WPT University Place: Ferguson Is America: Roots of Rebellion


(audience applauds) – Thank you and thank you for those kind words, Nan. I’m actually kind of
glad you said them. One, because they’re
compliments, of course, but two, (laughs) because
it’s part of the reason why I’m so excited
to introduce Jamala. I think, at least
locally, people often tell me and often compliment
me for the work that I’m able to do,
but right now, I get the amazing opportunity
to introduce someone who’s very
much at the terrain that has made me and
my work possible, and not just my work but
my generation’s work, and so I’m very happy
because I’ve looked to Jamala’s work long
before I even knew Jamala right, and I’ve looked
to her work long before I knew her name, right? So, I’m very excited to
have this opportunity and be able to introduce her. So, Jamala Rogers is
founder and pastor of the Organization
for Black Struggle in Saint Louis where
she lives and has devoted all of her
adult life to creating a child-centered,
family-oriented community, one that embraces,
celebrates, and protects human rights for all
citizens regardless of race, ethnicity, class, gender,
sexual orientation, or religion. Because of the persistent
barriers to this goal, it has naturally led
her to being a leader in the struggle for justice,
equality, and peace, and so, quickly to
speak of Organizaion for Black Struggle,
which I’m a huge fan of, and have been, as you
know, many of the members Freedom Inc., Young,
Gifted, and Black got the opportunity to go
and participate in the urban rebellion happening
in Ferguson and also the work, the rebellion
happening in Saint Louis, and though, it was not clearly
shown on TV necessarily or clearly stated,
as much of the gains that was made was actually
able to be possible cause there were people
already organizing on the ground, right? So, mad love to OBS for that. Mad love to OBS for that. All power to the people. Jamala has challenged
the criminal industrial complex
for decades, focusing on police violence,
prison reform wrongful convictions,
and the death penalty. She is associated with the
exonerations of several Missouri men and women,
including Ellen Resonover, Joseph Amrine, and
Darrell Burton. Currently, she is the
coordinator for justice for Reggie Clemons’
campaign, an inmate on Missouri’s
Death Row, who many believe have been
wrongfully committed and sentenced to death. Jamala is a featured columnist for the award-winning
Saint Louis American newspaper,
Saint Louis’ largest black weekly, and is
on the editorial boards of Blackcommentator.com
and The Black Scholar. Jamala was a Alston Bannerman
Fellow and is the 2017 activist and resident at the University
of Wisconsin, Madison. (mumbles) says hi. (laughs) Jamala Rogers’
first book, The Best of The Way I See It, and
Other Political Writings, 1989-2010, features her
essays from the Saint Louis American on issues
ranging from the church to human rights to black
conservatives, to war. Her latest book,
Ferguson is America: Roots of Rebellion
came out this summer. As one reviewer put it,
“Rogers does an amazing “job of bringing
clarity to exactly “what’s going on in our country, “writ large, and how long
it’s been happening. “Do not make the mistake
of thinking this book “only applies to or
commentates on the murder “of Michael Brown. “Rogers is giving all
of America a sobering “primer regarding
the dynamics of race “in our country, and
anyone who reads it, “will most certainly consider it
a call to action.” So, with that, I’m very
please to introduce Ms. Jamala Rogers. My kindred. (audience applauds) – Thank you again for
getting up this morning. I am not a morning person. So, to see other
people up bright eyed and bushy tailed, I’m
feeling already inspired. I do also want to
thank all the folks who put this together,
especially the sisters at Comparative US
studies, and it struck me last night that
the acronym is CUSS. So, I kind of like
that cause it might be some cussing out that
that group has to do cause they kind of
off the grid doing great things and also
to the Haven Center, who invited to me
participate in the activists and residents. I’m so excited about that. I got a whole year
to prepare for it, but I’m still excited. So, without further
adieu, because we started a little bit late
and actually, I prefer to have more time for
the discussion piece, either I’m going to talk
real fast or I’m gonna to like zero through
some of these slides and it’s not
a whole lot of em, but I did want to do a few
things with the PowerPoint. One is, I want to lift
up some of the points in the book because when
I say Ferguson is America, Ferguson is Madison,
Ferguson is Milwaukee, Ferguson is all the urban
areas where this kind of racial injustice exists. I also want to provide
some historical context, as well as some… ways of jump starting
the conversations later on and hopefully inform some of the other
panel discussion. So, you know, hopefully,
we have an engaging, lively discussion. I’m not thin-skinned.
