St. Louis native Johnetta "Netta" Elzie has been one of the most active voices in the wave of Black Lives Matter protests that sprang up in response to the killing of unarmed teenager Mike Brown by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, MO.
In a new article for Ebony, Elzie describes the first few traumatic nights in Ferguson following Brown's death—when the city saw massive police militarization—and the motivation she's found to continue leading the movement:
The next day [after Mike Brown's death], a few hundred people gathered in front of the Ferguson Police Department's new million dollar headquarters to peacefully protest. The crowd was filled with people from all walks of life. We marched on the station's grounds, past officers and into and out of the building yelling phrases like "HANDS UP! DON'T SHOOT!" I could feel the tension in the air. Everyone was angry. I was angry. Being among such a large group of people—some strangers and others, familiar faces—I was not afraid of standing with them. The anxiety and fear grew inside of me as more and more police officers arrived to the station from different municipalities, including the K-9 unit.
We were all there for the same reason: to demand answers, to know why an unarmed Black teenage boy was gunned down. Mothers among the protesters gave testimonies to anyone who would listen about how to how the men in their family, or their sons (and even themselves) have experienced a form of police brutality. This was the first time I had ever seen police dogs ready for attack in real life. I felt as if time was rewinding back and showing me scenes from Selma, Alabama in the 1960's instead of Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. I never imagined that this would be my reality as a young adult in America in the 21st century. I tried to remain as calm as possible in such a volatile situation but seeing those police dogs snarling at young Black children filled me with anger and rage.
I became less of a peaceful protester and more of an active one. Using my voice to chant loudly along with other protesters seemed to be enough but it wasn't. Instead, I decided to yell directly at the police. I decided to dare the police to look at the faces of the babies and children their dogs were so ready to chase down. As more people began to look directly at the police and yell their grievances, the more aggravated they became.
Read the full article on Ebony and follow Elzie on Twitter to learn more about her activism.
(Image: Memorial to Michael Brown, Jamelle Bouie, CC-BY)