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Ferguson MO, How You Can Help

Updated: Friday, August 15 2014, 11:16 AM CDT

ST. LOUIS -- Protests in Ferguson. Following the shooting of an allegedly unarmed Missouri man, the St. Louis area has responded with protests and pleas for the truth.

The witnesses and officers accounts of the shooting of 18yo Michael Brown have drastically differing stories.

We're interviewing some St. Louis residents via email about their responses to the turmoil in their city, how they're trying to help and how you can help.

Ivory, Human Resources Professional lives half an hour away from Ferguson. "My experience and response has been a mixture of sadness, hurt, fear, anger, compassion, and confusion!"

Annie, a Lawyer who lives in South City, St. Louis, admittedly wasn't in town at the time of the shooting or the riots and looting that followed.

"I was in Cincinnati (a city with its own similar issues) last weekend when I heard about the shooting of Michael Brown and then the events of Sunday night. I followed along mostly on Twitter and Facebook, and starting watching my friends get involved in prayer gatherings and showing up at vigils."

Ivory: "People need to understand this is not a black/white issue, it is a human issue.  It doesn't matter what color this young man or the police officer were, the issue is that someone in a protect and serve role used excessive force an unarmed person."

Annie expressed her frustrations with the nation's coverage:   "I'm immensely proud of our local media here, the tweeting, photographing, and story writing has been phenomenal, but the national attention has been focused on the rioting and looting from Sunday night."

Annie has been vocal about her response to the tensions in St. Louis. She posts status updates on Facebook and shares articles trying to spread the word to those around and beyond her city limits.

"I've been trying to temper my response and go about it as wisely as possible, but I intend to be part of a solution moving forward."

In her efforts to be part of the solution, Annie has been joining vigils and peaceful gatherings in to show support and work together within the community to figure out how to "move forward from here, addressing the issues and fixing the problems."

Annie: "I joined in a peace vigil in the Tower Grove East neighborhood [Wednesday night], and I intend to go downtown for the National Moment of Silence for Victims of Police Brutality [Thursday night]." 

Ivory: "There are many rallies and town hall like meetings going on around the community.  I am hoping to help by actively becoming a part of these discussions to see how we can come up with plans and get them in action for better policing in our communities."

But their actions go beyond more than just attending vigils, Annie says, "we also collected goods for the food pantry in Ferguson.  I have friends taking snacks and water up to the protesters in Ferguson tonight to show their support. "

Among those friends is Hannah, a social worker in St. Louis. Hannah, along with Jennifer and Kenneth responded to a Huffington Post tweet-for-help after several Ryan Reilly and Washington Post's Wesley Lowery were arrested Wednesday night.

Allegedly, the reporters were wrongfully arrested and pushed around. You can read about their experiences here.

Hannah: "Jennifer saw the tweet, called me and was like 'I don't want to go alone' and you know that story. So that's how I got to Ferguson Wednesday night and ended up hanging out with Wesley Lowery!"

Jennifer, one of the "kind St. Louis citizens" that picked up Reilly and Lowery at the station and drove them back to their cars (something police refused to do) had this to say, "People keep asking what they can do - this is an example of something simple that anyone could have done. StL[sic], there are ways to help, please do what you can!"

After attending various vigils and prayer meetings this week, Hannah says, "They told us just to listen and consider how we can thoughtfully act. One of the things they encouraged us to do was to pray and meditate 3 times a day -- 6am, noon, and 6pm -- to think about what we can do."

Hannah first attended prayer gathering at Wellspring church in Ferguson Monday night after the Sunday riots and the Saturday shooting. She heard words of encouragement and reason from Reverend Willis Johnson, who she later listened to on NPR. She describes: "He gave the most touching interview, I was sobbing in the car."

If you're looking for ways to get involved, Ivory says, "Just show your support on what is happening.  As you can see people from NY, Detroit, even London have shown their support for what's going on."

Hannah: The Metropolitan Clergy Coalition is in the process of building a website (http://www.prayingwithourfeet.org/) and is going to begin posting, listing service opportunites as they arise to help Ferguson rebuild. You don't have to be a person of faith to take part, they just happen to be the force behind that site."

Hannah goes on to explain that Ferguson's community website is down. The sites that would normally list service opportunities and ways to get involved are under fire, so people, the Coalition, had to devise a way around that, to get the word out.

"People are praying, specifically at 6am, noon, and 6pm.  And I'm attending the rally downtown [Thursday night].  I'm still looking for more ways to be involved and help," says Annie.

There is an organized march underway [Thursday]. It ends at St Mark's Missionary Baptist church in Ferguson.

Hannah: "I was talking with friends and one of my friends was like 'I just want to go out and hand out food' so we started hatching a plan."

Hannah, Kenneth, Jennifer and many other friends are planning to take food and water to share with those present. "We're planning to start there handing out water, food; just talking to people, listening to their stories, praying, being community."

The food isn't just for those walking in the march, Hannah stresses, "The idea is not just for us to hand out supplies to protesters, but will also be offered to law enforcement, to media, to whoever else is there."

They'll also have spray bottles filled with a half water/half Maalox mixture just in case there's more tear gas Thursday night.

Looking toward the immediate future, Ivory says: "I am hoping we can continue to have peaceful rallies like the one [Thursday].  I am hoping that people are calming down and will work together to figure out how do we keep things like this from happening again."

Annie's advice to those of us that aren't in St. Louis or near enough to make such an immediate impact: "Follow the news, pay attention, start having these conversations with your neighbors, and learn how discrimination affects them.  Pray for peace and reconciliation, if you're the praying type.  Look around you, look closely and see how your city mirrors the look of Ferguson.  It may be a little similar, it may be a lot, but you need to look for it."

When asked how we in central Illinois can help, Hannah says, "Just keep paying attention. That's what the people of Ferguson are asking for. That's what I'm asking for. Don't turn away. Listen deeply to the stories that are being told because seriously, if it can happen in Ferguson, it can happen anywhere. The images on the news and media are making it look like warzone, this horrible place of urban blight, but having been in Ferguson several times now, there are beautiful side streets and it just looks like downtown Jacksonville, just like any other suburb."

Hannah goes on to say, "Keep asking what you can do a month from now, and not just today."

And even more importantly, "Contact your representatives and ask what their stance is NOW on the militarization of police. Make the call NOW and don't wait until your community looks like Ferguson."

Annie:  "Springfield has racial issues, it's no secret, and there are groups working to help in those areas, so get behind them, work with them.  Demand good police practices and accountability.  Get to know your neighbors and live as an intentional part of your community.  Vote and encourage everyone around you to vote, because it makes a difference!    The main thing is, turmoil here can either fizzle out and return to what was normal before, or it can be a catalyst for change here and across the US.  Help us make it a catalyst for a better way."

(Photo via Annie)

Ferguson MO, How You Can Help


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