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Ferguson Q&A: Sen. Jamilah Nasheed

TMT: First thing’s first, why do you decide to deliberately be arrested?

I wanted to send a message directly to protestors as an elected official. There’s been a lot of anger and some violence as a result of the Michael Brown shooting and I wanted to send the message that you it’s ok be angry and have your voice heard and protest in a way that is peaceful, you know? There are so many different ways to express one’s emotions. I wanted to show them that we need to focus on protest by way of civil disobedience and not violence or damaging property.

I’ve heard through a number of people who are good sources, people that I think are reliable sources, they are predicting there may not be an indictment of Officer Darren Wilson, I’ve heard the grand jury may find that it was a justifiable homicide.  I have concerns about what is going to happen if there is no indictment. Protestors should be angry, but they shouldn’t be violent in the name of Michael Brown.


TMT: Ok, so can you walk me through the arrest?

For about 3 or 4 days I’ve been wrestling with what exactly to do as these rumors come about [Wilson] not being charged, and I was sitting at home with a few friends and I decided I wanted to Ferguson and make a point about civil disobedience.

After I got there I went into the street and got down on my knees with my hands up, I was chanting ‘No Justice, No Peace.’ The police told me to move and they re-directed a car from traffic around me but I ignored them. That’s what civil disobedience is all about. He ordered me out of the street and I ignored him again and he had some officers arrest me.


TMT: We’ve heard a lot of rumors about that night, were you drinking?

Absolutely not. I was with friends but I hadn’t been drinking at all. The officer standing there said he smelled a ‘foul odor’ when I was being handcuffed. I wondered why he thought it was me and not another officer or one of the people around. It was ridiculous. I wasn’t —


TMT:  — So, why refuse the breathalyzer then?

Once I was in St. Anne being processed and everything [Ferguson Police] called down and said they wanted me breathalyzed. First of all, I don’t trust the Ferguson Police, I didn’t know what they were going to try to pull.

And second, I was engaging in civil disobedience. I was not going to take any test that they gave me that I wasn’t forced to take. I didn’t even eat the food. I wasn’t going to submit to anything, and I didn’t submit to anything.

TMT: Alright, but you were carrying a gun. Why?

I carry my gun with me everywhere I go. I have a valid CCW permit that I have had for a while. That wasn’t me going to a protest with a gun, that was me not leaving my gun at home when I went somewhere.

It’s my right to carry that, as a citizen and elected official I support the right to carry a weapon, to legally carry a weapon.. I’ve gotten threats as the result of all this Michael Brown news, before I was arrested, I’m a female who is sometimes walking around alone or in neighborhoods that have crime. It’s important to me that I can legally protect myself.

I told the police I had a gun on me. And then I took out my CCW and showed it to them. I took it out just like this and showed it to them like I’m showing it to you. And then after I put it away he told another officer that I never showed it to him. It was nonsense.

Do I want young men carrying illegal guns? No. Of course not. Do I support the legal Second Amendment right? Absolutely.


TMT: So now you’re there, in your cell or the holding area, what was your overnight like?

Let me first of all say that the difference between the Ferguson officers who arrested me and the St. Anne police was like night and day. Ferguson should take a page out of St. Anne’s handbook. They were very professional.

I was in a cell with a young white girl in her earlier 20’s maybe. She cried most of the night which I felt sorry for. She was there because of court fines and municipal fines. Her boyfriend had been locked up for the same thing. He had fines in a bunch of municipalities, and he couldn’t pay them, so she was saying she was upset because she wasn’t going to see him for a few months.

She talked about how she felt like the system around her was unjust. She was going to lose her job because she was locked up over fines, and without as job she couldn’t ever pay the fines. It’s those stories that makes it so clear that this isn’t just a racial issue, this is an issue of poverty. It’s not something that just happens to black folks. It happens to the poor and the indigent.

I ended up falling alseep on the floor.


Sen. Nasheed
Sen. Nasheed

TMT: On the floor? Why were you —

— the steel they put you on is cold, and it’s already cold in there anyway. So I got the little blanket they gave me and got on the floor. I slept like a baby.


TMT: Wow, ok, well you touched on fines just now. Now, you resisted the bond that was set for you and you refused to pay it I heard, right? Is that right?

