Q&A: Meet one of the activists behind the local Ferguson protests

  • Photo by Meghan Ralston
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From the December 11, 2014 edition

On a recent Monday night, protesters with the Ohio Student Association marched to Goodale Park after a rally at Ohio State Campus' Oval to demonstrate their desire for change in light of the recent police-involved deaths of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner, among others. Marching with them was Ohio Student Association field organizer MarShawn McCarrel. McCarrel has been working with the OSA to bring political power back to community members and address social justice issues through education and discussion. Though the recent events in Cleveland, Ferguson, Missouri, and New York are tragic, McCarrel believes the conversations they spawned could lead to positive change within the power structures both in Columbus and nationwide.

You have to build community in order to move community. The Ohio Student Association is a state-wide organization that teaches people to build and yield local and state-wide independent political power of the community. When we go to the polls, we are served a political "menu.” When you think of a menu, it isn't a list of what you want to eat; it's what you can be served. When it comes to policy and things that directly affect our lives, we want the options presented to us to directly reflect what the community wants, not just what politicians are willing to serve us. As a field organizer, I work directly with the community finding ways to build relationships with community members to get them more involved. I've always had a passion for helping people. I was interested in developing ways to create long-term solutions, and the OSA gave me that platform.

Police brutality isn't new, but the recent exposure has made it easier to talk about it. Three years ago I was speaking on this exact same issue; the statistics [for incidents of police brutality] haven't changed, but because people didn't see it, it was easier to dismiss. Now, people are being constantly reminded of the problem. Police brutality doesn't look like it did in the 1950s, but it's still going on. People who wouldn't normally be affected are now asking questions. Organizing can be unrewarding, but now that people are asking questions and want to be involved, it's restoring hope that we can make a difference.

Process is a privilege for those who aren't in the line of fire. The protest is a direct statement from the people of this community to law enforcement that black lives matter. It's not about specific demands; it's about showing those in power that we want to live. We've seen again and again that marginalized people can be a victim of police brutality at any time. Actions [like the protest] lead to a more constructive conversation. We want people to understand that people who look like me are one breath away from being an Eric Garner. I live on the Hilltop; the people most affected by this issue feel they have the least power, so they have the least drive to fight. I can't blame them. There have been rallies and protests for years and nothing has changed, so my biggest challenge is restoring trust that change can happen. We can only achieve change through people recognizing they have the power to make a difference.

Conditioning and propaganda [from people who control the media] are huge problems. People have become so conditioned to hatred and racial bias that as a society we need to "unlearn" what we have been conditioned to think. We have to break those walls down before we can build a stronger society. I believe police shoot people out of fear more than anything. The conditioning is what causes the fear, and can lead to tragic outcomes. I don't believe any police officer goes into a situation thinking, "I'm going to kill somebody," but through propaganda and conditioning a 12-year-old kid [Tamir Rice] can look scary and threatening. We've targeted Attorney General Mike DeWine because there needs to be a change in police training and cultural sensitivity classes that bring that fear into the conversation. We need to restore the relationship between law enforcement and the community, because the community doesn't trust law enforcement either.

We need to mentally shift the relationship between law enforcement and community. There is an officer who patrols the Hilltop from Worthington. I recently did a teaching at Worthington Kilbourne High School, and I asked those students what they thought of the Hilltop area. They replied, "dirty, crime, drugs.” These are potential officers that could later patrol that area, going into the job with that same mindset. You only fear what you don't know. We need to learn each other, especially those who are in a position of power. We need to learn about the people whose lives are in our hands.