But you also got to think about St. Louis people. You're dealing with a group of young people that aren't afraid. You're dealing with a group of people that aren't afraid of anything because the environment we grew up in, guns are not abnormal. This isn't the first they've been in front of a gun. They've been in front of guns hundreds of times. They've been shot at hundreds of times. Or they've been shot or people they know have been killed. The threat of violence doesn't [discourage] them. They've been bred their whole life to die for something they feel is much less than this cause. So now that they feel they have a cause that's really valid they're not afraid when the police show up with guns and jump out with force. It actually entices them more. And this time, I don't think the police considered that.
CP: What about the peaceful protests and people gathering for prayer? Aren't churches and ministers getting involved?
Thi'sl: I'm gonna be honest...I haven't seen a lot of churches or ministers gathering out in the streets for prayer. Just being honest. Yesterday (Aug. 12), I was going around to the vigil that they had [where] Al Sharpton was at, so Mike Brown, Sr., the father of Mike Brown, Jr., the young man that got killed, his dad is a friend of mine. I grew up with him my whole life. … So we were going over to the vigil to support him, but I was going through at the same time to drop off waters that we had bought to give to the peaceful protesters. I want people to know that when I'm out there, I'm supporting the peaceful protesters. I'm supporting the people that are talking loud but not being violent, that are following the rules. …
I was going out and giving waters out to different peaceful peoples at different spots, and those peaceful protesters have been black and white people. … We made it to one spot, so by the time we made it there [at the vigil] the police swooped up and they formed a line and so we kinda got stuck there. When we got stuck there, I just felt my job was to keep peace. But in the process of doing it, I found myself and Alderman Antonio French, we were one of two or three people that were actually trying to keep the people out the street, keep them calm, telling them if (they're) gonna protest do it the right way. At one point I tweeted and I said man, this is before I connect with Antonio French at the other end of the line, "I'm out here by myself. Where is everybody at?"
So the people that you see on the protest lines consistently, especially in the West Florissant, it's not church leaders, it's not ministers and it's not people out there praying. When I've seen the church ministers and the church leaders and community leaders, they're always inside of a building, talking inside of a building, and the kids are outside of the building. Even … when Al Sharpton came, we marched probably 1,000 people off of West Florissant (Avenue) and to the church where Al Sharpton was at so the violence wouldn't escalate with the police. When we marched them around, we took them all into the church. They knew they were outside, but nobody came out to talk to them. The people that came out to talk to them, they weren't the Christian leaders and they weren't people that were trying to encourage them to something positive. …
That's one of the reasons that I wanted to see, and want to see more Christian leaders out there, but for whatever reasons that they're not showing up and they're not out there, I don't know. When the looting and the rioting started, I was out there the whole time. But there was nothing I could do. Once you stop one person, the rest of them are going through.
CP: For you, as a black man in America who looks at the world through your Christian identity, what's your message for those observing and involved in the Ferguson case?
Thi'sl: As a black man that looks [at] the world through my Christian identity, I still have to be honest with myself and say that racism is still a real problem for us, even inside of Christianity, on the African-American side and on the white side. I would say, especially for the Christians, we need to be more willing to have open dialogue and talk about this stuff amongst each other. We just keep brushing it under the rug and acting like it don't exist.
I was out of town at a church, at a church, I was at a church out of town and a woman locked her keys in her car and she came to me and said, "Hey, my keys are locked in the car. I know you know how to get them out of there." So this is in the church. We need to talk about this stuff, we need to address it inside of the church. We also need to be praying that inside of the church that there would be leaders who would be raised up who would be accessible in these situations.
You don't have to be on the frontline marching, you don't have to be out taking pictures. I'm not out there doing none of that. I'm behind the scenes and I'm talking to people. I'm keeping them peaceful and trying to keep them out of trouble. I just keep ending up being on the frontline of it in pictures and everything, but that's not where I'm at when I'm out there.
I would say pray that in this situation peace prevails, that love prevails, that people would see the love of Jesus through the people that are out there actively serving. I also want to say let justice be served. … It's a sensitive situation, but right now it's not the time for the church to be arguing amongst each other about what's right and how white people feel privileged or black people feeling like they're being always the victim. I've seen those kinds of arguments online.
Now is the time to say we need to be praying for peace, we need to be an example of what racial peace looks like. But before we can do that as a church, we need to really sit back and have dialogue amongst ourselves and deal with the silent racism that exists inside of the church.