damaged from the current disagreements (considering the subject at hand). However the local small store owners had nothing to do with the immediate outcome or doings of the local law or government"s actions. So why I ask , did so many people have to act like almost animals to rob,loot.destroy,burn, and even injure local business owners and businesses?

AL A not Anonymous

Can you please explain to me why the local business/business owners and workers have been robbed,looted,burned, and even injured during these times since this incident started in Furguson Mo? T hese businesses/owners/workers were mostly impartial to the justice/injustices going on in the local areas at the time . And why is it that there was mostly other than white persons shown doing these deeds? Did/do those businesses really deserve that?
Do you ever see people that are other than minority specifically white/caucasians, . riot/protest and rob,loot and burn businesses in their own city/town/village?

onewhorunswitht...

Most definitely. It’s sad we have to look at it that way. A bunch of black people unified — people automatically think something violent is going to happen. Why would you assume that? When groups of white people do show up and are rioting the same tactics aren’t used. Look at the New Hampshire pumpkin riots a couple months ago. Look at any NHL championship game.

Yes I agree that there are some serious inherent problems with the propaganda that has been used over many decades to disgrace and build false beliefs based on skin color in America. You see this sort of racism and bigotry that is taught in the beginning of Mormonism teaching that dark skin is a curse of Cain. After many generations of lies, degradation and institutionalized racism it is not surprising that the Black community still faces so much in the way of oppression.

As I have said it is my belief that the initial Africans brought to this country for enslavement were a peace loving and submissive people. If they were not how could such unconscionable atrocities be waged upon them?

Everything being torn away, their customs, their beliefs, their identities, their families, year after year, decade after decade being victimized socially, psychologically and judicially.

I am going to ask a very important question as a matter of self reflection, "why does the Black Community embrace Christianity so fervently?" This religion was brought with a message of peace by those who were bearing guns and war in their hearts.

Why not embrace something different a religion that shows God in the Image of Dark people and varying colors of people in Gods image, as it should be. Something that embraces you back like Krishna? Krishnadenver.com

Anonymous

I hope you are staying safe. Also, I tried to find the open letter that is addressed to the National Guard asking them to stand down. The letter is from Veterans. It is posted at anti media.org, but it is crashing when I try to open it. Can you find it and post it on multiple sights?

Anonymous

Riots are illegal and only proves the stereotype than black people are violent.

asher2789

You know the racists are winning, when even on the ACLU people are commenting "what about the stores! what about the looting!"

Well white people, why don't you ask about the white people rioting at sports games and pumpkin festivals? Or is it only a riot if it involves black people? Why don't you ask why there's all of this anger in the first place, instead of this condescending racist BS? Why don't you ask yourself why the first thing you think of is looting, when it was actually a minor part of enormous protests? Did the media tell you to think that way? Why don't you ask why theres a no fly zone over ferguson during the protests...

Why? Because the racist white supremacists want to control the image you see. They don't want you to thousands upon thousands of people protesting peacefully while being attacked by rubber bullets and tear gas from our police state. No. What they want you to see - and confirm in your small mind - the stereotype of a violent, robbing, n*gger, because that justifies the response, that justifies the white supremacy, that justifies the status quo of black lives not mattering, and that justifies the death of Michael Brown, because in your small mind, all you see when you see a black man is a violent, robbing, n*gger.

Oh and for the record - I'm white. But I can see past my skin tone to see whats wrong with this world - and whats wrong is you. And my use of the n-word is to prove a point - thats how all of you who bring up the looting and the damaged stores - thats how you see black people. You don't see them as people. You see them as subhuman n*ggers.

What a sad state it is.

Anonymous

I am really confused - Why is this about race???? Has nothing to do with the color of skin - has to do with the crime being committed!!!!!! Why isn't anyone making a statement about the Utah Shooting?????? Hmmm, so who is making it about race???? I don't think the Officer was, I think the people that have created these VIOLENT protests and hollering for rights..... Law isn't (in most cases) about black and white (although there is profiling on both sides few and far between), it is about this person that tried to attack someone else! AND YES, in UTAH TOO!

However, if you want to yell about rights, try yelling about both black and white equally - it would show that you aren't biased!

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