They gave me a $600 bond, not a summons, but a bond, really? I should have been getting a summons. There was no reason to issue a bond on a ordinance violation. I was engaging in civil disobedience and as soon as I got that bond I knew I couldn’t just pay it, because the excessive bonds are part of the problem in all municipalities. They shouldn’t be bonding people and keeping them in jail for the smallest violation. They are giving people these bonds to pay instead of a summons and they can’t get them paid, so they are stuck. Then they charge you for not appearing in court, and then you’re back in jail and you can’t keep your job so you lose it and can’t pay the new fees. It’s out of hand and I told [my attorney] that I wasn’t going to pay it. Again, civil disobedience.

I told him it was an excessive bond. He asked me am I refusing the bond and resisting the bond and I said yes, hell yes. I’m thinking the whole time: ‘how many young African-Americans and non African-Americans get excessive bonds that they can’t afford?’


TMT: So, it’s been a few days, looking back at the arrest and all of that and how it played out, anything you would have done different?

If I had to do it all over again, I would have left the gun at home. It is my right to bear arms as a citizen, but I think I shouldn’t have taken my gun to peaceful protest. That was a mistake.


TMT: Some have been offended and been critical of your actions that night what is your response to them?

For those individuals, I would say I apologize if my actions offended you. But at the end of the day those same actions are the ones I’ve taken in the past, activism runs through my veins. I’ve been arrested for civil disobedience before standing up for what I believe in. Check my record—the things I’ve done and fought for. Please refrain from judging until you’ve walked a mile in my shoes and I’m going to do my best to do the same.

Some people can only sympathize, but I can empathize. And we need more empathy, not sympathy, to solve the problems plaguing race relations.



TMT: The loudest criticism of your arrest that we’ve heard is that it was a “stunt” orchestrated for publicity and didn’t reflect your past actions or desires. How do you respond to that?

I’ll respond by saying that I’ve been on the ground since Day 1. I’ve been in meetings with government officials. And I have been involved with 15 to 20 protests in the last three months or so. People who know me know mu passion and know my intentions are good. Sometimes maybe I get a little spontaneous with things. And I really felt like, with the possibility of a non-indictment coming and with the violence we have seen, I wanted to send a very specific message beforehand to protestors about how to have their voices heard going forward.

I’ve got a record of protest. I was even tear gassed while protesting the Michael Brown shooting. I was involved in the I-70 shutdown over minority inclusion and I was also involved in civil disobedience over the Salilsbury MetroLink expansion during Buzz Westfall’s days as County Executive. So to say it’s a stunt I think is coming from folks who don’t know my pedigree.


TMT: Ok, so let’s talk about some of the legislation that is related to Ferguson and the African American community. On weapons, you sponsored a bill proposing a minimum 10-year sentence for violent gun crimes. Why?

We have a minimum sentence for plenty of non-violent crime like drugs. We have too many black-on-black murders in North St. Louis and throughout the City of St. Louis and I believe it’s because of illegal guns. We need to send a very clear message that we don’t tolerate that, and we must reduce black-on-black crime.


TMT: The lack of quality schools is a pretty key element most people identify when they talk about these sort of systemic problems. Lately in education we dealt with a big school transfer bill that ultimately didn’t get past the Governor. Was that bill something that would have answered some of these issues or no?

Well it’s not the only answer, however it would have been a beginning. But we have children who are locked into failing schools just because they live in a certain zip code and that’s not fair. We crafted a bill that would have helped many young children get a quality education.

We have to think about education from a bipartisan standpoint, and I can truly say that was a bipartisan bill. Everybody wants better schools, but you can’t just talk about it. You have to come to the table and start the communication and negotiation.


TMT: Voter ID. Now, the senate decided not to take that up last year as part of this bipartisan compromise that obviously you were part of. How is that issue tied to Ferguson?

In light of what all hass happened in Ferguson, I’ve heard a lot of people talking about voter registration. It’s all about registration. And that’s all good. But I would like to see a serious push for voter participation. You might have 30,000 people on the voter rolls, however have 15 percent to 20 percent participating in any election and that’s sad. The power is in the vote, and hopefully in November, people will understand that.

