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Justice For Michael Brown: An Expanding Definition

Brittany Ferrell of  Millennial Activists United. Her organization helped coordinator activities during Ferguson October.
Emanuele Berry | St. Louis Public Radio

Since Michael Brown’s death one has heard a consistent cry for justice. For many protesters, that justice means the indictment of Officer Darren Wilson, who shot the unarmed 18 year old. That case is before the grand jury. But an indictment is not the only definition of justice, as sought by those who have been demonstrating.

Justice Beyond Indictment

Brittany Ferrell loves nursing.

“Having the ability to touch someone’s life whether they just came into this world, or they are exiting this world, that means a lot to me.”

But after Michael Brown’s death, Ferrell decided to take a break from her final year of nursing school and devote her time to working with Millennial Activists United, a local grassroots organization formed in August.

She says she’s delayed her education to fight for justice, but not just justice for Michael Brown.

“It’s not solely about Mike Brown anymore,” Ferrell says. “Michael Brown was a martyr; he was the catalyst for it. We definitely want justice for Mike Brown, but this is so much bigger than Mike Brown now, so much bigger.”

Ferrell says she would like Darren Wilson to be indicted, but an indictment does not wholly define success.

“If there is an indictment, success requires us to continue the good fight … But the indictment doesn’t mean anything if there are always going to be Darren Wilsons out here and black lives are going to continue to not matter,” she said. “You know, there is still a lot of back work that needs to be done. There are a lot of demands that need to be met.”

Policy For Measure

Saint Louis University Law Professor Justin Hansford is working to compile demands in a central location, a website called Thedemands.org.

The list is not stagnant. It continues to expand and change. Hansford says eventually it will be important for the many different organizations making demands to focus on a few key ones or they’ll fall into the Occupy Wall Street trap, a lack of focus.

So far most of the demands listed on the website are concrete policy measures on local and national levels. The list includes:

  • Special prosecutor for all deadly force cases
  • Representative police force and intentional officer training
  • Truth and reconciliation commission on structural and systemic inequalities in Missouri
  • Passage of the national “end racial profiling” legislation

Hansford says legislative action is needed to ensure justice.

Credit Emanuele Berry | St. Louis Public Radio
One of the demands listed asks that "officers should be held accountable for the use of deadly force in every encounter."

“If you ask yourself the question of what justice looks like, it can’t just mean getting a conviction for this one individual, Darren Wilson. It has to mean something that will affect the lives of all the youth,” he said.

To accomplish this, Hansford says real accountability mechanisms need to be put in place for police and officials.

“Shifting a culture overnight won’t happen without accountability measures,” Hansford said. “That’s why there must be penalties in place that have an impact that will hurt. When you have an environment where there is not accountability people don’t feel the pressure to change. So what justice looks like for me in the short term is an environment where there is accountability, so that people feel the pressure and they know they have to change the way they interact with black youth.”

Beyond Policy and Ferguson

The call for policy solutions was echoed nationwide as people from across the country converged in St. Louis this weekend for Ferguson October -- a series of rallies and marches.

For some visitors, like Jenny Herman, their vision of justice cannot be neatly wrapped into a list of policy demands.

Herman drove from Columbia, Mo., to attend demonstrations this weekend. She said some of the issues that need to be resolved cannot be regulated, including hatred.

“The bigger issue is that one life can mean less than another life. It could be a race issue, a class issue, a gender issue. It could be anything. The injustice that we are seeing is hatred and the invalue of humanity. So what we're standing for -- at least what I’m standing for -- is that all lives are worth the same.”

Ferguson October was another step toward a larger vision of justice. The event called for an end to police brutality nationwide and brought people from around the nation to the St. Louis area with the hope of inspiring them to continue the fight for justice in their own community.

Tef Poe performs at a benefit concert for Micheal Brown's family.
Credit Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio
Tef Poe performs at a benefit concert for Michael Brown's family.

As the definition for justice has expanded beyond an indictment and beyond Ferguson, Hands Up United activist and rapper Tef Poe, says it’s important not to lose sight of Michael Brown.

“I think for a lot of us here in St. Louis, it will always refer back to Michael Brown. Michael Brown's death created the current universe that we are living in.”

It’s a universe Tef Poe is working to change. He says he will continue to demonstrate “until there are no more Darren Wilsons and no more Michael Browns.”  

“If there is an indictment, you know that’s wonderful, but that’s still a very small piece to the puzzle,” he said. “... the work still continues and I think now we’ve reached the point where we have a legitimate movement, we have legitimate resource and people who are dedicated to pushing this through and making this moment count for more than something on paper.”

The just world Tef Poe is pushing for …

“It’s this weird utopia of equality, with everyone being able to participate and enjoy the spoils of the world and fruits of our society equally. And we are so far away from that, we're like light years away from that, but that’s what it looks like.”

Tef Poe says he knows it’s a world he probably won’t see or accomplish in in his lifetime, but that doesn’t mean he’ll stop fighting for it.