AFSC staffers Joshua Saleem and Lewis Webb, Jr., joined Media Relations Director Alexis Moore for a one-hour livestreamed conversation on Aug. 26, 2014.
Our charge in the wake of Mike Brown’s death is to help Ferguson’s community heal and to recommit ourselves to dismantling systemic racism, said panelists during “Injustice in the justice system,” a Google Hangout on Air.
Two days after Mike Brown was shot and killed by police, AFSC’s St. Louis peace education director Joshua Saleem drove into Ferguson to the sight of police mobilizing in a parking lot “as if they were preparing for war,” he recalls.
Joshua described this violent transformation of the municipality he’s known his entire life:
Watching Ferguson transform after Mike Brown was killed
Negative images of protestors stood out in many mainstream media portrayals of those days, but from his place on the ground in Ferguson, Joshua saw not only the heavily armed police response, but also the nonviolent direct action that community members embraced.
Under-reporting of nonviolent direction action in Ferguson
Channeling justified anger into organizing
In the wake of the tragedy, AFSC is holding listening sessions to give young people an opportunity to vent.
“A lot of the youth have a lot of justifiable anger and frustration at this moment,” Joshua said. “We want to listen now and redirect that energy into organizing so they can actually do something about the systems that they’re fed up with—the systems that led to the killing of Mike Brown.”
Conversations about community violence and its connections to wider societal injustices—poverty, racism, and economic inequality—will be the starting point for participants to develop civic engagement projects that will address root causes in their community and in their neighborhood.
Program participants will take part in a Freedom School workshop the weekend of Sept. 5-7, 2014:
Freedom School for St. Louis
Policies, practices underlying deaths like Mike Brown’s
Panelist Lewis Webb, Jr., who joined the conversation from New York City, also works to address the root causes of racism and inequality. His work focuses on the school-to-prison pipeline.
He described the harmful policies that together identify young men of color as less than human and funnel them out of schools and into prisons:
“You don’t belong here”: How young men of color are pushed out of school
Racial disparities and inequality stemming from systemic racism are not news to communities of color—but there is a new problem growing in the United States: the militarization of police. War-zone weaponry and use of force are problems that heighten fear and resentment between those being policed and those doing the policing, increasing the risk of physical violence.
Militarized police a shared concern for many communities
Lewis suggested that community organizers talk with police officers in the streets—rather than their leaders behind desks—to open conversations about the level of weaponry and disconnection from communities that is being imposed on them.
“We need to talk to the police officers.”
Our charge in the wake of the Mike Brown tragedy
An active audience wrote in with dozens of questions for Lewis and Joshua. Many people wanted to know what they can do in their communities to undo racism and start conversations about police militarization.
Lewis invited Quakers in particular to stand with communities of color:
Accompaniment and undoing racism
Structural racism, both Lewis and Joshua emphasized, needs to be honestly examined and understood by people from all backgrounds:
It's time to talk about structural racism.
You can watch the full recording of “Injustice in the justice system” at afsc.org/hangouts/injustice-justice-system-join-conversation.