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Last summer, every day after baseball practice, I’d buy a slush from the same Quik Trip convenience store in downtown Ferguson where Michael Brown also bought his drinks. Now that burned-down corner store has become ground zero for protests and is a symbol of the frustration in my community.
On August 9, the day Michael Brown was shot, I was at a family birthday party when my aunt arrived late because traffic had been stopped. There had been a shooting off West Florissant, a street five minutes away. She said she saw a man holding a sign that read “Ferguson police just executed my unarmed son.” My cousins and I stared at each other, shook our heads and walked away. Although we continued hanging out as if nothing had happened, since then I have not felt so invincible.
My dad had previously warned me that I am subject to be stopped by police simply because of the color of my skin. He instructed me on what to do and how to act if I were ever confronted by an officer. “When you are driving, keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times. Do not reach for anything,” he said. “Tell the officer everything that you are about to do. Do not argue— even if you know you were not at fault.” I always paid attention, but I never thought it would be relevant to me—that is, until then.
The sad reality is that my dad’s warnings about protecting myself from the police won’t necessarily protect me. In the last three weeks I’ve been seeing more and more police presence in my community. When my mom and I recently went to our closest McDonald’s, I noticed posters on the windows with the words “Emergency Command Center” written on them. There were officers inside. I know not all of them are prejudiced, so I keep positive thoughts and try not to jump to any conclusions.
My reality is not without hope, however. I can comfortably live in a multicultural neighborhood without fear of prejudice. I can study hard in school to prepare for a future without limits. My vision for our community is people brought together by news of the verdict, huddling together for warmth on a cold night, at the same boarded-up Quik Trip, peacefully praying for closure.