On Monday, July 10th, my Moxie group attended a screening of the documentary film, Whose Streets?, a film that provides an inside look into the Ferguson, MO Riots. First and foremost, I’d like to state that this documentary is coming to theaters August 11th, 2017, and that it is well worth the watch (regardless of your opinion of Ferguson, MO, Michael Brown Jr, or the Black Lives Matter movement). The film provides an inside-look into the riots from the Ferguson citizens’ perspective, and highlights how the death of Michael Brown Jr. (may he rest in peace) catalyzed the Ferguson community to fight for their rights. Whose Streets? does an incredible job of removing the media-biased information from the riots, while showcasing the positive change that the riots incited, not only in the Ferguson community, but across the United States.
What makes Whose Streets? so special, is its ability and willingness to listen to the community’s perspective. Rather than criticizing or condemning the community for their activistic actions (whether peaceful or violent), the directors make the effort to question what brought the community to exhibit those actions in the first place. This is a lesson we ALL need to learn, regardless of the situation. As a tutor in Durham, one of the most important things I’ve learned is that, if children are being difficult in the classroom, it’s not because they don’t want to learn, it’s because they can’t learn. Children might be facing difficulties at home (abuse, neglect, stress, anxiety, lack of food, general worries, etc.) or difficulties in the classroom (anxiety, lack of sleep, learning barriers, etc.) that cause them to act out, in an effort to avoid learning. As a DukeEngage participant, and a Moxie, the same rules apply. If you’re trying to engage in service work (perhaps building schools in rural areas) and the target community isn’t responding, you shouldn’t assume the target community isn’t interested. Rather, you should be wondering what’s preventing them from either being able to respond or wanting to respond. This is solidarity. This is positive change. This is what we need to apply to every interaction we face, every service we provide, and every civil unrest we see.
The Ferguson riots were not about the burning or the stealing that the media liked to portray, just like an inability to learn is not a disinterest in learning. Instead, this is about a cycle of behavior that reproduces violence. Over and over, we see an overstepping of police enforcement in targeted communities, that results in the abuse and death. In response, targeted communities speak up and fight back, which insights (unfortunately) more police enforcement, and starts the cycle all over again. Whose Streets highlights the importance of how attitudes and perspectives can really change if we dare to take a step back and see the entire picture. If we want to make any difference, claim that we’re an activist, or believe ourselves to be good people, the first thing we need to do is take a step back, educate ourselves, and listen.
In loving memory of Michael Brown Jr., Tamir Rice, Amadou Diallo, Manuel Loggins Jr, Ronald Madison, Kendra James, Sean Bell, Eric Garner, Alton Sterling, those who I failed to mention, and those who I cannot mention yet.