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Ferguson: Behind the scenes of the protest movement

Interview by Declan Harvey, words by Emily Thomas
Newsbeat reporters

Published
image copyrightGetty Images

For some, protesting on the streets of Ferguson was a spontaneous reaction to the news that the policeman who killed a black teenager has been cleared.

For others, said to be a minority, it was an excuse to riot and loot.

But there's also a sizeable core of peaceful protesters who plan and organise their actions.

One of them, Elyse, has been telling Newsbeat about that movement, with its safe spaces, jail fund and chant leaders.

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The 23-year-old teacher lives near Ferguson and is an activist with a number of social justice groups in St Louis.

She's white and says that makes her feel safer on the streets: "I feel like my skin colour gives me a lot of privilege, so I'm not going to be a target for the police."

The organised movement is in the "high hundreds", according to Elyse.

She says it has no unified name - instead several groups are the main face and they're joined by "tons" of smaller ones that were formed on the ground after recent events.

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"A tremendous amount of work is being put into this," she says.

"People that aren't behind the scenes don't really understand that.

"Sometimes the small 0.1% of people that are provocateurs are being projected as the face of the protest but anyone who is actually part of this movement would not do anything to derail the message."

Jail fund

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"There's been an ongoing fund that people have been donating to," she says.

"It's used if there's any bond that needs to be paid in order to help get people out of jail."

"Money is coming from all over the country - from people that want to help sustain the protest and to help the movement."

Safe cafe

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Elyse spends time helping out at MoKaBes - a coffee shop used by activists.

It was tear-gassed this week but usually it's an unofficial "safe space" for activists.

"Safe spaces are just places people can go and get safe, get warm. There's food and medical help for people who are tear-gassed or who have faced some kind of police brutality," she explains.

Elyse says the spaces are not intended for people taking part in criminal acts to escape from the police but it's hard to tell exactly who those people are.

"It's for genuine protesters that have been caught up and need a place to go," she says.

"I don't know if there would be a way to distinguish the provocateurs. So I'm not sure if they are coming in, but that's not what the spaces are there for.

Chant leaders

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Who is it that makes up those chants?

"Those jobs are for people that are really directed affected by what's happening," Elyse says. "For people who have experienced police brutality or racial profiling and have that fire that's lit underneath them.

"There's been training for people to go over chants. But when you get out there it's really just up to the leader to organise that.

"This is a movement that is led by people directed by the voices of the oppressed," she says.

Meanwhile, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has appealed to Americans who were disappointed at the grand jury's decision "to refrain from any violence" and echoed the appeal by Brown's parents "to turn this difficult time into a positive moment for change".

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