Image Courtesy of Whosestreets.com
Chief News Editor
On Monday September 18, The College of the Holy Cross held a screening of the documentary “Whose Streets” in Hogan. This film offers documentation of the 2014 crisis in Ferguson, Missouri following the shooting of teenager Michael Brown by a policeman. The screening was put on by Arts Transcending Borders and introduced by Melissa Weiner, Associate Professor of Sociology.
Arts Transcending Borders, according to their Holy Cross web page, is “a new initiative designed to enhance the role of the arts in every aspect of the Holy Cross experience by infusing the arts into students’ academic lives and creating new opportunities throughout the curriculum and the community to cross cultural, geographic, and disciplinary boundaries.” This screening was held in conjunction with the event Antigone in Ferguson Theater of War Productions, which will be held on October 1.
The film itself focused on the events that transpired in Ferguson following the death of Michael Brown from the view of the people who lived there during this time. Professor Weiner introduced the context of Ferguson, which, as she stated, is in the ninth most segregated county in the U.S. with “hyper-militarized police” and a disproportionate amount of police attention and violence toward the black population.
The opening scenes focused on the injustice of the initial shooting and ensuing police actions: Michael Brown was unarmed, shot ten times, and police refused to allow his mother to identify his body for hours. In the days and weeks following the shooting, the media focused on and publicized the lootings, fires, and riots that plagued Ferguson. What they failed to document, however, was the peaceful candlelit vigil held by Brown’s family that starkly contrasted with the riots in the streets.
When a convenience store was burned down, media coverage exploded. The community, however, believed that the media was focused on “property over people.” They were more concerned about the lost building than the lost life and this anger towards the media only fueled the protests in the city. These protests, however, also provided an opportunity for “black, white, everyone coming together to support his cause.” Furthermore, the leaders of the protest strongly advocated against the violence of the first few nights of protests: “Let’s do it the right way, man.”
The state only contributed to the upset by bringing in the national guard in an attempt to stop the protests. However, members of the community where not about to back down. One stated, “If I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die for a real reason today.” Despite the intense police presence, the movement continued and it intensified dramatically in October when another 18-year-old black man, Vonderrit Myers Jr., was killed by police. This sparked the formation of Ferguson October, a huge organized protest that drew crowds from around the world who continuously chanted, “hands up, don’t shoot.”
On the other side of the fight, local police members wore “I am Darren Wilson” badges and bracelets to stand in solidarity with the police officer who killed Brown and who they believed was innocent, to which the courts ultimately agreed. Wilson claimed that his motivation was simply to live, while black community members argued that was Brown’s only goal as well.
According to the “Whose Streets” website, the makers of this documentary saw a need to tell the story that they themselves lived. They wrote that “the dehumanization of Mike Brown was perpetrated by his murderer, perpetuated by the media, and reinforced by violent police repression of his community. This was a modern day lynching.” Furthermore, the makers describe the film as “a tribute to our people—our deeply complex, courageous, flawed, powerful, and ever hopeful people—who dare to dream of brighter days.”
When asked why it is important that students and faculty see this documentary, Professor Weiner explained Michael Brown “never got to do what every student here is doing now, and will do later on in their lives. It is essential that we all, as U.S. citizens, understand the system that inhibits people of color, but particularly Black and Latino men, women, and children, from full participation in society through a racist criminal justice system that, in the case described in ‘Whose Streets,’ allows for children to be murdered.” She also explained that this corrupt system traps people of color and allows whites to profit, thus further enabling racism and inequality in the United States. This film in particular “shows the activism and determination of those protesting against this system from their perspective” and gives them a voice they did not previously have that allows viewers to understand racism from their perspective.
This film was shown in the context of a nation that remains in a state of racial turmoil as high rates of police violence towards people of color persist. In order to learn more about these issues, visit http://www.whosestreetsfilm.com/ and register to attend Antigone in Ferguson which will be held on October 1 at 2 p.m. in the Mary Chapel.