Opinion: Protest Vigil Or Party Central? The Michael Brown Message Is In Danger Of Being Lost

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By: / August 17, 2014

Last night, while the parents, teachers, community organizers, religious leaders and media outlets packed up and went back to their hotels, the young people of Ferguson came out and turned up, turning West Florissant Avenue from a political rally to a hotspot.

“It looks like Freaknik out here,” said a man standing next to me.

He was right. Young girls were sitting in the windows of moving cars, throwing their hands up in the air and flirting with guys walking by. Groups of kids snaked through the crowd, dancing and yelling along to rap lyrics. The smell of weed was thick in the air and several young people had cups of something that wasn’t water. Throughout it all, every car driving down the main thoroughfare laid on their horns in unison.

I interviewed a local politician as she stood in front of a group of kids who were screaming out ‘F the police’ while Lil Boosie songs thumped out of oversized speakers in the back of a white van. I told her that it would be difficult to de-escalate the kids when it was time to take it down. She didn’t seem to be concerned.

I won’t demonize the young people of Ferguson for showing out and acting up. (Although quite honestly, part of me wants to). But I’m definitely disappointed that the behavior of last night’s revelers will have a definitive impact on the every day people of Ferguson if this escalates due to tonight’s curfew.

Today, I took my car back to the rental agency and the man ahead of me was talking to a friend about what he saw last night.

“I was ashamed of my people,” he said. “They were coming down the street with music blaring. This is supposed to be a protest! Not a place to show off your ride!”

The man asked me where I was from and I told him I was reporting for VIBE. He shook his head slowly and said, “I’m really embarrassed that you saw that last night. That’s not what this is supposed to be about at all.”

SEE ALSO: #VIBEInFerguson: A Real-Time Blog

There’s a disconnect in Ferguson. There are clearly issues between the police department and the citizens. But there are also generational issues within this community.
When night fell, the trio of mothers I’d interviewed in lawn chairs at the burned out gas station packed up their stuff and went home to get ready for work.

When night fell, Jesse Jackson was done leading his prayer circle and was gone.

When night fell, I didn’t see any of the community people I’d seen during the day. I saw young people, hundreds of them, unsupervised and acting a fool.

The people who were twerking last night, a block away from where Michael Brown was shot and killed, are not helping the movement.

The people who stole liquor from the same exact store that Michael Brown allegedly robbed are not helping the movement.

The people who looted a nearby beauty supply store a block away from the crime scene are not helping the movement.

This is a sign of bigger issues in Ferguson. The reasons behind civil unrest are almost always greater than whatever sparks an initial incident.

No matter what happens tonight when curfew is enforced, the police assigned to this area still have a responsibility to take appropriate action and do their best not to let things get out of hand.

But the messages of the daytime activists are in danger of being drowned out by a smaller—but more vocal—group of young people whose issues clearly go far beyond the death of Michael Brown at the hands of police.