I grew up in North St. Louis County, a few miles Ferguson. My family has roots in Ferguson. My grandpa had a barber shop there. I remember visiting my great grandmother in Ferguson. My mom said when she was a kid, she liked to go there because they had squirrels.
I live 25 miles from there now, so I’ve not been directly affected. But it’s had a strong effect on me emotionally. It hurts me deeply to see people oppressed, especially in my own community. But to have that oppression continue and worsen for 4 days was even more heart-breaking. I’ve been sad and angry, but like the people in Ferguson, felt powerless to make a difference.
I had strong emotions again today, but of a different sort. When Senator Clair McCaskill spoke, she spoke with compassion and understanding. She gave us hope that she could help make things better. Then when Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson was put in charge, there was more hope. Hearing that Captain Johnson was standing down the SWAT teams, and then seeing him talking to and walking along with the protestors, it became clear that tonight would not be like last night. Then seeing all the pictures from across the country for the National Moment of Silence brought more tears to my eyes.
All these things turned hopelessness to hope. I know that we’re not going to solve the problems with oppression in this country overnight. But at least we’ve stopped the bleeding. Honestly, the hope we have tonight feels like the night Barack Obama was elected. I feel like we might have a chance to make a real difference.
Perhaps the most striking thing about this change was the quickness of it. Literally one day. And the majority of it because of one man. So I decided to write him a letter, which I’d like to share.
Dear Captain Johnson,
You showed leadership, courage, and heroism today. I’m sure you’re a humble man, and don’t think of yourself as a hero. I’m sure you had many people behind the scenes helping you, but you showed the leadership that was so lacking and so necessary. You were the one person today who made a tremendous difference in the lives of so many people.
To those in Ferguson trying to express their feelings, you gave hope. You gave them back their freedom — to assemble, to speak, to seek redress from their government. You lifted the boot of oppression from their throats.
To those of us in the St. Louis area, you brought pride. Many of us were disgusted by the actions of the police this week — stifling protestors, arresting reporters, denying people their rights, and inciting more violence. You showed respect to the people you serve, took their concerns to heart, and did what was right.
To those in the United States of America, you showed that policing doesn’t require a show of force. Today will hopefully be a turning point, proving that the militarization of our police is counterproductive. You learned the lessons that the former Seattle police chief has been trying to teach. You showed that power comes from cooperation and doing what is right, not from force.
From all of us, thank you for making a big difference in our lives. I’m once again proud to be a St. Louisan.
So I hope everyone reading this will remember that this one man made a difference in so many lives in a single day, just by having the courage to do what was right.