Last night, St. Louis Rams fans were engrossed in the second half of their team’s game against the San Francisco 49ers, when a giant banner dropped over a scoreboard, reading: “Rams fans know on and off the field black lives matter.” This marked a new tactic amid the weeks and months of protests that have continued virtually uninterrupted since the death of unarmed teenager Mike Brown at the hands of police officer Darren Wilson, who still hasn’t been charged (a grand jury is hearing the case).
Later, protesters marched through the stadium’s upper decks, hands up, in the signature “don’t shoot” symbolic gesture that has become a hallmark of the demonstrations in the area since Browns’ tragic killing.
While Americans tend to frown any form of protest that interrupts, well, anything, but particularly their precious mass entertainment, kudos are due to the savvy banner-dropping protesters. Theirs was an effective and important move, and a timely reminder that this story is far from over. Since the massive influx of news cameras into the streets of Ferguson this summer and those hot nights of tear-gas and baton-wielding riot cops, protests have continued daily without the eyes of the world fixed on their situation. And protesters taking part in the new actions of “Ferguson October” continue to be harassed and threatened. In fact, a recent ruling found earlier treatment of Ferguson protesters unconstitutional.
This lapse in major media interest continued, for the most part, even though another young man, Vonderrit Myers, was killed by an off-duty officer in another St. Louis neighborhood, prompting more vigils, standoffs, and unease. Young people of color in the streets have said that they feel threatened by the police constantly, and that awful incidents like these only confirm their fears. They are eager for real change and action, which is why they are using direct action tactics, like the banner drop and various occupations and traffic-blocking moves. “I have spent more time in jail than Darren Wilson, and it’s ridiculous. We are sick of it,” protester Alexis Templeton told Democracy Now! “We are tired, and we want St. Louis to know, in front of this Arch, that we aren’t going anywhere until you stop killing us. You will stop killing us. And we mean that.”
The young people’s actions at the football stadium came the same day as Cornel West got arrested in Ferguson, after speaking to the crowd and acknowledging his generation’s failure to speak to the frustrations of the younger people. “The awakening is setting in” he said.
The return of focus to the streets of Ferguson is necessary. At least from afar it feels as though there’s a constant push-pull, as the media tries to pull away both from Ferguson itself and all the other Fergusons that exist, the massive problem of police overreach — and violence — in the lives of people of color. But these are protests that will not be quieted by inattention or oppression, nor should they be. It may be a disruption of sorts when the young people of St. Louis and Ferguson remind their neighbors, and the rest of us, that this injustice lingers in their lives, but it should be a welcome one. The idea of direct-action protests is to take tension that already exists in society, some form of daily discrimination and humiliation, and bring it to the surface so that those who would insulate themselves from the issue simply can’t. The intrepid people facing arrest daily in St. Louis and Ferguson deserve both our attention and support.