Tef Poe, a local musician and community organizer from St. Louis, who grew up in the Ferguson area, addressed how residents feel about the police during a press event on August 22. It was an opportunity for Poe and other young black organizers to put the killing of Mike Brown by a Ferguson police officer into an appropriate context.
“The thing that irks me the most is that we are treated as if we’re illogical people,” Poe stated. “An entire apartment complex, an entire community witnessed what happened. People are scared to talk because they obviously know the police aren’t scared to shoot. But we’re treated as if we have no form of comprehension or logical way of gauging the fact that we just saw a man get murdered for nothing.”
“When they got to bringing in the armored cars and the tanks and the tear gas—Last Wednesday was the worst night of my life. I never imagined that we would be going through something like that. I never imagined that a neighborhood that I drove up and down as a teenager would resemble Gaza.”
“We’re occupied by—I don’t even consider it the police. It’s like a military force. We have to show ID before we drive down our own streets. They question us as if we don’t live there. It’s just a real hard situation to deal with,” Poe added.
“Initially, I was very sad,” Poe shared. “When Mike Brown died, I went to the area immediately because I am from that neighborhood. I felt the need to be there and experience what was going on and assess the situation for myself. I was hearing a lot of stuff on social media, and I wanted to just see what was there and help out however I could help out.”
He said he cried twice while talking to friends who wanted to know what was happening in St. Louis.
“After these experiences with the Ferguson police, especially after Mike Brown’s death, my view of the police has changed drastically,” Poe shared. He never thought police were there to “protect or serve” him, however, he recalled calling police one time when he had a gun pulled on him. The cops treated him like he had pulled the gun on himself. “There was no point in calling,” Poe realized.
“I’ve moved from a position of sadness to a position of anger. The only difference between me and a lot of other people is I know how to place that anger. I know what to do with it to get a positive response. A lot of other people from the community feel the same way, but they don’t know what to do with it.”
Poe addressed the issue of identity in the community by highlighting his personal struggle:
I can’t apologize for being black. I was born black. I got nappy hair. I got tattoos on my skin. I am who I am. Mike Brown was born who he was. He couldn’t control those variables. He couldn’t control the circumstances he was born in. I shouldn’t have to apologize for my natural appearance. I shouldn’t have to water down how I look to get people to accept me.
He mentioned that he had cut his hair and beard to get a job.
What happened with Mike Brown happens over and over again. Kajieme Powell, a young black man who was mentally ill, was killed by St. Louis police on August 19 while holding what looked like a butter knife.
“The reality of the situation is police brutality does exist. The reality of the situation is that we do believe that Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown for absolutely nothing. I don’t care about any type of tape that Ferguson produces that says he was in there taking teddy bears and setting them on fire. I don’t care about it.
“Fact of the matter is there was a dead body lying in the middle of a low-income apartment complex and a white police officer pulled the trigger and he has not been brought to justice,” Poe declared. “We don’t have answers. The police chief has treated us like we’re a bunch of idiots, and we’re tired of it.”
“The police force is attempting to cover up what actually happened. This isn’t about protecting the citizens. This is about the oath of the badge. This is about police”—black and white officers—”being silent.”
“I just want to say your silence is consent. If you choose to say nothing, then you’re endorsing the action.”