By Jahneil La Mara
Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published on September 3, 2014. We are reposting as a reminder of the stories that go untold. On November 24, 2014, a grand jury determined that Michael Brown’s murderer, Darren Wilson, would not have any criminal charges brought against him. He walks a free man with no trial. Michael Brown is dead. Justice once again has not been served. Our hearts bleed. Visit the Black Youth Project’s Action Page for ways to advocate change: byp100.org/every28hours.
Following the shooting of unarmed teen, Michael Brown, people all across the country have responded in outrage to his death. In August, Brown was shot multiple times by Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson, leading to the community coming together for protest, rallies, vigils and social media campaigns as they demand justice. On August 14, National Moment of Silence rallies took place nationally and the hashtag #NMOS14 gained much traction on social media. It even brought author and trans activist Janet Mock out to New York City’s Union Square. Social media has also allowed supporters to post photos with their hands in the air, signifying “Don’t Shoot.” Nearly a month later the officer is still free and the Ferguson community is still seeking justice. Catherine Russell, a queer St. Louis resident, has participated in the protests and rallies ever since she heard the initial news.
“When I found out I was like, ‘God, are you serious? It has to be fake. It can’t be real.’ I turned on the news and it was,” says Russell, a Webster University graduate. The area has received a lot of national attention over the past few weeks as the day protests go long into the night.
“The nights have been like a war zone,” she tells ELIXHER. “The teargas and feeling trapped, feeling like a rat in a cage. I’ll never forget the smell of the teargas and how it burns your nose hair and makes your nose itch. How it makes your eyes itch. Even if you’re in a car you can still smell through it. I’ll never forget how that made me feel.” Russell also recalls having guns pointed directly at her. “They treated us like we weren’t American citizens. America is the land of the free and the home of the brave. You would never believe this is America,” she continues.
Many stories aren’t being told as they relate to Ferguson. Russell explains how the media has prioritized showing the looting instead of the positive things that the community is trying to do, such as panel discussions for children, community members cleaning up the messes that are made or the religious groups coming together for peace. Russell who is the founder and CEO of The Russell’s Enrichment Cultural Center, a family recreational center in the St. Louis area that aids at-risk children offering a number of services including tutoring and social development, says that it is millennials like herself that are bridging the gaps between the generations and communities.
Police brutality can happen to anyone so what does that mean for queer women of color? “Being Black, butch, kind of chunky is definitely a turn off to the white male privilege aspect and it does put me at risk to be harassed — it does put me at risk to get beat up, to be pulled over unnecessarily,” continues Russell. She expressed her need to wear unisex clothing, as opposed to men’s clothing, so she doesn’t stand out and to avoid encounters with law enforcement and community members.
Russell feels the chaos in the St. Louis will not die down anytime soon and suggests that others work together using social media platforms to support and bring light to the positive things that are going on despite the tragic time. Discourse. Healing. Resilience. Community.
Jahneil La Mara is a Southern California native and graduate of Florida’s Bethune-Cookman University where she received her B.A. in Mass Communications and served as editor-in-chief of the school paper. Nowadays she’s learning the streets of NYC. She has always been intrigued by the personal style of others and loves food, natural hair, traveling and Instagram. La Mara enjoys reading all things queer, fiction and non-fiction, and writes about her personal experiences being a young fashionable queer woman of color on her blog, LaLaLaMara.com. She serves as an editorial intern at ELIXHER.com.