Ferguson Activist: It's A Wicked Air Looming
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. Ferguson, Missouri is on alert as it waits for the grand jury decision of whether to indict a white police officer in the fatal shooting of a young, unarmed black man in August. This past week, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon swore in the members of the Ferguson Commission, a panel he convened to study the underlying causes of the unrest that followed the shooting this summer. The youngest member of the commission is 20-year-old Rasheen Aldridge. He described the anxiety in Ferguson this weekend.
RASHEEN ALDRIDGE: It's like a very wicked-type air that's looming, and you're seeing preparations being done, state of emergency, National Guards, Homeland Security. And it's really scary. I think most people are just, like, ready to get this over with, whatever is going to happen - celebration, disappointment.
MARTIN: It's my understanding that the police in Ferguson have been trying to develop a relationship with protest organizers. Is that true, and do you have any sense of what that relationship is shaping up to be?
ALDRIDGE: I feel like, you know, the law enforcement and elected officials are trying to say that they met with protesters just to say that and just to get a story line. But in reality, they really haven't been on the ground every, single day talking to us 'cause this just can't happen, like, week and be like, we met with them, we know their problem. This is an ongoing conversation that should have started right after Michael Brown was gunned down.
MARTIN: You are one of 15 people who Governor Nixon selected to be on a commission that he established to try to get at some of the root causes and the underlying tensions that have emerged in the wake of Michael Brown's death. Around 300 people applied to be on the commission. You were one of them. You raised your hand. You wanted to do this. Why?
ALDRIDGE: It wasn't something I first, initially wanted to do because of who the person was putting this commission together was the governor. And his actions that he did to me and to other protesters out there back in August, by calling the National Guards and tear gassing us and - but after talking to some mentors and talking to some other young folks on the ground, they did say that this could be a good idea because if we really want to get systematic change, you know, indicting Darren Wilson is justice. But that isn't the end all, be all justice. The system is what needs to be changed to start to say that we're really getting justice. And if we want to change the system, we can't only be, you know, out there protesting. And we know that we have to be putting our words through art, putting our words through music, putting our words by being on commission.
MARTIN: Can you talk about what specific changes you want to happen? What do you want to accomplish in this commission? Do you think law-enforcement changes, economic policies?
ALDRIDGE: I think it's all of it. I think it's, you know, economics, where more money needs to be in the low-income communities. I think it's from law enforcement, the lack of trust people feel in, like, the officers that are in their community are really there to protect and serve them. The judicial system is jacked up. People are getting arrested for little things and going down and staying days in jail for no reason. And that's messing with their jobs. And then they're losing their jobs. And it's just a long train effect.
MARTIN: You described a very tense situation in Ferguson. Are you preparing to protest, to go back out into the street's when the decision comes down?
ALDRIDGE: Definitely. We've been preparing ourselves just like the law enforcement has been preparing. We've been going to de-escalation trainings, medic trainings, legal observer trainings. And we've been getting organized to be ready for this indictment or no indictment because if there is an indictment, let's, you know, like I say, the young folks are still going to go to the streets. And we're going to continue to organize 'cause we can't drop the ball here.
MARTIN: Rasheen Aldridge is a community organizer and activist. He is the youngest member of the Ferguson Commission. Thanks so much for talking with us.
ALDRIDGE: No problem. Thank you.
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