So, ask me hard questions. Challenge me cause I do a lot of
challenging other people. So, I figured Imma get
the same back in return. So, I was really
fascinated by the fact that the title of today
is racial injustice, incarceration, and
segregation because those are at least
two of the four points that I lift up in
the book, because these are the
things that are part of the cauldron of
inequalities, injustices that once that match gets lit, and usually the
matches are police violence, then we
have a Ferguson. So, Ferguson really
could’ve been anywhere. I was telling somebody
last night that there are 91 municipalities
all clustered together in the Saint Louis region,
and a number of them have the same, in
fact, in some cases, worse conditions than Ferguson. So, when we sort of peel back the layers, we know
that it could’ve been anywhere but
it just happens that it was Ferguson. So, it was interesting
that Nan pulled out some of you all’s contests that you have won,
cause in the book I point out a lot of the things Saint Louis has been noted for, and sometimes we been
on lists consistently. So, for example,
most dangerous city, most racially-segregated
city, most hyper-segregated city,
least kid-friendly city, number one in racial
mortgage rate disparity, the highest
sexually-transmitted diseases in the US. – My God. – Ranks 50 in state funding for
public health programs. – 50?
– Stop it! – And so, I really have
to sort of pin here that one of the reasons,
and this is something that even Saint
Louisans don’t know, the reason that we
have a city hospital that’s been closed up, boarded, leaves hitting up
against the front door, is because the
lawmakers in Missouri had decided that they don’t want
to expand Medicaid. So, that hospital
is closed down. It’s a huge eye
sore and so that is sort of the pain we talked about
by living in America. So, I want to move
right to the slide presentation, and I’m
starting with housing patterns because in Saint Louis, that’s been a key part,
and you might know that I’m not originally
from Saint Louis, but I’m from Missouri. So, the same thing. It’s no real difference
between these things. So, for some of you all
who are old enough to remember Hoovervilles, you don’t have to
raise your hand. I’m not gone embarrass you. The interesting thing
about Saint Louis is that we had one of the
largest Hoovervilles and the longest
Hooverville, and so, I’m not gone say what
a Hooverville is. That’s an assignment
if you don’t know what it is, but 5,000
people lived there on the banks of the Mississippi, and these were
shantytowns that were put together because of
the policies and laws of our then President Hoover. So, the interesting
thing about Hooverville is that because there
were a number of crafts people, folks
who were put out of jobs based on the depression,
it made for a healthy mix of people who
were very resourceful. So, people were building
their own places. They were electricians.
So, they were, you know, wiring. I mean, it was in fact a city, and the interesting thing,
they even had it’s own mayor. I mean it was like,
you know, sort of not officially, but when you
got people living together, you create a community,
as messed up as it was. So, almost concurrent with that was a place called Mill Creek, and Mill Creek Valley
was a place where 20,000 people lived,
sort of near downtown. 95% of these folks
were African Americans. It was not the
best place to live. In some cases, there were not
running water, no sewage, some of the main things that
make a community at least safe and sanitary,
but it was a community. You know, there were
businesses there. Churches were there. All that was there, and
it was over 465 acres. So, it was a huge swath of land, and somebody got the
bright idea that, hmm, this is prime real estate. Time to move the poor
black people out. So, they did. I don’t know what happened
to my other thing. Okay, we gone go. So, a lot of this is
sort of places where there’s overlap. In 1935, they decided
they wanted to build an arch, and I know all of you
all have heard of the arch, but it’s got its own
little ugly history, and the person that
did the best job of exposing that
is Tracey Campbell, who wrote about the
Saint Louis arch because it was wroth
with, first of all, there was no black workers
on a federally-funded project. That was the first thing. Second thing, well,
even before then, they had tricked the voters
with voting for a bond for this, and so there
were huge evidences of voter fraud,
and then there was the whole question
of whether or not… Saint Louis had
been trying to get this WPA money and
other kinds of monies, and so they came up with this
bright idea of doing the arch. Well, they applied
for a fund under the Historic Buildings Act, huh? (audience responds) But what folks didn’t
understand, what they did was destroy historic
buildings and those bricks were shipped out all
across the country cause Saint Louis is
the mecca for bricks. Then there was Pruitt-Igoe. Again, another failed
policy in terms of: What do we do with poor people?
