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Heal STL: Ferguson Nonprofit Braces for More Violence If Darren Wilson Isn't Indicted

Categories: Michael Brown

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Photos by Lindsay Toler
Antonio French says there will be more violence if Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson isn't indicted. "That's predictable."
The nightly violent standoffs between police and protesters in Ferguson may have stopped, but the anger that fueled two weeks of unrest here -- anger at police, at elected officials, at oppression -- remains.

And if Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson isn't charged with a crime for shooting and killing unarmed teen Michael Brown, anger could again swell into chaos.

"If there isn't an indictment, we're going to see the same thing again," says Antonio French, a St. Louis alderman who has emerged as one of the leaders behind the movement for change and peace in Ferguson. "That's predictable. It's going to get bad."

But this time, community leaders won't be caught off-guard and "flat-footed," as French says, by the anger. By the time the grand jury decides on Wilson's fate five or more weeks from now, things will be different.

That's where Heal STL comes in.

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A volunteer folds #HealSTL shirts. The org is selling them for a $9 donation.
Heal STL has grown from a hashtag to a headquarters where community leaders, volunteers and would-be volunteers gather, organize, sell T-shirts and prepare for the change many hope is coming to Ferguson. French paid a six-month lease for the storefront at 9171 West Florissant Avenue and plans to re-up another six months when that runs out.

"It's an early thing for us to get our legs up under us...learn the streets here, learn the people," French says. "We've just got to get organized, that's what this is about right now. This is a place to share."

See also: 7 Peaceful Ways to Respond to Michael Brown's Death, Ferguson Unrest

Technically, Heal STL isn't even "open" yet, but that doesn't stop the volunteers (and rap legend MC Hammer) from showing up to help.

John Stopple, a Kirkwood resident and retired doctor who graduated in the last class out of Ferguson High School in 1958, dropped in Thursday ready to fold Heal STL T-shirts, go on a grocery run or perform any other task the group needed.

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John Stopple in the Heal STL headquarters.
"I want to make a change," Stopple tells Daily RFT. "I was afraid that once the protesters left, everything would go back to the way it was. I'm just trying to push the other way, that's all."

Now that the group has a space, Heal STL is focusing on registering the 2,000 unregistered voters here, something French estimates will take about a month.

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Heal STL headquarters.
After voter registration comes voter mobilization -- a more ambitious, if nebulous, goal. Heal STL volunteers and the young people French plans to hire will check in with voters they register regularly, reminding them of upcoming elections. They'll also educate residents on how voting can bring change to Ferguson.

"It's a big effort that has to happen out here in north county and beyond," French says.

For now, the tasks facing Heal STL seem mundane: fill out the paperwork to become an official 501(c)(3) nonprofit, collect a database of volunteers, set up the cubicles, get some carpet. One person is in charge of building shelves, another of updating an Amazon wishlist so donors can help buy supplies until Heal STL opens up a bank account for financial donations. (Donors bought everything on the original wish list, including two iPads, within an hour of posting it, French says.)

But Heal STL's true mission goes beyond logistics. These are the people trying to redirect Ferguson's anger into peaceful, positive action -- and not into another eruption of gunshots and tear gas.

"There has to be a way to be heard without setting something on fire," French says. "We've got five weeks to figure that out."

Follow Lindsay Toler on Twitter at @StLouisLindsay. E-mail the author at Lindsay.Toler@RiverfrontTimes.com.


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77 comments
Darrell Tiénou-Gustafson
Darrell Tiénou-Gustafson

Will, if that was the only data point, you might be on to something, but it isn't. 1. Look at the racial makeup of police forces in many cities (also noting that it isn't always disproportionate, so it doesn't *have* to be this way). http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-08-21/fergusons-not-the-only-place-where-the-cops-are-mostly-white-and-the-people-mostly-arent 2. Look at how in Ferguson, where there are 2x as many Black people as White, Black people are 7x more likely to be stopped, 12x more likely to be searched, 13x more likely to be arrested... this despite the fact that White people were more likely to have contraband when searched... and all by a police that is 95% White (in a town that is 60+% Black) http://ago.mo.gov/VehicleStops/2013/reports/161.pdf 3. Look how Black people are 4x more likely to be killed by police, and the many other examples of police discrimination. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/leland-ware/michael-brown-stereotypes_b_5685712.html 4. Look how despite the fact that 70% of crime is by White people, and 27 of the FBI's 30 categories of crimes are majority White, you cling to the narrative about Black criminality justifying police brutality. http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2012/crime-in-the-u.s.-2012/tables/43tabledatadecoverviewpdf 5. Then talk to your Black friends, and ask them how they are treated by police (and store owners... and teachers... and employers) in ways that you aren't. Or read. But either way, listen to the perspectives of others who have different experiences from you. https://medium.com/@jelanigreenidge/this-is-what-we-mean-when-we-say-its-about-race-5da3cd49c24d

Shanan Rodgers
Shanan Rodgers

Be on the lookout for a bunch of for sale signs in people's yards trying to get out before their house values go even further down. People are going to be moving out before the verdict I know I would.

