Break These Chains
'We have nothing to lose but these chains'
Story and photos by Montinique Monroe, O'Colly Staff Reporter
Creatavist by Kassie McClung, O'Colly Digital News Editor
"We have nothing to lose but these chains."
This is only one of many chants I heard Ferguson protesters yelling passionately. They marched in the snow, in front of the police department as a result of the grand jury decision, which allowed officer Darren Wilson to walk after killing Mike Brown.
The decision reminded me of how much law enforcement seems to disregard black lives. The negative portrayal of Ferguson citizens and the city as a whole intrigued. As the daughter of a black man who lost his life to the hands of a white police officer similarly to how Brown did, I took an opportunity to see Ferguson for myself. I wanted to witness the events on my own. Not as a protester but as a reporter.
I arrived in Ferguson a day after the grand jury decision at 1 a.m. There were no protesters in sight. Yet, military combat vehicles filled the streets off North and South Florissant. Police enforcement blocked off roads and entrances to local businesses. The amount of military presence would lead anyone to believe they were in a war zone. Other reporters told me that protesters were pushed into the neighborhoods by police officers after tear gas was thrown. Later, I realized after being swayed into the neighborhoods, protesters were blocked in by officers and military police.
I wanted my first stop to be on Canfield Drive where Michael Brown was killed. Local police officers blocked off the main entrance to the neighborhood and claimed gunshots were being fired. They suggested I take an alternate route. One local officer even told me if I proceeded to go into Canfield Green Apartments and needed assistance, no police officer will be sent to help me. His words were a second reminder to me.
"You are on your own," he said.
After being denied access to Canfield Drive, I decided to go to Ferguson Market & Liquor, the convenience store where Brown was last seen before the shooting.
I simply wanted to take pictures and get footage at the site.
Several military police officers with shields and batons heavily guarded the store.
I was only allowed access to the area because I was considered a member of the press. I proceeded to take pictures, and moments later, I was surrounded by four police cars and eight officers standing outside of their cars.
The officers shined lights in my face attempting to intimidate me and then forced me out of the area. The city of Ferguson is being shown on local and national news stations as a town with youth behaving militantly rioting and looting the streets.
Yet, as a young black woman, the only time I felt unsafe in Ferguson was in the presence of the local police or military police officers.
Eventually, I did gain access to Canfield Drive and the apartment complex where Brown resided.
People could be seen traveling to and from their residences. The atmosphere appeared peaceful. There was mild traffic because of police blocking the main entrance. However, in the middle of the street was memorabilia where Brown lay for 4 ½ hours. Every now and then, various people would visit the site as if it were a tourist area. During my time there, I came across two white St. Louis-native attorneys who said they stopped by to pay their respect to Brown. One of the attorneys, Jonathan Brouk, said he was not quite sure how he felt about the grand jury decision.
"Although it's troubling, it's sort of hard to second-guess the decision without having reviewed all of the information," Brouk said. "I do want to sort of believe in our justice system, but I realize that there are people in positions of power who have prejudices that could ultimately influence the decision."
I also spoke with a woman who wanted to remain unidentified. She was at the scene the day Brown was shot. She informed me that there was a back-to-school event at the elementary school down the street from the incident. Her daughter was there along with several other neighborhood children. She said when kids left the school event to head home, they witnessed Brown's body lying in the street. Her daughter was among those children returning home. She said her daughter now fears the police.
"It was similar to slavery days," she said. "It was like a hanging demonstration as little kids watched his body lay there for more than four hours."
There are several inconsistencies in Wilson's story as to why he initially approached Brown. It is possible that in his line of duty, he did fear for his life. BUT his "fear" was not equivalent to six to seven shots to an unarmed man.
The list of inconsistencies goes on and on with Wilson's initial interview with investigators being delayed because his trip to the hospital, according to Huffington Post. Crime scene protocols were not followed, according to the Associated Press. Wilson was allowed to testify at his own grand jury hearing, a privilege that no other alleged defendant has ever been privy to. Let's not forget the grand jury makeup of three blacks and nine whites.
Yet, only nine votes were needed to make a decision. This all contributes to the mistrust and unrest in the citizens of Ferguson and across the world.
Wilson is not the only officer who has shot a black man and gotten away with it.
Brown is one of hundreds of black men who have lost their lives at the hands of a white police officer because of so-called "fear." I can't avoid the double standard. I have family members in law enforcement, and I would never support any form of reckless violence by them against citizens who they are hired to protect and serve. Yes, police officers have a duty with the right to reduce harm to themselves.
But there should also be guidelines on when to use deadly force and when they don't, laws should protect citizens. These protesters are demanding a stop to police brutality and violence against people who are unarmed and bring awareness to who police brutality and violence affects most. We cannot minimize the loss of lives at the hands of officers of any race, but for those who say this case is not about race, you're in denial! In a country with a rich history of white privilege, how could it not be?
As for the rioting and looting, buildings can be rebuilt, LIVES CANNOT.
As protesters chanted, "We don't have nothing to lose but these chains," I realized there is nothing more to lose when we are losing our lives to the hands of officials who are supposed to protect us. Through this, we have lost our ability to breathe; we have lost our heartbeats.
So yes . . . WE HAVE NOTHING MORE TO LOSE BUT THESE CHAINS. The chains that have oppressed us since slavery, chains that have left us hanging from trees for seeking our own freedom, chains that have left us drinking from separate water fountains and sitting in the back of the bus and today, the chains of shots to the head of a unarmed black man and his body lying in the street bleeding for hours.
These chains tell our most young and vulnerable that the police do not serve you. Yes, I heard those protesters cry "We have nothing else to lose but these chains."
When you see us . . . look at us with an open mind and have an open heart. We are not animals. There is no need to fear.