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Three Years Later: Ferguson Protester Sees 'Baby Steps' Toward Change


We wanted to get a different point of view on now, on what happened in Ferguson. As we mentioned, there were a lot of young people who came to Ferguson to protest Brown's death and the policing there. Brittany Ferrell was one of them. She was a nursing student at the University of Missouri when the shooting happened. She took a break from her studies to take to the streets. Here she is speaking to NPR in 2014.


BRITTANY FERRELL: A lot of the response from the protesters and the demonstrators, it's in response to the police. So when the police feel that they need a presence with riot gear, when they need a presence with 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.

SMITH: Brittany says people might not be in the streets today, but the feelings are still raw and unresolved.

FERRELL: I think that if you play that same recording now, it would still be relevant. Things are a little bit different. People aren't out protesting on the streets every day for the right for black people to live because what has the system done? They've began to criminalize activists and organizers. That's one of the main reasons why I can't organize now is because I'm now on probation for two and a half years for organizing a highway shutdown.

SMITH: One of the other things I wanted to ask you about really fast was something else that you'd spoken with us about in 2014, which is that when you were there out on the streets, that you felt like it was this pivotal moment for your generation.

FERRELL: What happened in Ferguson did really ignite this country. It created like a sense of fearlessness for people to, like, speak up and to rise up against injustice. I mean, the world was watching. And there was so much power and energy coming out of this city. And we saw that when we saw cities mobilizing. You know, there are more conversations around, you know, what it means to be fed up or what it means to, like, fight back against the system that wants to render you powerless.

SMITH: We spoke with the former police chief of Ferguson, Thomas Jackson. He's just written a book about his experience in Ferguson. One of the things we talked with him about was how this had gotten started. And he said that he really felt like he and his officers were available to be spoken with. They were really trying to reach out to the community and that no one really ever came up to him or came up to them and expressed problems with police practices and things like that. What do you think is going on there?

FERRELL: The fact that Tom Jackson wants to make it seem like he felt like his officers were doing everything appropriately, if that was the case, Mike Brown would not be dead right now. So I don't think anything Tom Jackson has to say has any relevance. I think he's doing what he does as a person who is a part of this deeply flawed and broken system.

SMITH: You still live in St. Louis. Have you seen any changes, any improvement in the relationship between police officers and the black community?

FERRELL: No, not at all. I don't see anything - any improvement on the way that the police attempt to engage communities. We have a mayor in office right now who wants to put more police on the streets to get tough on crime. And what that sounds like to me is that there are going to be more police officers in black and brown communities committing violence against black and brown people. And I don't expect to see things to get better for communities in St. Louis in regards to how they're policed.

SMITH: That's activist Brittany Ferrell. She went back to school and is now a nurse in St. Louis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.