In an open letter titled, To My People, Assata Shakur said, “It is our duty to fight. It is our duty to win. We must love and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.” Each night before we left St. Mark’s Church (a safe haven for Ferguson protestors), to march on West Florissant Avenue, we would recite this quote in a circle, in unison. Each morning for the past few weeks, the moment I rise, I look in the mirror and say this to myself.
This is what I believe in.
I was in Phoenix, Arizona visiting family when Mike Brown was killed. I checked Twitter on August 9th, 2014 and the first thing I saw was one of my childhood friends live tweeting the death he had just witnessed from his living room window. Within hours, I watched St. Louis catch on to what had happened. As more time passed, I watched as the nation began to discover what occurred and just a few short days later, the entire world had its eyes squarely on my city.
I witnessed countless tweets, pictures and video recordings of people being tear gassed, arrested and being both shot and shot at. Not just any people, my people. My people were being treated like animals, in my backyard, and I was losing sleep from the guilt of not being out there beside them. I have not missed a day on the ground since I returned home on August 13th.
The first place I went upon my return was Canfield Road, right to the spot where Mike died. The situation would not become real for me until I experienced it for myself. A week later, the crime scene still made my heart clench within my chest. Even without seeing his slain body on the ground, my heart continued to ache. It still aches for Mike Brown and his family. I went to the Ferguson Police Department the following day and every day since. We march. We chant. We vent. The anger and vigor in our combined voice has not and will not waver.
In the 34 days since I began protesting, my First Amendment rights have been violated and snatched from me. Local law enforcement has spoken to me as if I was an animal and I have been arrested…twice.
I was told by police officers if I crossed an invisible line they created in front of the Clayton Justice Center, I would be arrested. I looked down to where the officer pointed his finger and walked over the line with my hands up, chanting “This is what democracy looks like.” I was held, processed, booked and released within a few hours.
I was arrested again at the Highway 70 shutdown. There was no invisible line this time. My crime was apparently standing near the curb, not ON the curb. I was put onto a corrections bus with about six other people and transported to St. Louis County Police Headquarters. I was held for five hours and released without being charges or an explanation for my arrest.
My family members could not understand the purpose behind my arrests. They still cannot fathom how I was detained for peacefully protesting, yet Darren Wilson was not detained for killing an unarmed 18-year-old young man and still remains free. I have to remind them that this is what taking a stand looks like. That this is what fighting for your life, and the lives of those to come after you, looks like. Change is nothing but the process of discomfort in order to one day become comfortable. If being uncomfortable in a holding cell for a few hours is a step towards my newborn nephew’s life being treated with some priority, so be it.
People often ask me, “What do you want to come from all of this?” I always answer with the same response: “I want Mike Brown’s parents to be able to wake up one day and finally be able to mourn the loss of their son.” I wake up every morning, fighting the best way I know how. I wake up each morning, fighting to prevent another family from having to grieve the loss of their child due to his or her skin color. I fight for justice for this young man, because his parents deserve the moment they are able to finally grieve, peacefully, for their child.
I fight because it is my duty.
Alexis Templeton is a 20-year-old resident of Ferguson, Missouri. Follow her on Twitter: @musicoverpeople
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