Behind the headlines highlighting the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the Rev. Al Sharpton and the New Black Panther Party in the aftermath of the Ferguson shooting, there’s a group of local organizers who have emerged as the more effective voices of the movement.
They’ve kept the local movement alive as the St. Louis County grand jury weighed whether to indict white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the Aug. 9 shooting death of black teenager Michael Brown, and they’ve been preparing for months to protest peacefully but vociferously no matter what the legal outcome.
They are furious and heartbroken by Brown’s death, but they don’t want to see the St. Louis suburb torn apart by looting and violence, much of it precipitated by those not from the area. And they’re stunned by what they view as the overreaction of Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and law enforcement in anticipation of the grand jury’s verdict.
They are led by young black organizers like Johnetta Elzie and Deray McKesson, whose names most people wouldn’t recognize unless they’ve been paying attention to events in Ferguson on social media. For those who have, it would be almost impossible to ignore them.
“Not the time to panic y’all. We’ve been planning. We are prepared either way. Either way,” Ms. Elzie said Monday on Twitter.
She has 21,300 followers on Twitter. Mr. McKesson has 24,300.
“If anything, I’m heartbroken and sad. Sad that in 2014 we have to take to the streets to say that black people can’t be killed,” Mr. McKesson said Monday on Twitter.
Another group, the Ferguson National Response Network, listed more than 100 planned protests throughout the United States and Canada for the day of and the day after the grand jury’s announcement.
“We weren’t prepared for August 9th. We’ve been preparing for what could possibly come today,” Ms. Elzie said.
Their website, NoIndictment.org, serves as a critical clearinghouse for information on preparations being undertaken for the protests following the grand jury’s decision. As of Saturday, they had posted 59 newsletter updates on the Ferguson situation.
The site includes a list of “possible protest spaces,” churches and other “safe spaces to escape police violence,” and recommended supplies for protesters, including portable phone chargers, snacks and a “jail support number written on your body with permanent marker.”
They spent Monday chronicling store and school closures, noting the locking up of street mailboxes, and commenting on the throngs of media gathered to record the grand jury’s decision and the town’s reaction.
Mr. McKesson was stunned when authorities wrapped up the teddy bear and candle street memorial to Mr. Brown. “I’ve seen everything now. This memorial is wrapped. Wrapped. America,” he said on Twitter.
They resent what they see as the over-the-top police presence and Mr. Nixon’s decision to call in the Missouri National Guard. They point out that the looting in Ferguson unrest lasted two days in August, followed by 106 days of peaceful protests.
That message was echoed in an article Saturday in the St. Louis Dispatch reported that the total insurance claims from the looting and window-breaking was $5 million — or a fraction of the $1.2 billion in damage from the 2012 hailstorm in St. Louis.
The article also notes that while there were about 400 arrests during the rioting, there were no deaths to protesters and no serious injuries to police.
“Why the disproportionate images of violence in St. Louis?” the article concludes.
Mr. McKesson noted Monday on Twitter that 18,000 people have signed up to receive a text message through NoIndictment.org to notify them the grand jury’s decision.
At one point, he decried “white privilege” and “white supremacy” and asked people to, “Watch America boldly and proudly reclaim Jim Crow.” Minutes earlier, he warned protesters to remain calm.