What do we do with black people? And so, this was a time
during the early 50s that they started
building high-rise public housing and
the most notorious one was Pruitt-Igoe,
and if ever there was a case study in
failed public policy, this is it and it
has been studied. There’s been
documentaries about it and eventually in
1976, it exploded, demolished, as it
should have been. So, in Saint Louis
now, and I talk about this in the book
too, of the number of abandoned buildings. We have over 11,000
lots and abandoned buildings that actually
belong to the city. So, the city is the
biggest landlord, and I would say
slum landlord best allowing pieces of
property, some of them that once was in good
shape to just decay. And so, you know,
you’ll have buildings like this all over
Saint Louis, you know, and I can do this all day long. I’m telling you, all day
long, and so it’s not just housing but abandoned
manufacturing plants, and this one was next
door to a youth center, and it had, you know,
asbestos and everything else in it, but who
cares about black kids? The other tragic thing
for me as a former classroom teacher
is that schools have not escaped this. This is a school
called Carr School that was down in the
projects that’s been decaying literally for decades. This is another one. There is a series of
buildings that were designed by architect, William Ittner, and he’s like renowned, and these buildings
are languishing. They not being
demolished really, but the other interesting
part about the schools is they are real
estate, and they’re up on the market for real
estate but only the schools that have been abandoned
on the southside have been bought and
repurposed, and those are the ones that are on
the predominantly white side of town. So the ones on the northside
are going to look like this. So, how do you create a
viable community for real? How bout if there only
two houses on the block? How do you build
a community there? And literally in some
places, there’s like one house on the block
where all the other houses are abandoned. How do you build
community if there’s no institutions to anchor it,
like schools or businesses? If there’s no private
or public investments? If there are policies in place
to abandon and disinvest? And if there are no
jobs with livable wages? And so you see the role
that land, real estate, housing, communities
have because, that’s also the place where you decide
to live, grow your family send your kids to school. And so, there’s a very
interesting dynamic that happens when black
schools are abandoned or in some places,
particularly in the outer ring where places like Ferguson
are, that when they were predominantly black
enclaves, those schools were closed and the black
kids sent to white schools. So, in many cases, you saw
destruction of communities on many different levels. You know, one of the
things that I call out in the book is Bantustans. That’s what I see them
as because all of the black poor people have
been like squeezed into certain areas where
there’s nothing there. There’s barren and
this is likened to what they did in South Africa
with African Americans, I mean Africans. So, Doctor Mindy Fullilove
calls this root shock. When you have traumatic
stress reaction to the loss of some
or one’s emotional ecosystem, and of course,
it’s not really just emotional. It’s the cultural pieces.
It’s the financial pieces. It’s the social pieces
that just get destroyed as people get moved
and moved, and I knew about some of the
removals in Saint Louis, like Mill Creek because
it’s really big. I knew about the
demolition of the huge huge, buildings cause
I didn’t tell you, Pruitt-Igoe was 33
high rise buildings, 11 stories each, 33. That’s a lot of
damn people, ya’ll. So, when you talk
about what happens to these people when
they get removed, it’s not just a
rhetorical question cause we know what happened to em, but Fullilove puts a name
to it and it is root shock. So, when we talk
about, you know, post traumatic stress, these
are some of the things that come up in terms
of why oppressed people respond and react
the way that they do. And we can talk some
about gentrification and what impact that
that’s had on Saint Louis cause I know it’s
happening here too. Okay, I’m gonna do this. So, I’m gonna move to
incarceration because I really know incarceration
well, but you see here the national stats
and we got over 9 million people that are
associated in some way with the criminal justice
system, and you know, we are probably the only
civilized, industrialized country that is
incarcerating juveniles. You know, that’s really sad. You know, the state
corrections’ expenditures are over like, you know,
into the millions of dollars. So, you know, this
information comes from the sentencing project, but
you know, I pulled up, you know Missouri’s
and you know, our stuff is not looking that good. We looking kind of raggedy. So, you got 11% population
of African Americans, and the majority of folks
just like here in Madison are folks of color. Now, I think it’s interesting that Madison is 6% African American
population but you know, you all got some bad,
bad rates when it comes to incarcerating black males. It’s almost twice
the national average. So, I really want to hear
what’s going on with that cause, you know, seems
