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St. Louis Rapper Tef Poe Shares His Experiences in Ferguson, Missouri as Protests Continue

Tef Poe shares his experience at the Ferguson protests on the first night of the curfew.

Aug 17 2014, 6:11pm

Photo via VICE News / Alice Speri

[Ed. note: On Thursday, we talked to St. Louis rapper Tef Poe, who has been one of the most visible local figures on the scene, about what he had been witnessing in Ferguson, Missouri in the wake of the killing of teenager Michael Brown. Tef was on his way to a show in Memphis, but, since we last spoke, he has returned to Ferguson, where protests have continued. On Friday, local police named Darren Wilson as the killer while also releasing footage that they claimed showed Michael Brown stealing from a local convenience store called the Ferguson Market. Yesterday, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and announced that a curfew would be enacted from 12 to 5 AM. VICE News is on the ground in Ferguson with more updates. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of Tef Poe's conversation with Noisey's Kyle Kramer describing his impressions from yesterday.]

It's a little bit more festive than it was when I left to go do the show in Memphis. People are happier. There are more and more people coming out every day, and people seem to have a very resilient spirit. I can't really describe it. It's just a very wide open energy, a very positive energy. It's just a very community-based type of spirit. People are bringing [bottled] waters out. There are massive amounts of food out. Everyone's looking out for the children, helping the senior citizens that are out. And people are really pushing to keep this thing peaceful and also just show the Ferguson police department and the St. Louis County police department that we're not going anywhere overnight and that this won't be a fly-by-night type of thing.

It's a very powerful feeling, and I wish that I could really share it with other people because it's really what this thing is all about, is just people being unified from all different creeds and colors and backgrounds and genders and economic backgrounds. People are just united, and it's unlike anything I've ever witnessed.

Yesterday was a very crazy day. There was a series of marches up and down West Florissant. It started out with Jesse Jackson leading a march in the morning. I was taking photos and catching some video clips of that, but I didn't stay for the speech.

One thing that's very interesting to me is that the New Black Panther Party has been on the ground out here. They were on the ground yesterday, and they were one of the main groups of people helping push back on the curfew. Early in the day, when the curfew got announced, you could hear and feel that people were really taking that personally, and more and more people started to set up campsites and places that they were going to post up for the duration of the day and the night.

It started to rain. There was a really bad thunderstorm, and I thought this would cause people to go in. [But] people began to march up and down the street in the rain. I believe that if it didn't rain, we might have been looking at a different scenario on the first night of the curfew getting issued. There's no way to gauge how people would have responded. But it was like a scene of a movie. All you saw was hundreds upon hundreds of people in the streets marching while it's raining, people on a bullhorn encouraging people to stay out. I don't even think the police could have predicted that.

Folks had to go in because we couldn't stay out there in the current conditions. There were rumors that the police were going to use real bullets instead of rubber bullets this time. Jay Nixon basically said “clear the streets by any means necessary,” and that was the tone. So people all up and down the street on bullhorns at different stations telling people “look, you've got to get out of the street tonight. It's not going to be safe. If you have warrants, you will be arrested.” Of course, naturally, some folks pushed back at the cops and didn't go in, and by the end of the night they did tear gas West Florissant. But by that point there weren't that many people out there.

People didn't want to [go home], but we did. Most people stayed up until the very last second, until you could no longer stay any more. And I'm usually a big advocate of staying out and resisting a rule that they try to establish, but even I said “it's time to fall back.” I'm usually out 'til three or four, even five or six o'clock in the morning. But I knew that they weren't playing with this one, so it was time to pack it up and go in. I just feel like we've dealt with the tanks and the armored vehicles enough, and if we could go around that without having to deal with, then let's just be smart about it. We know how they're going to bring it, so it's kind of up to us to be a little bit smarter. You can only keep saying “they're shooting me with rubber bullets” so much before someone's like “we'll strategize around that.” So that's where I'm at with it.

I think the older people are responding to Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton more so than the younger people. And that just shows you the difference in the styles of protesting. I think the younger folks are more radical, in-your-face with it, and I think the older folks are a little more old school, community and church-based protesters.

This is still very early in the process. We haven't even really begun the real fight.

I think right now the key demand, of course, is the arrest of Darren Wilson, but aside from that, it's just also a push for more information, period. They haven't released how many times Mike Brown's been shot. There are certain key elements of the story that appear to be withheld from the public for intentional reasons. And we're really just trying to push to get more transparency from the police department about the ordeal. When they put the tape out of [Michael Brown] at the Ferguson Market, the community didn't respond to that in the most positive way because they felt as if it was a slander tactic on behalf of the Ferguson police department.

So now we're just looking for a bridge of communication between the community and the Ferguson PD. They just don't appear to really showcase very much compassion in regards to the situation, and they still seem to be stuck on this path of villainization of the victim or of protection for Darren Wilson. It just seems as if they're trying to shield him from the people, shield him from the media. We still don't know much about him. He's kind of a mysterious figure at this point. I think people are just looking for answers in those regards: Tell us more about the police officer that pulled the trigger, tell us more about the autopsy findings, and we really just want the murder charge for Darren Wilson. I think if you want to calm the streets down, get people to finally go back in the house, and maybe restore the order, I think it really begins with a murder charge for Darren Wilson.

[As far as the highway patrol's presence], there's either extreme policing or no policing at all. There's no in-between. There's no medium. So during the day when the peaceful protests are going on and it's sort of like a party and everyone's really sharing this ginormous community spirit, you don't see any police officers. As nighttime comes about, more officers come out of the shadows, and things begin to get a little bit more intense.

Yesterday I was out there when the highway patrol captain walked through the crowd. I introduced myself to him, and a few people in the community asked him questions. He's giving straight-up answers. I won't say that he's not giving us straightforward answers, but, at the same time, he's working for a system that's broken, so he represents that system. I think in the media they make him appear to be a bit more of a champion than the people are making him. Folks aren't really as crazy about him as it might appear on CNN.

I was watching CNN in my hotel room in Memphis, and all I saw were these news clips of people clapping and celebrating and doing cartwheels because he arrived. And when I got to the grounds, I noticed a few things immediately: I didn't see him; I barely saw any highway patrol. And when he got there, people weren't confrontational, but they wanted some answers for things. A lot of people wanted to know last night how he could let the curfew situation happen without being vocal about it in the public media. A lot of people also wanted to know how he could let the tape of Michael Brown in the Ferguson Market to be released the same day as the police officer's name. He gave a few people some answers, but it was really more of a patch-up answer. Even though, like I said, he really does seem to be a sincere person—when you meet him, he has a very sincere energy—at the same time, he took the oath of the badge, so you know a portion of what he's saying is in the name of protecting the police as well.

Last night, they started to tear gas the protestors that didn't go in after curfew. Initially they said it was smoke bombs, [alderman] Antonio French got hit with it, and he put a video on Vine. A few other people were getting hit, and it was obviously tear gas and not smoke. So I think they ended up having to recant that statement and admit that it was tear gas. Once again, another broken promise.

Follow @TefPoe on Twitter for more updates.


Want more from Ferguson? Check out VICE News's Ferguson coverage and read Tef Poe's account from Thursday.