Instead of “shutting [expletive] down,” protestors took to the streets on Sunday, October 1 to build neighborhoods up.
“People have said since we’ve been out here that we don’t protest black-on-black crime,” said state Rep. Bruce Franks Jr. “This is us protesting black on black crime. The root cause of black-on-black crime is lack of jobs, education and resources.”
Dozens of those who have united to disrupt businesses and events in the region as a response to the not-guilty verdict of Jason Stockley in the 2011 shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith two weeks ago marched the neighborhoods of the North Side to uplift, encourage and educate.
“The organizers decided that we would go to the economically distressed areas in our communities to provide resources – to talk about voter registration, to talk about the services provided by SLATE and other organizations,” Franks said. “We thought it was time to canvass these neighborhoods to provide resources, not just when it’s time to vote.”
Groups were assigned blocks from the vicinity of Wohl near Natural Bridge and Kingshighway all the way to Walnut Park. They passed out programs and services directory booklets from the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis. SLATE was on hand to recruit people for job training.
Newly appointed SLATE director Alice Prince took her team of employees, and her daughter, through blocks surrounding Lillian and Arlington in Walnut Park.
“Is there anyone that you know that is out of a job or looking for another one?” Prince shouted through one door. A woman cautiously opened.
“That’s all we are doing right now,” Prince said, “walking the streets offering employment opportunities and educational opportunities.”
As they completed the block of Claxton, they crossed paths with another group registering individuals to vote.
Residents already outside were much more receptive to the efforts of the visitors to their neighborhood. Gina Payne sat on a porch with three other gentlemen sipping beer and enjoying the lovely weather. She was genuinely moved by the gesture of the people who care enough to meet her where she was.
“We just thank y’all for coming out here to talk to us to get the word out about everything,” Payne said. “For real. Thank you so much for coming. Can y’all pray for me?”
“Give me a hug, Mother,” Michael Hassell said to Payne, reaching out to her for an embrace. “We are going to pray for you – not only are we going to pray for you, but we are going to do for you.”
After the tender moment, Hassell went back to his original mission of getting people to register to vote.
“I don’t want to register to vote, because then I’ll have to do jury duty,” a man on the porch told Hassell. “I can’t stand doing jury duty.”
“Let me tell you something about jury duty,” Hassell responded. “The reason why we need to go to jury duty is because they keep locking up brothers like us.”
The man nodded.
“Can I get a registration slip, please?” Hassell yelled across the street to the SLATE group, who had a couple of people registering voters with them.
He was just as fired up and full of energy as he is during direct actions.
“I was trying to talk to the brother from down the street, but he wasn’t feeling me at first,” Hassell said. “Once he heard my perspective and where I was coming from, he was like, ‘Yeah, that’s right’ That’s what we’ve got to do. By the time I got done talking with him, he said, ‘I’m registered to vote. I’m ready to vote today if I have to.’”
A woman named Rachel Young was sitting in a van nearby was joined in the conversation about the importance of voting in the black community. She proudly told Hassell that voting is a family affair in the Young household.
“My sons are 28 and 29 years old. We all go right up to that school and vote for every primary and every election,” Young said. “Ever since they were 18, I made them go. My husband has been a city worker for almost 30 years, and we all go together.”
As Hassell wooed prospective voters, Prince was busy offering an opportunity to a man sitting in front of a vacant property a few houses down.
“So listen, I want Mr. Brooks to come down to the office tomorrow morning and interview for a maintenance position,” Prince told a member of her SLATE team.
“I’ll be down there waiting for you, Mr. Brooks,” the woman from SLATE said. “Do you have a ride, or will you need somebody to pick you up?”
He looked stunned – even more stunned than he did when Prince addressed him as “Mr. Brooks” and continued to do so for the entire conversation.
“You’re gonna get me a job, for real?” Brooks said, clearing his throat in attempt to disguise the crack in his voice.
As Hassell and his crew came to greet them, a young man walked up the hill of the property and greeted the older gentleman.
“Are you registered to vote?” Hassell asked the young man, who introduced himself as Tony Conrod.
“Yeah, I’m registered – and I voted for Donald Trump,” Conrod replied.
The rest of the group who overheard his response laughed. They thought he was just giving Hassell a hard time. Hassell saw the seriousness in his face.
“Can I ask why you voted for Trump?” Hassell said.
“After what Bill and Hillary did to our communities, I thought I would give Trump a fair shot,” Conrod said.
Others in the group couldn’t resist a negative reaction.
“For the last 50 years, this neighborhood has been under Democratic control. Look at it,” Conrod said. “It’s the same B.S. Drugs, violence – everywhere where Democratic people are in control, this is what you see in neighborhoods like this for people like us. Vacant houses, crime, all of that.”
Hassell tried to convince him that he made the wrong decision.
“If the Democrats show me something different, then I will change back,” Conrod said. “But right now, I’m a black conservative.”
Hassell pointed out the crisis in Puerto Rico. He pointed out the slur Trump made regarding NFL players who protest during the National Anthem.
“That’s just a phrase, people use that all of the time,” Conrod said. “That’s just him being human. They take everything he do and say, and flip it.”
Conrod implied that he seriously considered voting for Bernie Sanders.
“But Hillary stole the Democratic Primary from Bernie,” Conrod said. “That was even more reason for me not to vote for her.”
The canvassers made their way back down the street, heading towards the next block. They ran into Payne again.
“Y’all some angels,” she told the crowd as she waved them off. “We don’t get people coming through here to let us know they thinking about us and wanna do for us.”
“At the end of the day, it’s a multifaceted approach we’ve got to take,” Franks said. “It’s the same organizers coming to the table, saying, ‘Let’s rebuild some communities as well – especially the ones that are forgotten about.’”