What do we do about Ferguson?
That was the inevitable question facing teachers throughout St. Louis in the days following the police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager, in nearby Ferguson on Aug. 9. With summer drawing to a close, students were heading back to school just as nearby protesters were being tear-gassed and shot with rubber bullets.
At Gateway Middle School -- where 83 percent of students are black and roughly 9 out of 10 qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, according to state data -- there was no dodging Ferguson. Many students saw Brown, just 18, in either themselves or their siblings. Even as a practical matter, the protests were tying up roads and making some kids late for school. They were watching live feeds of the demonstrations late into the night. It was all they were talking about.
So the staff decided to let them talk.
"We didn't even know our kids' names yet," said Deborah Rogers, who teaches English and reading to 7th and 8th graders at the school. "We hadn't given schedules out yet. But we had to sit down and have a serious conversation on race."
Like the rest of the St. Louis community, including their own teachers, Gateway students had emotional discussions about being black in America, about mistrust of the police, about peaceful demonstration and violent protest. They were asked to write down what they were feeling about Ferguson, with the assurance that no sentiments were out of bounds.
Below are excerpts from the responses penned by a group of 7th and 8th graders at the school.
"The discussions have been amazing, just letting them have a voice," Rogers said. "We've never had to get into stuff so deeply and so quickly. I think they're feeling very empowered, which is unusual for the beginning of the year."
I'm feeling, I don't know, like I can't even say the words I'm feeling because they are curse words. But I'm tired of turning on the news and know[ing] when they say someone has been shot that it's one of my kind.
Life is too short to have innocent people have it wasted.
I think that since Michael Brown was tall and dark-skinned that [the officer thought he] was doing something wrong.
I'm mad that a 18 year old died and he was unarmed. I feel scared because people are using violence a lot and policemen are using teargas and rubber bullets. I'm shocked that police are doing this to humans. They just speaking their mind.
If I could have a chance to do anything about the Ferguson problem, I would go down [to] their protest and give my opinion about nonviolence. But other than that I couldn't do anything spectacular to change the mind of the police or humans. I'm just a kid.
People have been treating us blacks wrong for so many years and we have done NOTHING WRONG.
White man kills black guy, paid to leave. Black man kills white guy, PRISON FOR LIFE NO BAIL.
Even if he did shoplift he didn't deserve his life to be taken. There are some people who have done much worse things and they're still alive.
I'd rather be heard peacefully instead of destroying the neighborhood I live [in].
I'm confused about why the officer shot Michael Brown in the first place, and why did he shoot him multiple times. I'm also confused about why do they choose to represent Michael with violence rather than peace.
Would Michael Brown appreciate all the violence?
What if one day my brothers are walking down the street and the police try to beat them or even kill [them]?
It hurts to know that a policeman, somebody who is hired and paid to protect me, has shot and killed a young man. This young man Mike Brown had his whole life ahead of him only 18 about to start college in a few days. It hurts me knowing somebody has it in them to kill somebody so easily.
This is more than hurtful it's shameful, racist, ignorant, and just sad.
I think the protests have been good. What do you expect when something so ignorant happens? … I understand some things like looting and firing up stores seem crazy and uncalled for but if we're not peacefully getting justice this is what has to be done.
I know and everyone knows that Darren Wilson had no right to shoot Michael Brown. Michael was unarmed and he surrendered. He had his hands up in the air.
I'm mad because showing the footage of Michael Brown stealing from a convenient store was so irelevent and unimportant.
I don't like that when they put the video out, they were trying to make Michael look bad, look like a criminal.
I think its a lie when they say they are scared to release the officers name.
I didn't like the fact that the policemen threw teargas at the protesters, because we have the right to protest.
I don't like that Ferguson is destroying their city.
I feel like the media is trying to use the riots as a coverup to keep eyes off the real problem.
I feel like the police are hiding information from the people, and they are lying to us.
I feel like the things that are happening in Ferguson are unfair. I thought after Trayvon Martin the killing will stop but it comes back again. What did Mike Brown do for the police officer to kill him?
If he was a caucasian male will he still shoot?
The Ferguson police station is still not giving the full story to what happen[ed]. I think the violence protest is bad because now people are doing it to be doing it. It's at the point where it's not about Mike anymore.
The police left his body there for hours.
I think some of the protests are getting out of hand… Like, they didn't have to rob Velvet Freeze, or Shoe Carnival. Those shops had nothing to do with that.
I don't understand why he was shot 6 times, or at all to be honest. Cops are trained to know where to shoot if they have to. But this officer had no reason to shoot him at all. He was unarmed, and his hands up. I'm startled because it honestly could be anyone next.
It obviously doesn't matter if you're unarmed, or innocent.
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