Injustice Seen in Ferguson is Rallying Cry for Movement Confronting Police Violence Across U.S.

Posted Dec. 3, 2014

MP3 Interview with Tory Russell, co-founder of the youth-led group Hands Up United, conducted by Scott Harris


In the week since the Missouri grand jury announced its verdict opting not to indict Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of unarmed African American teenager Michael Brown, the local community is assessing the damage caused by riots that burned down a dozen buildings, as well as the persistent sense of injustice felt by many residents. But beyond Ferguson, the Michael Brown case has become a rallying cry for activists protesting police violence across the country. In addition to hundreds of solidarity demonstrations held on Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year, organizers called for a school and job walkout on Dec. 1.

On the eve of the 59th anniversary of the historic Montgomery Bus Boycott, the national NAACP launched the Journey for Justice march, where some 250 activists are walking 120 miles from Ferguson to the governor's mansion in Jefferson City over the course of seven days. The marchers are seeking fundamental reform of policing nationwide, beginning with state legislation to stop racial profiling by police. A Pew survey earlier this summer, which revealed the racial polarization surrounding the death of Michael Brown, found that 63 percent of whites and only 20 percent of blacks think that Brown’s death at the hands of Darren Wilson was not about race.

In a series of meetings at the White House on Dec. 1, President Obama, Vice President Joseph Biden and Attorney General Eric Holder spoke with Cabinet members, law enforcement officials and young activists about the distrust between police and communities of color. The president called for $75 million in federal spending to purchase 50,000 body cameras that would record police interactions with civilians and also announced the convening of a government task force on “21st Century Policing.” Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Tory Russell, co-founder of the youth-led group Hands Up United. Here, he discusses the current situation in Ferguson and his group’s work building a national movement to confront police violence in communities of color.

TORY RUSSELL: I just got home, I spent about 10 minutes down the street down W. Florissant from Ferguson, there were military vehicles up and down West Florissant. I could only imagine what probably Gaza or Fallujah will look like. Just coming out, military-looking tanks, I said to one of my friends, who would've thought in America 2014, would have to play is that a tank game coming down a popular street in an urban city? You know, it's just tank after tank and I mean for, probably stretching I would say eight miles of tanks on just about every block and that's just a daily thing. But now Ferguson shuts down, something that could only be reminiscent of probably ... um, 1950 Selma, somewhere down south. It's just a "sun-down city," where whenever the sun sets, you don't want to be outside.

It troubles me to see that my city can only resemble a police state. Or some kind of occupied forces, somewhere just 5 to 10 minutes from where I grew up.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Tory, what are the most important demands that you have locally there in Ferguson in terms of redressing the grievance of what many people including yourself and your group see as a grave injustice here with this grand jury decision?

TORY RUSSELL: Why, we're still fighting for indictment, there's no double jeopardy in a grand jury. We want indictment, the same thing we asked for in August. We're also asking for the police to reflect the community and also live in the community. There's also some small things. The organization for black struggle has a powerful 19 point police reform initiative that we think most of the country is going to sign up for. Some things around body cameras, which you know, only catch bad actors or people after they kill someone; serve civilian review board with investigative and subpoena power. You know, small steps toward a larger goal, which is that the judicial system and a lot of these systems need to change. The prosecutor, when we find works with racial bias, must leave. Even some of the things, with the voting things, we see that a lot of gerrymandering has been going on that needs to be addressed. A lot of systemic things that we've been asking for around a special prosecutor, about the Department of Justice coming investigating not only Ferguson, but North County and the St. Louis area and the whole, and showing there's a real systemic racial bias that's going on in St. Louis.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Tory, I wanted to ask you about President Obama. President Obama had a meeting at the White House with community groups and police. He's about to launch a task force on what he's calling 21st century policing. There's been a mention of some money that he wants allocated by Congress to purchase body cams for police, as you just mentioned. In your view, is President Obama doing enough here, and if you had a chance to speak with him personally, what you tell him and what action would you ask him to take?

TORY RUSSELL: You know, I would have thought as the first black president, he would've had stronger language or compassion for black people. But we just didn't hear that, even after the grand jury decision. He tried to blame the protesters and he did it again, saying that you know, we need to hold accountable those who break the law and I think it was saying toward the protesters, and no language about police, no language about police killings or the fact that black men are getting shot and killed every 28 hours by a police officer, security or vigilante. None of those hard core statistics, no compassion in his voice.

I feel that black people and brown people came out and voted for Obama, knowing that Hurricane Katrina wouldn't happen under Obama. But here we are Ferguson, and this is his Hurricane Katrina, and he hasn't responded in a way that we'd think.

You know, it really breaks my heart that I have to look at young people and try to continue to convince them that voting is the way. You know, I don't concretely think that if I don't vote for the right candidate that I should be punished by being killed in the street. It really shames me and I'm hoping that the few people that were in the meeting compelled him enough to actually take lead on this and to actually represent and do the things that the people voted for twice.

For more information on the youth-led group Hands Up United, visit

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