This is not your momma’s civil rights movement,” said Ashley Yates, a leader of Millennial Activists United. “This is a movement where you have several different voices, different people. The person in charge is really — the people. But the message from everyone is the same: Stop killing us.” The Millennial Activists United group was launched to support Michael Brown after his untimely death at the hands of Officer Darren Wilson. The youth-led group started with Alexis Templeton, Brittney Ferrell, Ashley Yates and Larry Fanells III and they put their lives on hold to battle racist policing in the streets and sexism within their own movement. Ashley told us exclusively in an interview, “You can’t plan for this. We didn’t plan for this. We just saw an atrocity, a tragedy and we reacted.”
They were also among the many who were falsely arrested without paperwork and cause. Yates told us exclusively, “I just got arrested with 12 other protesters on October 2. They definitely put us through the ringer and tried to humiliate us. They put us in orange jumpsuit and they fingerprinted us. They put us through the entire process like we were real criminals and then they held us for 20 something hours. All the while, they spread rumors and told us we weren’t going to get out and that we were going to be held for at least a day and that our bail was at this crazy high amount.” Yates said explicitly that the Ferguson authorities set out to break them. But they have not succeeded.
“Our lives are at risk simply by being. Until they [the police] respect us as human beings and we can show them that Black lives really do matter to us and to the world–when you gun us down–there will be a response that you will not want to deal with so you should stop it, until then we’re just going to keep being out here,” Yates warned.
The tension between protestors and the police in Ferguson is mounting as we all patiently await the grand jury’s decision on whether or not to indict Wilson on criminal charges. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has already declared a state of emergency for the small town in anticipation of Wilson getting off for the murder of Mike Brown and all of Ferguson erupting in passionate protests in reaction to the devastating news.
The media has successfully portrayed a false image of Ferguson protestors as violent looters, however, as someone who’s been on the frontline since the beginning, Yates disagrees, “The protest thing is really just self-preservation. You’re just standing up for your right to live. Once you’re out there, you start standing up for yourself.”
Yates continues, “There’s plenty of different ways to get to the same result, but we have a particular energy, we have a particular passion and we wanted to be able to really cultivate that and not have it stifled, so we created our own organization–Millenial Activists United. It’s in the name, right? Our generation has a unique approach to things, so we just started making moves.”
Ashely and her team realized quickly that reacting to the terrible violence going on in our backyards that leaves our young Black men slain and cops high fiving each other for a job well done is what’s needed. We can’t sit around and complain via social media. We have to be social activists. Ashley warned, “Forming an organization is just freedom really isn’t free. Once you realize that, you have to see if you’re willing to pay the price. And that’s why we’re there night after night after night. We have got tear gas thrown at us, we have gotten rubber bullets shot at us, we’ve had real bullets fly in the air, they’ve turned out the lights on us. We’ve had flares to confuse us. They’ve thrown everything they can at us, but when you realize that the price of your freedom is worth every step that you can take that’s the greatest takeaway to me. We are literally not afraid to die for this as long as we can get free and we will.”
In our chat with Ashley, she debunked the myth that Ferguson protestors and violent and shared valuable insight on the state of Ferguson, as well as what we can do to help. Check out the video above.
Ashley Yates’ Forwarding Message To Young Activists Who Want To Help In Ferguson:
“People have reached out to me from all over the nation to do something and the first couple of weeks, it was really hard. We had all the supplies we needed at the time, so we just started telling them, really just go back home and build. Go back home to people that are as fired up about justice as you are, see the system is not working, and start to do the work there, so that you don’t become the next Ferguson in your hometown.”