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Ferguson residents have turned anger into action — but say some wounds won’t heal

AMNA NAWAZ: Now, we return to Ferguson, Missouri,
where, five years after the killing of Michael Brown, a community is still healing. Our own Yamiche Alcindor went to Ferguson
and reports that, while some progress has been made, many who lived through that day
and the protests and the unrest that followed said their lives have been changed forever. LESLEY MCSPADDEN, Mother of Michael Brown:
When I wake up in the morning, my emotions are all over the place, and I really don’t
know if I want to go forwards, backwards, because every day is a fight for me since
August 9, 2014. YAMICHE ALCINDOR: That was the day Lesley
McSpadden’s son, Michael Brown Jr., was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson,
Missouri. The shooting sparked massive protests and
unrest in the city. Ultimately, officer Darren Wilson wasn’t indicted
for killing the 18-year-old. It’s now been five years since Ferguson became
a national symbol and inspired activists across the world. For those who intimately experienced what
happened here, the trauma of that time runs deep. And for McSpadden, the hurt is about what
never was. LESLEY MCSPADDEN: I was left with absolutely
nothing as far as a remnant of Michael. You know, he didn’t have any children. He had never worked a job. As a mother, it makes you question yourself,
even though you know it’s not your fault. But that’s what I have been dealing with for
the last five years. YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Since then, she’s started
a foundation in her son’s name. It offers youth services and a support network
for mothers dealing with similar losses. Much of her focus, though, is on her family. LESLEY MCSPADDEN: My baby son is now about
to be 15. People talk. They ask questions. So, now he has questions for me. How do I answer those questions? YAMICHE ALCINDOR: It sounds like you’re not
any more confident five years later that your son, who’s now 15, would be safe from what
happened to Michael Brown. LESLEY MCSPADDEN: No, I’m not. YAMICHE ALCINDOR: In the hours, days and months
after Brown was killed, thousands of protesters came to Ferguson to voice outrage over the
shooting. Kayla Reed was one of those protesters. KAYLA REED, Action St. Louis: I think it really
touched to the fabric of something in this country for a generation that hadn’t been
touched. YAMICHE ALCINDOR: The sights and sounds of
those days and months have left many, including Reed, scarred. KAYLA REED: It is really hard is really hard
for me to go to Ferguson. When I see that box that they pour cement
over where his body laid, and I see his memorial, it is really hard to reckon with the reality
that all of this came because someone had to die. YAMICHE ALCINDOR: She is now co-director of
the advocacy group Action St. Louis. The group campaigns to elect progressive politicians. It also hosts a fellowship for young black
activists. Reed says, despite what she and others like
her have accomplished, there remains a heavy weight. KAYLA REED: There’s a lot of pressure to kind
of achieve this line of justice that was undeclared four years ago. I felt like I was up against a clock, that,
if I didn’t do enough, somebody else’s child was going to get killed. YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Physical reminders of what
happened five years ago also remain. There are remnants of buildings that were
damaged and stores boarded up in the wake of the protests. For some, they are triggers that have led
to nightmares. WILLIAM MCCARTY, Ferguson Resident: Well,
some nights, I will be pummeling her in the back. You know, I would like — the other night,
I was trying to push somebody out of the house, you know, thinking that somebody had come
in. And she said: “Your hands are moving. You have got to wake up.” YAMICHE ALCINDOR: For decades, William McCarty
and his wife, Judy, have lived here. Their home is just a few blocks from the epicenter
of the protests and unrest. JUDY MCCARTY, Ferguson Resident: I thought,
every night, when I took a shower, I was afraid that a gunshot was going to come through the
window and kill me. That’s how close it was. YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Judy McCarty, whose brother
was once a Ferguson police officer, is still shaken by her experience. JUDY MCCARTY: One night, they came just to
check on us to see how we were doing. And when they left, they asked us to pray
for them. The police wanted prayer. They were scared. YAMICHE ALCINDOR: For Joshua Williams, who
was a prominent protester, the consequences are even more stark. JOSHUA WILLIAMS, Protester: I saw Michael
Brown and Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland. I saw all those people. And, most importantly, I saw myself, because
I could have been one of those people on the ground under the sheet. YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Williams, then 19, was arrested
after he tried to set fire to a gas station. There was little damage to the building, and
no one was injured. Williams pled guilty to arson, burglary, and
stealing. He was sentenced to eight years in prison. Williams says he regrets what he did, but
adds he did it for a purpose. JOSHUA WILLIAMS: I was so angry that I didn’t
really care what came out of it. I just did it. In my mind, that would set off the government
to pay attention to us, to see our pain, to see our tears, and to see our blood in the
streets. KAYLA REED: I feel a lot of pain and some
guilt around Josh, because I really wish that it wasn’t his experience. I really wish that he wasn’t so young. And I wish that he didn’t have to suffer this,
like, by himself, you know? I wish we could all do a day for him, so that
he could come home faster or something. YAMICHE ALCINDOR: For many, five years feels
like just a snapshot in time. Residents and activists say it will take much
longer to address longstanding issues and the new ones emerging. When Lesley McSpadden reflects on the next
five years, she again turns to her family. LESLEY MCSPADDEN: In four years, my son will
graduate from high school. In two years, my daughter will graduate from
college. I just want to be here to see it all, through
it all, just continue to be their mother, endure what comes my way, and pray about better
days for Ferguson. YAMICHE ALCINDOR: For the “PBS NewsHour,”
I’m Yamiche Alcindor in Ferguson, Missouri. AMNA NAWAZ: And a note about last night’s
story on the changes taking place in Ferguson. We misidentified the political affiliation
of former Saint Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch. He is a Democrat. We also stated Saint Louis County jail population
has declined by 20 percent since new prosecutor Wesley Bell took office. That number should be 16 percent. We have posted a corrected version online,
where you can watch the entire series at PBS.org/NewsHour.

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