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Activist: For a New Generation, Ferguson Marks Historic Nonviolent Resistance to Police Repression

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As protests continue in Ferguson, activists are traveling to Missouri to join the movement in solidarity. We speak with one activist who has just arrived to Ferguson from Florida, Phillip Agnew, the executive director of Dream Defenders, a network of youth of color and their allies who engage in nonviolent civil disobedience and civic engagement to bring about social change. “I came here to be part of resistance,” Agnew says. “We have not seen a reaction of nonviolent civil disobedience [to] officers of the state like this in my lifetime.” Agnew helped organize protests to the 2012 shooting of unarmed, African-American teenager Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: A new survey by the Pew Research Center finds the public reaction to the shooting of Michael Brown is sharply divided along racial lines. Eighty percent of African Americans say the case raises important issues about race that need to be discussed. Less than 40 percent of whites agree. In fact, nearly half of whites say race is getting more attention than it deserves. African Americans are also more critical of the police response to the protests, with 65 percent saying police have gone too far, compared to just 33 percent of whites.

That rift has called to mind the racial divisions that split open in the ’60s with a series of uprisings in cities across the country. In 1967, President Lyndon Johnson established what became known as the Kerner Commission to investigate the causes of the unrest. In February 1968, the commission famously concluded, quote, “Our nation is moving toward two societies—one black, one white—separate and unequal.” Well, just over a month later, the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. sparked uprisings in more than a hundred cities across the country, including Kansas City, Missouri, where the National Guard was deployed and at least five people were killed.

Our next guest, Jamala Rogers, was born in Kansas City, Missouri, and witnessed the 1968 uprisings. She recently wrote a piece for the St. Louis Public Radio titled “Kerner Commission Warning Comes True—Two Societies, Separate and Unequal.” Rogers is a founder and past chair of the Organization for Black Struggle in St. Louis, Missouri. She was on a conference call Monday about the Michael Brown shooting with Attorney General Eric Holder and senior Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett.

We’re also joined by Phillip Agnew, executive director of Dream Defenders, a network of youth of color and their allies, who engage in nonviolent civil disobedience and civic engagement to bring about change. He just came into Ferguson last night, and we’re going to find out why. But first to—we’re going to start with—we’ll start with Phillip Agnew.

Why did you come to Ferguson, to the streets of Ferguson, Phillip?

PHILLIP AGNEW: I came here as a young person who knows all too well what it’s like to live on the second rung of society. I came here to be a part of resistance. We have not seen a reaction of nonviolent civil disobedience by officers of the state like this in my lifetime. And I came here to stand side by side with folks and to learn how we can help. I came here because just last year we had a young man murdered by an officer of the Miami Beach Police Department in cold blood, and a year later he’s still paid and on the force. I came here because this moment, this town has become the epicenter and a test ground for what American officers of the state will do and have done around the country to repress First Amendment rights, the rights to peaceably assemble. And anybody that does not see it, doesn’t wake up right now, is in for a rude awakening tomorrow.

AMY GOODMAN: Your response, Phillip, to the National Guard being called in?

PHILLIP AGNEW: Listen, the protocol is not working. The police are the people that caused this problem. The police are the people that exacerbate the problem. And bringing in the National Guard, I don’t think, will do anything to quell a community who, as I said before, is reacting in the only way humanly possible when you see one of your own children murdered in cold blood by the very people who are supposed to protect them. And so, the National Guard coming in is going to do nothing to alleviate the grief and the pain from a community that continuously has salt poured in the wound by the people who are supposed to serve and protect them. So, the National Guard, I’ve heard, is the last attempt to restore peace and order. If there is any peace and order to be had in this community, the police need to go. There is a war zone here. I feel like I’m a war correspondent. There’s Army tanks here. There are Army men here. There are people in fatigues. You’re asked where you’re going when you want to go anywhere in the city. And this is not what you would imagine an American city to look like. You would imagine America would do things like this to people in Gaza, but not here in Ferguson, in St. Louis, Missouri.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, it’s interesting, Phillip. Yesterday we talked about the Dred Scott case, Dred Scott buried just down the road, miles down Florissant at the Calvary Cemetery. His case is known as Dred Scott v. Sandford, which made me think, just in free association, of Sanford, Florida. You really rose to national prominence—


AMY GOODMAN: —in dealing with the Trayvon Martin case, the killing of another young man by a wannabe police officer, a local volunteer security guy, right, George Zimmerman, who was acquitted. Can you talk about connections you see, coming here from Florida?

PHILLIP AGNEW: There are plenty of connections. You talked a little bit earlier about living in two Americas. There have been two Americas since the founding of this country, and we live in it in Florida, and we live in it—and they’re living in it here in Ferguson, as we speak. There is an America where people are able to voice their concerns. There is an America where people are actually able to live freely, to live happily. As I drove around, I saw people walking their dogs and going about daily life. And just down the blocks, there’s another— [no audio]

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to a break and just fix the audio. You’ve been listening to Phillip Agnew, who’s the head of Dream Defenders. He just came into Ferguson, Missouri, from Florida, as people are gathering there deeply concerned about racial justice in this country. We’ll also be joined by Jamala Rogers of the Organization for Black Struggle. Again, we’re on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri. Stay with us.

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St. Louis Activist: Decades After 1968 Urban Uprisings, Key Economic & Race Issues Remain Unresolved

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