Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Young Find Voices, Power in Ferguson's Aftermath

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Young Find Voices, Power in Ferguson's Aftermath

Article excerpt

People knew there was something rotten festering in police departments and municipalities around the St. Louis area before Ferguson erupted in protests a year ago.

Racism and segregation have long been the wallpaper of our region. It is a lived reality for many residents. Police shootings happened before Michael Brown was killed and have continued after.

But the way we looked at them changed, first locally then nationally.

The way people reacted to them changed. A fundamental part of that shift has come from the activism of young people, many who never considered themselves activists before.

Johnetta Elzie, 25, was one of those people.

She and others attracted large followings on Twitter and Instagram documenting what was happening in the days and months after Brown was shot. Social media activism took on a powerful role to bring cases of injustice to light and circulate them broadly and push back on police narratives. They no longer relied on traditional media to tell their stories.

"Police violence is part of the national conversation in a way that we haven't seen in my generation," she said. The sustained attention has prompted a measure of change.

The Justice Department exposed corrupt and racist practices in the police and courts in Ferguson. A history of targeting black residents for traffic violations and excessive fines was documented, and reforms are underway.

The police chief left, the municipal court judge resigned.

Activists with the Organization for Black Struggle track the bills in the state Legislature and lobby their elected officials. Media organizations began documenting every person killed by the police.

"Everything about the structure in St. Louis is just as corrupt as it was in August," Elzie said. "I know we can't undo hundreds of years of systematic oppression in less than a year," she said.

But people who didn't know they had any power discovered they did. …

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