like there’s a lot of work to be done there. So, why do we have an
addiction to incarceration is really purely
economic, you know. Some years ago, Ahmeti
Baraka said that America has a negro problem. You know, they brought
us here and then after you know, slavery,
couldn’t do that anymore they had to find ways
of dealing with us. So that’s still happening. So in the US, it’s 1800 state and federal facilities costing anywhere from 80
to 100 billion dollars to operate, and in the US,
that’s $30-$60,000 per inmate. Sometimes, it’s less. Places like California’s
about $50,000. In Wisconsin, it’s $30,000
and Missouri, it’s $21,000. So you got 3200 local
and county jails, and sometimes people
stay in those places almost as long as some
people stay in prison waiting for trial. So, this is a very sad
commentary in terms of we now have almost as many, in some cases we do, educational institutions. So, who thought
that that policy was sustainable or humane? So, I think it’s, you
know, part of what we’ve been doing in Ferguson
and before Ferguson really, is challenging
and changing narratives because, that’s gone
be really important. I tell young people
the first battlefront is winning the hearts
and minds of the people and so there are
certain narratives that out there that
need to challenged. They need to be checked. They need to be
dismantled, and one of them is that criminals,
they’re just growing and exploding and
you know, if we don’t do something, that’s
why the crime rate is going up, but what we know, and these are
statistics by the FBI, these are not Jamala’s
statistics cause I know ya’ll ain’t
gone believe me. These are people like
the FBI, who say that the violent offenses have
been going down ya’ll. That’s the blue line, but
yet, the incarceration rate is going up. There’s a big disconnect there. What are we gonna do about that? Is that okay with us,
because once that narrative, we buy into it, that means
that now police departments have the entree to say,
we need bigger budgets, bigger guns, and we saw
some of those on the streets of Ferguson. Did we not? So, they’re ready. This first box comes from and
help me pronounce that ya’ll. That’s one of ya’ll. (audience laughs)
Yeah! So, whatever that police
department is, they been busy. (audience laughs)
They have been busy. So, you know, 60% of the
folks that they arrested were black, even though
black folks are only 4% of that population. So, here’s the thing,
when we see this kind of skewed numbers,
when we visually see a courtroom full of
mainly black folks, when we see prisons
mainly black folks, do we conclude that black people
are inherently criminal, cause that’s what
we’ve done ya’ll. They must, something
must be going on. They must be doing
the crime cause look how many of them it is. It’s no white people
in these courtrooms. The other narrative that
has to be changed is, you know, and we use
this one on October 22nd, which is the national day
against police brutality, and we were just, you know,
so sick of this whole thing about the number of
officers who’ve been killed in the line of duty and
it’s off the charts. Well, looka here ya’ll. In 2015, 1200 people have been
killed by the police. In 2014, 51 law enforcement
officers were killed in the line of duty. Again, this is not
Jamala saying this. This is ya’lls FBI
that you pay for. 51 officers, but
all you hear from law enforcement is,
our men are afraid. Our officer afraid.
They been killed in the street. They’re threatened.
They feel threatened. Ya ya ya ya ya ya ya.
So, let’s look at the numbers. I mean, I don’t think
anybody should be killed, but 51 compared to 1200. Really, you think
ya’ll got a problem? So these are the kind of
narratives that are out there, and I’m sure you can
think of some more, and we can get into that. So, in the post Ferguson world,
what are you prepared to do, and one of the things
that we really been trying to do is to bring
in all of the folks who based on the uprise
and say, this is it. I gotta do something different. I didn’t know all this
stuff was going on, especially with the
courts using black people as ATM machines, and
I’m telling white people don’t be feeling guilty. Just get in here, do the
work to transform it. We don’t need the
guilt, and I say that to black folks too
cause some of them are kind of removed
from situations once they try to move
out into the suburbs, but this is the
reality of black people in these municipalities
and I’m sure here and if you have the
leisure opportunity to read the DOJ report,
you saw gross injustices all across the board. The racism in all
levels, whether it be in the courts, the
policing, all of that, and so, what you have is
communities that truly are under siege
with nowhere to go. The other thing that
just recently came out by ProPublica is a
investigatory piece on the kind of money that’s been extorted from again
the same people as it relates to citations
for housing, for your property. So, you got like
nuisance things where you might have, you
might get a citation because you had trash. Start’s out with a $25 citation and somehow ends up to be $800. So, it’s been cha-ching,
cha-ching, cha-ching for a long time with no
relief for these folks. So, when Saint Louis
comes up on the map as one of the most unbanked areas, money requires what ya’ll? I mean, a bank requires what? – Money.