Scott Shoemaker
Scott Shoemaker

Yes we know the officer was attacked. A dozen witness's stated that. The officers eye socket was broken. Brown turned and rushed the officer. That's. Fact. Eye witness's confirm that. Tara Apple. The facts are in. No hands up b/s.

Tara Apple
Tara Apple

And for that he deserves to die? None of you angels have ever said anything foul huh? Of course not.

Tara Apple
Tara Apple

You know the officer was attacked? You were there right? And all of the information has been so transparent and truthful right? Ok.

Lori Metz
Lori Metz

It is all fine and well that Antonio French has set up shop in Ferguson. What about his Ward in the city? Why isn't the media asking him the hard questions? What are you, Antonio French, going to do about black on black crime, keeping children in school, making sure those children get an education that is worth something, helping those children gain scholarships to accredited schools so they can earn a college degree, helping them build lives that are the example to others in their communities? Or is this just about your political future, Antonio French? Your fifteen minutes of fame? Heal STL cannot only be about Ferguson, it has to take on the harder issues city, county and region wide, and that means holding up the mirror and having it glare back at you on both sides of this issue. Violence, destruction of property and demanding your way are not how you affect positive change. Violence, destruction of property and demanding your way just make you look like a petulant child and makes those looking in from the outside want to treat you that way.

Stephanie Mondaine
Stephanie Mondaine

As terrible as it is I don't think there is a better way. A coroner down in Louisiana just said that a guy with his hands cuffed behind his back shot himself in the chest... I don't see Eric Holder going there to make sure there is a fair outside investigation...

Steve Mincer
Steve Mincer

ya... garry... nobody had heard about this until they burned down the quick trip?

Will Velez
Will Velez

Darrell, I'd like to bet that most of those police killings were involving ARMED criminals. In NY, where we have many black police officers, they have to use deadly force as well. Does the color of the cop matter? During the ferguson riots, a few blocks away from the mike brown incident a black kid pulled out a gun on a cop, the cop shot the perp. Nothing wrong with that. The numbers in your sources doesn't account for the many justified shootings.

Steve Mincer
Steve Mincer

why? they going to break into the other hair weave store?

Garry Jasper
Garry Jasper

I agree with you wholeheartedly Darrell Tiénou-Gustafson. I don't agree with the burning and looting but had it not happened none of this would have been brought to light. Would have been swept under the rug.

Maurice Harris
Maurice Harris

The wait is over #NewMusic All you gotta do is #PressPlay my #official #HotNigga #Remix spread the word #Like n #Share #BobbyShmurda #MichaelBrown #Ferguson #TrayvonMartin http://goo.gl/1AKbSW

Colleen Kassel Beckemeier
Colleen Kassel Beckemeier

I think he will be indicted unfortunately, because a grand jury always indicts because it's completely one sided. However I do not think he will be convicted of any crime

Darrell Tiénou-Gustafson
Darrell Tiénou-Gustafson

Let me play devil's advocate: how many people would have "heard" in the first place if it weren't for the riots? 2 Black people are killed by White police every week in the US. How many of those had you heard about before #Ferguson?

Stephanie Hafertepe
Stephanie Hafertepe

So basically what they want the message to be in Ferguson is that criminals can rule so long as they create riots,destroy property and just keep screaming until they get what they want????Do ANY OF THEM REALLY CARE ABOUT JUSTICE AND THE FACT THAT THE KID ATTACKED AN OFFICER OF LAW?????What message are they sending for real???I am eager to see just how many descent black cops rush to fill those jobs.As Ive said before they will quickly turn that area into a mini east St.Louis....and good....because the black cops they insist on haveing WONT PUT UP WITH THE CRIMINAL BEHAVIOR EITHER.Has anyone tryd to poll the black cop thought on this incident?Im sure they didnt appreciate haveing piss bottles thrown at them or any of the violent protest crap.Someone should really ask them how they feel.

James Peterson
James Peterson

did you hear his music about raping bitches and cuming all over them?

James Peterson
James Peterson

he is not going to be... let these savages rip the city to shreds makes them look like primates :(

Roy Johnson
Roy Johnson

Brad, this is an example of why we're all off base whenever it's game time, it's like Abbott and Costello who's on first, first is on second routine. We have to have real unity and respect ALL across the table or we have nothing. I hear too much blame, see too much shame and some people, actually many people, are just seeking fame. The police HAD to throw something, do something, to keep law/order and control. That is THEIR job, if YOU are the one breaking the law and involved on the very same side that is physically assaulting police, then they have the legal jurisdiction to do far more to you then they did. I don't know about tear gas legislation and rules that's for the individual septs and fed. gov. I disagree, you lost the city, the state, the entire Nations respect many respects that you could have nurtured and maintained, done it right, done it louder than any women or man screaming until they're hoarse. You just have to leave the physical out of it. I'm with you when it comes to your passion and compassion for good and change. Of course we need change, we all need all kinds of change. Too many good people that you needed on your side all abandoned that sinking burning ship a long time ago, seriously. It's not like there is no hope now, that is not what I am trying to convey. If you sincerely want to get what you feel you deserve then do what you know will earn you that. This world is not all oppressed because of whitey or rich boy all on it's on. Be the change you want to see, otherwise, people are only going to change their minds about your position and it's direction or motives and not even care to see anymore. Let's all do this right and right now. All mouthy loud aggressive behavior does not make people hear you, just the opposite.

