Thursday, August 21, 2014
AMHERST — Activist Rosa Clemente has seen a lot in 20 years of community organizing but the Amherst resident said Wednesday that the “police brutality” and subsequent reaction in Ferguson, Missouri, is “unprecedented.”
Protests have continued each day in Ferguson since the shooting death of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black man, by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9. Brown was unarmed when he was shot.
Solidarity rallies have also been held around the country, including one on the Amherst Town Common on Saturday attended by more than 100 people.
Clemente, 42, who in 2008 was the vice presidential running mate of 2008 Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney, traveled Tuesday to Ferguson to join those who have taken their cause against police brutality to the streets. She grew up in Bronx, New York, and moved to Amherst three years ago to enter a doctoral program at the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts.
She compares the Ferguson protests to the Occupy movement’s impact on the national conversation about wealth. The Occupy movement began with the occupation of Zuccotti Park in Manhattan in September 2011. Among the main chants of Occupy protesters was, “We are the 99 percent” — the other 1 percent being those with the most wealth and perceived ability to control government interests.
“Ferguson changes now that narrative of police brutality,” Clemente said in a telephone interview from Ferguson, where she plans to stay until Friday.
Clemente calls the protests “one of the biggest responses to police brutality issues we have seen in a long time,” and said she believes the movement is giving young people an opportunity to express themselves on an emotional level and heal from injustices.
“No matter the trauma, black people in particular are not allowed ... space to be healed,” she said. “I think the protests are a definitely a way for young people to be able to heal.”
Clemente, who describes herself on her Twitter profile as black and Puerto Rican, added, “Law enforcement do not see us as human beings.”
She posted an account on her blog and Twitter Tuesday night of being chased and threatened by Ferguson police with a group that included Philip Agnew of the organization Dream Defenders and MSNBC reporter Trymaine Lee.
“We ran to get away and were surrounded on a small path on (a) bridge, surrounded by all types of police and told to lie down and put our hands up. We complied and we were told if we did not stop moving we would be shot,” Clemente stated on her blog.
The group was released after “one Black officer said ‘Let them go, we got who we wanted,’” according to Clemente’s blog. “In all my life I have never been so terrified,” she wrote.
“There’s a Ferguson everywhere,” she said. “There’s a Ferguson about to happen one day in Amherst,” where she said she perceives a lot of racism that is kept “under the surface.”
Clemente continues to describe her experience in Ferguson on Twitter where her screen name is @rosaclemente.
Gena Mangiaratti can be reached at email@example.com.