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From Cleveland to Ferguson and back again

Kevin Chill Heard | 8/27/2014, 9:14 a.m.
After the rioting and looting that took place that night, she felt like heading back to Ferguson to help clean ...
Arlene Anderson holds up a copy of the St. Louis newspaper she purchased the day she was in Ferguson. In St. Louis on business, Anderson found herself exercising her NAACP rights in Ferguson with protesters over the killing of Mike Brown.

But still, she insisted that what they needed most during that time was direction.

“I was looking for the civic leadership, political leadership, religious leadership, but they were absent early on,” said Anderson.

She also found that it wasn’t just the police that had problems with strangers in town. The people in Ferguson seemed to be just as upset that there were so many outsiders there. “I saw this one guy talking to a police officer and he was going off,” she said. “I thought he was having a confrontation with the officer. He was really just upset that all the cars and people were in the city and he was letting the officer know about it. He was yelling, ‘I wish all these people would go home and leave us alone!’”

In light of the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, Anderson couldn’t help but feel that we weren’t much further along than we were 50 years ago.

“For people [in general] to walk around with this kind of lax attitude that everybody is equal in treatment and rights… Something like this lets you know that it’s not the case,” Anderson said. “I spoke with a couple of the men in Ferguson, and they told me [police mistreatment] happens there all the time. [They] felt it was about time that the residents started voicing their anger. They were frustrated that they were not safe walking down the street without police harassment or an incident. But, they still were not happy that outsiders and the media were in their city.”

When asked for her impression of what kind of town Ferguson is, she responded, “At first, from the media, I was under the impression that Ferguson was a type of suburb. But, when I was there, I got the feeling that I was in the inner-city. From what I could see, it was not a middle-class environment. To put it into perspective, if St. Louis was Cleveland, Ferguson would be East Cleveland.”

It was her understanding that the city is majority Black and out of 53 police officers only three of the 50 were Black. No Black school board officials, the mayor is White and the town’s prosecutor is White.

“The record shows that they really don’t vote,” Anderson continued. “There’s definitely voter apathy. And I know that, here in Cleveland, we also have voter apathy, but not to that degree. I think the problem in Ferguson doesn’t just stem from a political standpoint, but also community and civic. What are the religious leadership, community and civic leaders doing there?

“Just being on the ground and interacting with these people… I felt sad. It was scary for me as a Black woman. In some cases, I wondered where the Black men were that stand up for themselves. They seemed to be the targets of these issues. My observation was that they didn’t appear to be afraid of the police, but that they were so used to being harassed that they were immune to the fact it was happening and that it wasn’t right, and finally they got tired of it.”