Darrell Ford
Darrell Ford

The mob and the looters have already tried and convicted the policeman, in a classic case of guilty until proven guilty. Everybody keeps saying unarmed child and this "kid" was 6'4", 290 lbs...He was neither a child nor an innocent.

Dawn Yurescko
Dawn Yurescko

I am disappointed in RFT for the inflammatory headline. It is actually a story about people taking constructive steps to improve conditions in their neighborhood. Obviously someone has a vested interest in things going bad again and it's not the people of Ferguson. (hint, it's the media :P )

Norm Sheble
Norm Sheble

What are they going to if it comes out that Mike Brown was the instigator? What would have happened if he just complied? Seriously, y'all act like this officer woke up that morning with the intention of just killing some random black man. Let Justice run it's course before pissing on anyone.

Leland Avants II
Leland Avants II

It's pretty sad a whole community of people can't be trusted to behave themselves. They're like little kids, they don't get their way they throw a fit. It must be really embarrassing. It's going to be even more embarrassing when it's splashed all over tv once again, and no one is going to be shocked.

Roy Johnson
Roy Johnson

Larry, criminal action on either's part must be duly processed, not thrown to the wolves of the likes of street fighters that come to their round tables with their pants falling down. Let the president handle this that's what the protesters wanted. If you're in a hurry go burn Obama's neighborhood up and terrorize his neighbors and ruin his business, he's your man or brother as he is referred to, and not because they're blood related, so that makes white folks what, just white folks, we aren't all brothers and sisters?

Nick Pappagiorgio
Nick Pappagiorgio

If he is not indicted and folks riot I suspect we will see a strong response from law enforcement..

Scott Austin
Scott Austin

That's REALLY going to help race relations in this town...

Brad Hicks
Brad Hicks

Officer Johnson? May I put it this way? Arch City Defenders has spent the last YEAR trying to get anyone in authority, or any journalist, to even look seriously at their evidence of overtly racist policing that also deliberately targeted poor people to fund city services in several St. Louis area cities, Ferguson among them. Nobody listened. Then people who'd been tear gassed for trying to say it loudly set a QuickTrip on fire. A couple of days later, the Arch City Defenders report was global news, and the Justice Department's Community Relations Service was in town to mediate a solution. I'd very much like to think that there was some way to get this resolution that didn't involve several fires, several dozen burglaries, dozens of legitimate arrests, dozens more false arrests that will drag on for months before they get dismissed, a million dollars' worth of ammunition and police overtime, and a several million dollar cleanup bill for all that tear gas. We can't afford to solve all our problems this way, we really can't, and innocent people get hurt. But the alternative was, apparently, to not solve the problem at all.

June Bugg
June Bugg

officer Roy that's y them people pay you so well, huh? "Serve & protect" property. Properly.

Roy Johnson
Roy Johnson

That headline right there explains it all. "There has to be a way to be heard without setting something on fire". Who in their right mind ever has to say this to themselves, and MEAN IT? I have never said this or even thought this way, it is one of the very important problems with what sets us apart. I have never hung out with people who take to the streets in such a way.

Craig Kahn
Craig Kahn

Not indicted? We will see the L.A. riots all over again. I wouldn't want to be in Ferguson on that dreadful day.

Brad Hicks
Brad Hicks

I wish him all the luck in the world with that, but there's a reason activists say "direct action gets the goods." Words can be ignored.

Katie Kelly
Katie Kelly

I think he has been an amazing leader, and would love to volunteer!

Shantel
Shantel

When Dorian Johnson is elected the Mayor of Ferguson ,then the colored people will get exactly what they deserve.

Rachel Weir
Rachel Weir

I hate Antonio French. Any time there's a camera, he's guaranteed to show up!

Mark Alan McRoberts
Mark Alan McRoberts

I'm praying for change in Ferguson. But I'm scared that justice for the people is not going to happen on a local level.

Tim Baylard
Tim Baylard

Change ferguson by not raising things and people who don't attack business owners and police officers.

Genia Ackworth
Genia Ackworth

I don't live there but I see him on the news asking questions of the police, mayor and city. He seems active.

cherylsb1
cherylsb1

Leland, you are clearly a racist so why are you posting ? Pieces of your KKK robe are showing. 

cherylsb1
cherylsb1

Hike up your KKK robe. It is showing!

cherylsb1
cherylsb1

@Shantel Colored people? Wow ! Pull up that KKK robe, it is showing. 

cherylsb1
cherylsb1

Your KKK robe it is showing .

cherylsb1
cherylsb1

Just back from a KKK meeting ? Your white robe is showing. 

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