– Money. If all your money is
going to all of these different entities,
paying for fines, paying attorneys to get
you off, all of these, losing your job as a
result of being in jail; these are things
that deeply impact the quality of life for
people in Saint Louis and the region, and
the other thing that I would add is just before
Ferguson, there was a comprehensive report
that was done by Saint Louis University
and Washington University. Where you live makes
a difference in terms of life and death, not
even quality of life, but life and death. So, there’s one particular
municipality where those people live
40 years longer than folks in the city. – 40 years?
– 40 years! And in Saint Louis by zip
code, there’s a zip code that they compared in the report that’s like 18 years difference. So, one of the things
they try to point out in this report was
that the health of African Americans in the
region affects everybody. I thought that maybe them
saying that might have an impact on whether
or not the policymakers were going to do something
different, but again, I think it’s because black
people’s lives are devalued. It’s like, so what?
I got my insurance. I’m living good.
I’m living in Wildwood. I’m living 40 years longer
than most people, and you know, I think the role
of privilege and class shows up again and
again and again, and even when you start
to look at the exodus of white people from
the city of Saint Louis, around like the turn of
the century, Saint Louis was the fourth largest
city in the country. You know, it was a booming
metropolis on the Mississippi. In about 1950, when it
looked like there might be desegregation, there was
white flight, and then in the 60s, when black
folks started to get some of the better-paying jobs,
they too moved out. So, really Saint Louis
is a shell of a city reduced from 850,000
to now like 350,000. One of the reasons I
moved from Kansas City to Saint Louis cause I thought
it was going to the big city. Now, Kansas City is
bigger than Saint Louis. So, my thing that I’ve
talked about in the book and even in my columns
I write is that we have some lackluster racist
policyholders with no imagination about how
do you build a city. Now, if they knew,
and seem like to me, this would be obvious,
that there’s gone be more people, working
class people, middle class people than there are
going to be rich people, but yet you try to
create a city to keep rich white people in. (sighs) And so, policy after policy,
project after project of tax dollars got
us to the point where we’ve invested
millions and millions in things like the arch, and you know, we’ve seen removal of black people,
and we’ve seen total destructions of
communities, including historically-black
municipalities and nothing has been done. So, those of us who came
together post Ferguson are really about changing
laws, changing policies that are going to bring some
relief to these communities, and I think it’s been amazing. I mean some of the alliances
that we never thought would happen. We just did a radical
reconciliation,
couple of weekends ago where church people,
you know, labor, students, folks came together,
and we invited some of the policymakers
and decision makers, cause I don’t call em leaders. They are elected officials,
but they aren’t leaders. So, we had a table. You told us to come
out in the streets, come to the policy table
to make these changes. Here we are, and the
ones that had the most power to make decisions
chose not to show up, even some of em who
had already committed. So, we had to take the
table to them, ya’ll. So, that was Sunday. Monday morning, we
went to City Hall with a table like this. Said, mayor! Since you didn’t come
to us, we come to you, and did we not get a
meeting with the mayor that’s going to be a town
hall on November 23rd. (audience applauds) But here’s the thing
ya’ll, I’m telling people we don’t have time
for these games. We really don’t. People’s lives are
literally at stake. So, are you gone
make us have to fight for the changes that
you already know are happening? There were 189 actions of
recommendations that came out of the Ferguson
Commission report. You know how bad this situation
is and you playing games? You can’t come to a meeting? Then, when they found
it was 1,000 people there in the Saint
Louis University, they started figuring
out, how can they now get back in in good
graces, but we had already liked, you know,
muddied up their name, all over, you know,
Twitter and Facebook and everywhere else we could. So, we need to hold
people accountable. We need to hold the
people who have the power, and they only have
the power ya’ll cause we gave it to em. They’re elected. They’re using our tax
dollars, and I have to remind people of that who,
even the poorest people. You still have a right
to say what happens to your hard-earned money. So, all of us have a
stake in this, all of us. So, I really want to
open it now to hear about some of the things
that you want to know about Ferguson or that
you see some similarities between Ferguson and
Saint Louis and Madison, but really, the challenge
is what are you gone do in a post Ferguson world? How are you gonna
change how you are as a person? How are you gonna
change the institutions, particularly the
one that we in now, cause I know it’s some
blood on their hands and the communities, and
even on a professional level? How are we gonna make these
changes so that we have a better society where
all people are valued? Thank you. (audience applauds)

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