Now, I believe everyone should have an ID. But that shouldn’t justify denying the people the right to vote simply because they don’t have a state ID. A student ID should be sufficient. We don’t have a problem with voter impersonation in St. Louis, they are barely coming out to vote, let alone voter impersonation. I think about my Grandmother who was born in 1923. She doesn’t have an ID or a  birth certificate. So basically she can’t vote if the that is the law. If you associate monies or anything like that with voting it is to me, considered poll taxes.

And we fought hard and long to have the right to vote. And now we’re putting obstacles in the way?


TMT: Development is clearly an issue for the poorest communities your discussing. A small faction of liberal extremists in your own party have stated they want to end many economic development projects in the state by harming the tax credit programs you’ve fought for. Describe your fight against them.

We have some tax credit programs in this state that are rebuilding neighborhoods and we shouldn’t tamper with the tax credits that are working to rebuild communities. We need to be increasing the tax credits for low income housing not reducing them, because they are working to help communities like Ferguson rebuild.

You can get in in my car and we could ride around right now, and go and drive in communities here in St. Louis that would otherwise be plagued by crime, drugs, violence and prostitution. But they’ve been rebuilt by tax credit programs. How can you say you’re for helping communities like Ferguson rebuild and grow and then hate the proven tools that bring that growth?


TMT: There’s now a lot of conversations about police, police tactics, and how police use fines. Are there changes, to the law or to the way we do things, that you think should be made?

First of all, we need to find a way, whatever that way may be, to cap those municipal fines that police are giving out all over the place. Because these fines are out of control, and they are made so you get in one bad spot and there’s a domino effect where everything in your life now is harder.


TMT: Is it about padding budgets? There’s obviously been a lot of criticism about using police to fund —

—oh it’s absolutely just padding the budget. And these cops, they aren’t proud of that. There are police in some places in this state are just there collecting speeding tickets funds and that’s—


TMT: — You’re saying some areas police are basically just functions of fundraising.

Yes, a lot of law enforcement officers in many municipalities are more focused on the budget than they are fighting crime. Law enforcement officers are public servants and that’s not putting them to the place where they can do the best.


TMT: So, there have been some efforts made, the governor announced his commission, and Dave Spence on the same day announced a program to train and get people with jobs. What are your thoughts on those efforts?

Now with the commission being so new I’ll say that I’m glad about the goals laid out and it’s stated purpose. But we still have to name people and get it rolling, so for right now it’s hard to sit here and say for certain.


TMT: How about Spence’s announcement?

I think it’s magnificent if he’s trying to train and get people jobs. You need to do both. And you can change dynamics of the community. It’s part of the reason I was involved with the Ban the Box with the mayor. We wanted to not just write people off with felony convictions. That’s somethin I would ask Spence: whether or not he would consider any of those applicants that have felony convictions.


TMT: How strained is the dialogue with police right now in some communities?

It’s very strained, strained to a breaking point if we don’t think things through. We have to do something to curb that tension and ease that tension. I don’t see it happening with people coming out and making inflammatory statements. When the president of when the police association comes out sand says I’m being ‘toxic’ that’s not something that’s easing the tension.

Right now police, the protestors, local elected officials, need to be coming together for a dialogue.

There needs to be dialogue with all of us where we are saying that violence isn’t the answer, that we need to let the grand jury run its course while also preparing for the aftermath of whatever that might be. And then we have to be coming together about these problems, the bigger problems we keep talking about. If we’re resisting violence, if we’re talking about solutions and not attacking and condemning and all this stuff, then that’s what we’re doing right.


TMT: Ok, so the last question, pretty simple. What do you want to say directly to the young people doing a lot of protesting in Ferguson right now?

I would say I know you’re angry and that’s ok. I’m angry too. It’s ok to feel like you’re being attacked for no reason and it’s ok to voice that, so that things are wrong. I would say that it’s ok, it’s essential, to protest.

But I would also say it’s not ok to destroy property or homes or hurt people. I would say that verbally assaulting the law enforcement or hurting law enforcement isn’t going to accomplish something. Mainly I would say that we have to focus on that end game. We need to look and say it can’t ever happen again. We need to say that we’re gonna find this solution. Bickering won’t help, and fighting won’t help.