AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Someone else who will be protesting again tonight is Brittany Ferrell. Before the death of Michael Brown, the 25-year-old single mom was a nursing student on the cusp of graduation. Since the shooting, she's dropped out of school and dedicated her life to the movement in Ferguson around Michael Brown's death. She's even co-founded a group called Millennial Activists United. And last night she was on the streets of Ferguson when protests turned violent and police responded with tear gas.
BRITTANY FERRELL: There was no warning. They just started shooting gas canisters. And that's when we took out our gas masks, so that if we needed to help or if we - you know, it's our responsibility as citizens to make sure that we are documenting what's happening so that people know the truth. We have to be able to protect ourselves.
CORNISH: I asked Brittany Ferrell how she went from nursing school to gas masks. She said after watching police shootings from afar, Brown's death brought the issue too close to look away.
FERRELL: When it was happening in Oakland, and when it happens in Florida, and when it happens in New York City, you know, we see it, and it hurts. But then it happens in your hometown. We need to do something about it. This is our opportunity to stand up as a city. People will see you. The world is watching Ferguson. So they have no choice but to pay attention. And they're going to follow your lead. Me being in nursing school, you know, I'm a black woman first. Before I'm a nurse, I'm a black woman. Before I was a mother, I was a black woman. You know, I have to do this for my child and my unborn children. I have to do this for my little brother. It's bigger than us. We have to take care of community.
CORNISH: Now, you had the civil rights activist and Georgia Representative John Lewis saying that Ferguson has a potential to be a kind of historical turning point. He likened it to the 1965 demonstrations he participated in in Selma, Alabama. President Obama disagreed with that comparison. What makes you think this could be a pivotal moment for your generation?
FERRELL: Well, first of all, let me say that President Obama has not spoken for the people in Ferguson at all. I do feel like Ferguson is going to be a very historical moment. It's going to be something that's going to be talked about 50 years from now because we weren't prepared for this. We were thrown into it.
CORNISH: One criticism is the idea of whether the protests should be nonviolent or what has been seen in some days of violence and looting. What is your response to people who see those images on TV?
FERRELL: What people saw on television last night was anger. You cannot tell an oppressed people how to be oppressed. It should never be property over people.
CORNISH: But there has also been certainly comments from clergy and others in the community who have said this is not the way. This is not the way to create a movement. And this is not the way to be heard. That it's not effective. That it's destructive to the very community that's seeking help.
FERRELL: I know the clergy, they understand that a lot of the response from the protesters and the demonstrators is in response to the police. So when the police feel that they need a presence with riot gear, when they need a presence of chemical weapons, when they have to pull out their assault rifles, that's antagonizing. And the people are going to respond to that. So stop with the gas. Stop with the rubber bullets. Stop with the riot gear. Stop antagonizing the people. That way we can build our movement up to be what it needs to be. We're not going to continue to let the police come and threaten us as a people while we mourn when we have to worry about driving down the street and getting pulled over simply because we're driving while black. Like, it has to end somewhere.
CORNISH: Well, Brittany Ferrell. She's co-founder of Millennial Activists United. Thank you so much for speaking with us.
FERRELL: Thank you.
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