On Monday afternoon, five youth activists gathered in New York City.
This group of men and women had traveled from the broken streets of Ferguson, Missouri, to try to raise awareness and ignite change in the ongoing fight against police brutality. They have been fighting since August 9, 2014, the day that unarmed teen Michael Brown was killed—a day that changed the world as we know it.
Activist Tara Thompson, Millennial Activists United member Ashley Yates, and Hands Up United members Tef Poe, T-Dubb-O, and Tory Russell gathered at the #Ferguson luncheon to share how they have been fighting tirelessly since that fateful August day, standing up against tear gas and rubber bullets.
"I decided on August 9 that I was going to do something," T-Dubb-O said. "That I would rather die before I continue to live like I'm living. Before I feel like my dreams ain't worth nothing. Before I can look at my sons' eyes and tell them that they can be whatever they want to be knowing damn well that when they turn 17 and start walking the streets, they might not even f---ing be alive. I refuse to continue to live in a world like that."
All five activists recounted similar stories: Immediately after hearing about the killing via social media, they raced down to the crime scene and were greeted by a grieving community. From there, they knew something had to change. They staged sit-ins outside of the police station demanding answers and flooded the police phone lines to bring attention to themselves.
"It seems like Black women just come ready for their kids and come ready for the community," Russell said. "The respond first, and they act first as well."
However, Russell said, a lot of that has gotten lost in the media's coverage of the protests. The activists constantly see stories get twisted, buried, or lost altogether. Police attacks on protestors are hushed, quietly veiled from mainstream media. There are no reports describing how the city is constantly on lockdown, making it hard for poorer residents to buy the basic food and supplies.
The activists also agreed that the government's response has been minimal. Both T-Dubb-O and Yates met with Obama last week in light of the grand jury decision. However, T-Dubb-O said that it was simply "a meeting with a politician."
The key, according to Yates, is making people realize the violence and trauma that both Ferguson residents and Black people have had to endure, from the violent photos of Black deaths that circulate around the internet to the racism that we disproportionately face.
"You don't see dead kids from Sandy Hook. With Columbine you didn't see the shooting played over and over and over on the news. We don't see this when they kill White people," she said. "But for some reason, our deaths turn into snuff films that are played repeatedly. We are traumatized. But people want to worry about windows and burning buildings and say that's violence.
"Violence is a child that's 6 having to ask me why there are soldier cars everywhere she looks in her city. Violence is being tear-gassed for peacefully asserting yourself as an American citizen, because 'How dare you? We told you when we first brought you here that you weren't American citizens.' Violence is someone constantly not only insulting your intelligence by lying to you, but also actively taunting you by lying about your community and your children and saying there's nothing you can do about it."