Tags: protest | fatigue | shooting | Ferguson

Ferguson's New Reality: Protest Fatigue

Friday, 13 March 2015 10:48 PM

Inside a crumbling brick building in a poor St. Louis suburb, Montague Simmons eyes a whiteboard cluttered with ideas, working alongside his team of activists as they contemplate the next move in what they describe as the struggle for black rights in America.

Like other protest leaders in the St. Louis area, Simmons is determined to continue the near-daily demonstrations in Ferguson that have galvanized a national debate on race since the fatal shooting in August of Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old, by a white policeman.

The protests have rolled on for seven months, and took a violent turn Wednesday night with the shooting of two Ferguson policemen, despite growing fatigue among residents keen to resume some form of normal daily life.

"Some people are sick of it, sure," said Simmons, executive director of The Organization for Black Struggle. "They just want to be able to go home instead of being stopped in the streets by protesters. I understand that frustration. At the same time, others want us because of the change we bring."

This town of 21,000 has been in turmoil since Brown's shooting, and mostly peaceful demonstrations erupted into riots last November after a grand jury cleared police officer Daren Wilson, who shot Brown. Tensions flared again last week with the release of a U.S. Justice Department report detailing what it called systemic racial bias in the police force and a court system that disproportionately levied steep fines on Ferguson's black residents.

The debate over the future of the protest movement is dividing a community that was brought together after the Brown shooting. Even though most residents seem to share the protesters' goals of larger changes to the police force and the resignation of Ferguson's mayor James Knowles, a sort of protest fatigue is setting in, and some residents are beginning to wonder if the demonstrations have reached the point of diminishing returns.

Charles Davis, with his wife Kizzie the owner of the Ferguson Burger Bar on Florissant Ave., said it is time for the "protest movement to take stock."

The Burger Bar was at the center of heavy rioting and looting last year, and Davis said he believes protests have done their work. "We have momentum, we've got motion and I think it's a good time (for protesters) to stand back and see what happens next," he said. "If they don't like what happens, they can always go back out and protest."

Davis's business, which opened the day before Brown was shot, has been helped by a program of the activist group Hands Up United, which teaches tech skills to local youths. The group is helping Davis set up a website for his restaurant.

Another resident, Darryl Howard, 62, said he is tired of the protests.

"I don't understand why they are still out there when they've got a lot of what they want," he said. "Yes, they've been making some positive changes, but there comes a time when it should stop."

"We need to reassure our children that things are getting better," Howard added.

Resident Christopher Brown, 26, said he believes the protests should take place in Washington, D.C., because the race and policing issues are national in scope.

"If it keeps going here, it's going to get worse before it gets better. Around here, we have 12-year-olds with automatic weapons, they know nothing about respect," he said.

Osagyefo Sekou, an African-American clergyman who heads the Fellowship of Reconciliation, said he and other protest leaders do continually take stock, and understand the residents' concerns, but he added that being in the street helps drive the more important issue of civil rights.

"Our conclusion has been that we must stay in the street. Without folks in the street, there would have been no DOJ report, there would have been no resignations. Power concedes nothing without demands," he said.

For Rasheen Aldridge, the director of the Young Activists United Saint Louis, and a member of the Ferguson Commission set up by Democratic Governor Jay Nixon after the shooting, the protests are also starting to take on a historic significance.

"This is about the struggle for civil rights. We're going to surpass the Montgomery protests," he said referring to the seminal civil rights movement sparked by Rosa Parks' refusal to sit at the back of a bus in 1955. "The Montgomery Boycott was 381 days, and we're at 218 days right now."

© 2018 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

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Inside a crumbling brick building in a poor St. Louis suburb, Montague Simmons eyes a whiteboard cluttered with ideas, working alongside his team of activists as they contemplate the next move in what they describe as the struggle for black rights in America.Like other...
protest, fatigue, shooting, Ferguson
Friday, 13 March 2015 10:48 PM
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