“Freedom” in Ferguson

In light of recent events in Ferguson, Mo., an important lesson can be learned about our freedom.

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Natasha Vyhovsky, News Editor

This past Saturday marks exactly one week since the controversial shooting of black teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., bringing with it protests and lootings, along with vigils by the citizens of St. Louis and other areas. Although reports vary from source to source regarding the events prior to and following the shooting of Brown by a white police officer, identified as Darren Wilson of the Ferguson Police Department, national uproars have been resounding. The event has been identified by many as an account of police brutality and racism. While details are hazy, it is certain that Michael Brown was unarmed, walking away from a convenience store he had allegedly just robbed, and was shot multiple times by Wilson and pronounced dead in the early afternoon of Aug. 9.

In the days following the shooting, angry community members and others upset by the event began with vigils and protests, both mourning the loss of Brown and urging for justice and murder charges against Wilson. Progressively, the protests turned into lootings and riots, where police in full riot gear and armed with military weapons got involved in keeping order. Police began ordering groups to disperse, firing rubber bullets and tear gas canisters at crowds as well as groups of reporters.

On top of police brutality and racism, the community members and journalists covering the event have seemingly had their rights squashed by the police. As part of the First Amendment, all U. S. citizens have the right to free speech and the right to peacefully assemble. Not only are these citizens trying to be heard, but their rights are being trampled on. Almost literally.

Moreover, the First Amendment is not just for reporters or for protesters or for adults — it’s for students, too. A basic right that we students express and value every day isn’t being protected on the larger scale by those whose jobs are to protect the people. We don’t live in Missouri, and we haven’t been directly affected by the events, but we have all been impacted because we all share those basic rights.

One surprising fact about the Ferguson case took place with the change in authority regarding the events. With the shift from the Ferguson Police Department to Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ronald Johnson on Thursday night, the town began to see more peace, according to reports from the Washington Post and others. Johnson not only promised citizens that there would be no tear gas or violence on the police end, but he also walked with the protesters… an act that seemed to say, “I am here. I am with you. And I hear you.” Maybe that’s all the people wanted the whole time. That is the most interesting thing about it all — that these furious protesters could be calmed merely in the way to which they were responded. One citizen was reported saying, in response to the arrival of Johnson, “They respect us, so let’s respect them.”

At BVNW, our freedom of speech and freedom of expression is something we should appreciate and not take for granted. In general, I believe that the administration does give us a lot of freedom to push some boundaries and learn things on our own without restricting us as much as they could. During spirit week, school dances, plays, clubs, student media, etc., we are given room to make our own decisions and say our own things. The administration lets us have freedom, and in turn, we are allowed to learn and grow on our own terms.

While our freedom of speech is a right we should cherish, there have also been recent events in Ferguson that show the effects of pushing the line with free speech. On Saturday, the city of Ferguson released information regarding the specifics of the Brown shooting. The officials who released the information to the public didn’t need to, and in fact, were warned not to; in turn, the community members became even more upset upon hearing the details. Although the city officials were using their right to free speech, they crossed a line with the information they shared. Despite possessing the right to free speech, there are certain times where that privilege means that maybe certain things shouldn’t be said.

The students of BVNW are allotted the room to say and do things very freely; but, that also means there are times when we needs to realize when the line is being crossed. At BVNW, we are heard, we are free to express our ideas, and we are respected. Not all schools are like that. Most aren’t, in fact. Students, like the people of Ferguson and everyone else, want to be heard and want to feel respected. In light of these events, we need to realize the constitutional injustice that is happening and know that teenagers are affected because our basic rights aren’t being protected. However, we should also know how lucky we are here. We have freedom of expression, and we should appreciate and practice it, but we should also draw boundaries for ourselves. We should all continue to use our voices, our creativity and our freedom, respectfully and responsibly, because we can, and because we are respected for that. And that’s a pretty wonderful thing.

Update: In recent days, however, there has been a resurgence of violence, breaking the temporary peace. In response, a recent state of emergency has been issued by the governor of Missouri, along with a curfew for protesters. As of Monday, National Guard soldiers were called to Ferguson and the curfew was lifted. According to USA Today, Monday night protests were calmer due to these factors, however tensions are still very high and violence is ongoing.