Oakland delegation shares impressions from "Weekend of
Resistance" in Ferguson, Missouri
By Lou Fancher
The sights and sounds from Missouri are compelling.
A young woman, alone, quelling thousands of surging protesters with upheld hands in St. Louis. Six county sheriff cars circling Michael Brown's home nightly. Police snipers on the roof of the Ferguson police station. Thousands of people from all over the country marched peacefully and spoke the words of Martin Luther King Jr. over the weekend to protest police violence in the wake of the fatal shooting on Aug. 9 of the unarmed Brown, an African-American teen, by Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson police officer.
Among the thousands who traveled to Ferguson for the "Weekend of Resistance" was a delegation from the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center in Oakland -- Maira Perez, an 18-year-old sophomore at Mills College, Eric Fuller, 22, a graduate of Castlemont High School and Freedom Center student staff, and Rasmyah Hammoudeh, 25, -- that joined the protest to heed a national call for solidarity and nonviolent protest.
Upon their return to Oakland, they sat down Monday for an interview to recall the startling images and powerful, unifying conversations they shared with strangers.
The triumph of the Oakland delegation's training in nonviolence met with the tragedy of a real-world opportunity to apply it, said Freedom Center Government and External Affairs Director Karen Bohlke. But the group, which organizes a community program that brings plainclothes police officers to the homes of Oakland families for a shared meal, "are unafraid to put themselves on the line," Bohlke said.
"It's a good time for the nation to know that young people are giving their time to this movement," she said.
The delegation participated in nonviolence training, marches, rallies and vigils, and interviewed residents of Ferguson.
"The march from Michael Brown's home to the Ferguson police station was intense," Hammoudeh recalled. "We met people who knew Mike Brown and saw the site where the incident happened. It wasn't just a story, it was seeing the people as individuals."
Perez said one interview began awkwardly, with a young African-American boy reciting what sounded to her like a script. Asking him questions about music and other mutual interests, she broke through his crusty exterior and discovered truth. "We found his hopes, dreams and humanity," Perez said. "Now that we're home, the beauty of getting to know him crosses hundreds of miles of separation."
But the prevailing atmosphere of peace carried an undercurrent of mistrust and tension they could not deny.
"I haven't had firsthand police abuse or racial profiling," Fuller said. "However, living in a society where color is a mark, you feel you're a walking target."
Perez said she made the trip "because it was the right thing to do" and "the shooting of an unarmed African-American man is a crime against humanity." Fuller said traveling to Ferguson represented a unified, national effort to re-establish American's free speech and the right to assemble in a peaceful protest. Surprised by Ferguson residents' hope, faith and warm hearts in the aftermath of the shooting they said was "chaos," and "a violation," Perez said the weekend was a constant reminder to "know and work with our neighbors."
Asked if the cycle of mistrust and misrepresentation between law enforcement and black communities could be broken and a civil rights movement that has never regained the momentum of the '60s restored, Hammoudeh said more people in the Bay Area need to recognize present-day reality and know their history.
"Here in Oakland, people are still living in a society that is separated based on social and economic factors," she said. "People need to know and understand that when we were marching, the songs and chants were similar to Martin Luther King. See what our leaders established and relive it again. History is empowering."
Tension between the police and families in Oakland is unacceptable, Fuller said, but resisting its force takes effort and a willingness to be vulnerable. He said convincing police officers and families to take part in "All of Us Around the Table ... Together," the shared meal program funded by Kaiser Permanente, was difficult. "Both sides are fearful," he said.
Recognizing that the problem in Ferguson occurs in their Oakland neighborhoods, Perez asked, "If my generation and our community doesn't fix it, who will?" Mobilizing, organizing and "sitting at our elders' feet to hear their stories," she said, are key to finding a remedy. Then, as if in afterthought, she said, "If we can go back to the humanity everyone has, we'd be unstoppable."