Ferguson is more than a hashtag
For 36 years, St. Louis has been home. Not my first and not my current but certainly the most constant. My mom and dad both grew up in the St. Louis suburbs of Overland and St. Charles. And after they moved to Springfield, Missouri, for jobs, we made the four-hour drive back to Overland every holiday, every summer, and many weekends in between.
I have lived in four cities in Missouri, one in Florida and two in South America. In 2008, I finally got to add St. Louis to that list. It was Lake Saint Louis and then O'Fallon, which is not St. Louis as city-dwellers will tell you. (We went there with my husband's job.) But it was still St. Louis to me. Except St. Louis was nothing like I thought it was.
Many white people my husband and I met spoke around race in what I came to understand was some kind of really ugly but understood code. If a school was "like University City," it meant there were black students there. On a trip out with a few new friends one weekend, I asked what shops were at a mall where my mom wanted to take my kids.
"You shouldn't go there," one of the women said.
"Why?" I asked.
"Let's just say it's very dark."
Until St. Louis, I lived in two kinds of places. Sort of rural and mostly white and very rural and West Indian, where I was the only white person. In both places, people spoke openly about race. Sometimes it was awful. But they didn't hide it.
"By dark," I pushed back, "do you mean there are black people there?"
"Yes," she said.
My husband is West Indian. My kids are multi-ethnic. We moved to St. Louis to be away from the sort of rural, mostly white places where people often said awful things about people of color.
This was so much worse.
When I interviewed for a staff writer position with the St. Louis Beacon, this is what I talked about. I got the job, and spent the first year writing about race in St. Louis. I also covered the 2010 Census, aging and immigration. Race and issues of social justice wove their ways into nearly every one of those stories and many more by my colleagues at the Beacon. All of them had lived in and worked in St. Louis for most of their lives. We covered the city of Kirkwood five years after a resident opened fire in City Hall, killing six people. Like Ferguson, it was a story with bubbling racial tensions at the core, tensions everyone knew existed. We covered disparities in healthcare and education. And many of my former colleagues are continuing that work now with St. Louis Public Radio, which merged with the Beacon.
I was visiting St. Louis (Lake Saint Louis for the purists) on Saturday when police shot and killed Michael Brown. I found the news on Twitter that night as I checked in on my phone. I saw a tweet today from the Los Angeles Times' Matt Pearce that sums up my own feelings on the situation as it has unfolded.
If you don't know me, I've spent most of my life in Missouri. Need a word to convey how shocking AND unsurprising this is at the same time.
— Matt Pearce (@mattdpearce) August 12, 2014
St. Louis is not the happy, easy place I viewed from the perspective of both childhood and white privilege. It is also not a hopeless, one-dimensional place.
I'm still connected to what's happening there now thanks to the past and current work of St. Louis journalists. A lot of it comes from local reporters, who live and work there and see all the gray that exists in a region where everything seems to be black and white. I have a growing Twitter list of reporters covering St. Louis here.
If you're not from St. Louis, their work offers not just news, but perspective on why and how this is happening now. It's also a more nuanced look at both Ferguson and the region.
Here's a good place to start to learn more about Ferguson itself, from the archives of the St. Louis Beacon. (With thanks to my former colleague Nicole Hudson for the list):
-- On the city of Kirkwood, where a shooting and six deaths brought up long-simmering racial tensions in 2008.
-- Husdon also directed me to this video. I'm not sure who made it. But it does show another view of Ferguson.
-- This Is St. Louis was a Humans of New York-like photo project that captured people and moments in St. Louis.
There are also current stories from journalists in St. Louis that offer some insights into what's currently happening.
-- From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Editorial: Michael Brown and disparity of due process.
-- Here's a map of events related to the shooting from a former colleague, St. Louis Public Radio's Brent Jones.
-- Jones also made "Ferguson By The Numbers."
-- From Jim Gallagher of the Post-Dispatch, "In Ferguson, optimism about the city's revival turns to worry."
-- William Freivogel, director of the School of Journalism at Southern Illinois University (and the husband of my former editor) wrote "Deadly Force: What Does The Law Say About When Police Are Allowed To Use It?"
-- On Monday, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Aisha Sultan wrote "Why Ferguson burned: Explaining St. Louis area riot to kids, outsiders."
-- 21st Ward Alderman Antonio French has provided first-hand coverage since Saturday. BuzzFeed's Michelle Broder Van Dyke wrote about him on Tuesday with "How A Local Politician Emerged As The Key Chronicler Of The Unrest In Missouri."
-- Here's a look at the coverage of the news collected by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Beth O'Malley.
-- On Monday, I spoke with Post-Dispatch photographer David Carson about covering looting in Ferguson on Sunday night.