The shooting of Michael Brown came as no surprise to Ferguson community member and Webster University professor Bernie Hayes. Hayes, who grew up in Chicago and lived in San Francisco for a time, said he has never seen a city as racially polarized as St. Louis.
“The police can be your best friends but you never argue with the police, because they can kill you,” Bernie Hayes said.
Hayes has repeated this to every class he has taught at Webster University for the past 25 years.
Hayes lives in Florrisant, Mo., only eight blocks away from Ferguson. Hayes has been a part of the community for more than four decades.
“It’s not hidden, [racists] don’t try to hide it. If they like you, they like you. If they don’t, they don’t, and they usually don’t like you for your color, sexual orientation or religion in some cases,” Hayes said.
Ferguson’s population is 26 percent white and 67 percent African-American. Of the 53 police officers in the Ferguson Police Department, only three officers are African-American. Out of every ten traffic stops, nine residents are minorities, eight being black, and one white, according to the Racial Profiling Report of the Missouri Attorney General’s Office.
“Officers, male or female, are just people, they have prejudices too,” Hayes said. “They have the same ignorance as everybody else. They are just people, and sometimes that anger and those prejudices will come out, and you’re dead.”
Hayes is a media communications professor at Webster University. He also hosts ‘The Bernie Hayes Show’ on local channel KCNL 24 since 2009.
On Sunday Aug. 31, Hayes hosted a show about the shooting of Michael Brown. He discussed racism, specifically in St.Louis, with African-American leaders, including activist Percy Green.
Green became widely known as an activist when he climbed the ladder that scaled the Gateway Arch in 1964. Green protested thecity for using federal money to build the monument without blacks getting a fair share of the contracts or the job. He demanded that the construction of the arch provide 1,000 jobs for African Americans.
Issues concerning wages and job opportunities for African-Americans were discussed during the Aug. 31 show. Green talked about the younger generations making more money than the older citizens in African-American community. He said the majority of jobs ask for specific educational standards before employment.
“There is job training…here on the home front you need a PHD to get a job,” Green said.
Hayes said it was time for St.Louis to take a stand over the racial issues in the community. He explained that in 1968, when Martin Luther King was assassinated, St. Louis was the only city with an African- American community that didn’t erupt while other cities across the nation with African communities took part in civil disobedience.
Q: Can you relate what is going on in Ferguson concerning the killing of Michael Brown to your class at Webster University?
A: All my classes, if you ask any student in the past 25 years I have worked at Webster, I will always tell them the police can be your best friends but you never argue with the police, because they can kill you. And I tell every class that… it is not just relevant to Michael Brown but it is relevant to everyone in the African American community. It is not just Michael brown but it is any person of color or in the minority.”
Q: Can you explain to me why you choose to say that to your students?
A: I live it everyday, I’m an African American male. I know the dangers of being in place where I don’t belong or am not wanted…Often times I am wearing a suit but I am just a black man, And people have been taught to hate black males. And some people are taught to hate black people in general. It is just ignorance. They don’t know we are just people, from childhood they are taught that we are the enemy. Police officers have the power to do anything they want to do, some exercise it fairly and others do not. Officers, male or female, are just people. They have prejudices, they have the same ignorance’s as everybody else. They are just people,and sometimes that anger and those prejudices will come out, and you’re dead.
Q: I know you have lived in St. Louis, Chicago and San Francisco. I was wondering, from someone who has been around the states; do find St. Louis harder for the minority to live in than other places you’ve been?
A: Much harder. St. Louis is such a racially polarized area, not just the city of St. Louis but the entire metro area, both sides of the river. It’s been this way since I’ve lived here. I’ve been here 45 years, I’ve never seen a city as racially polarized as this.
Q: Can you explain why you see St. Louis as more of a racially polarized place than the other places you’ve lived?
A: It’s not hidden, they don’t try to hide it. If they like you they like you, if they don’t they don’t and they usually don’t like you for your color, sexual orientation or religion in some cases.
Q: How do you feel about people around the community coming together for this issue?
A: I think it is great. It is time to bring focus to this situation.
Q: Do you feel that the Michael Brown protest is a step up for the injustice in the community? Do you think it will make progress or not?
A: It is going to make progress …Wilson killed this young 18 year old boy, people say this is enough, it is time to take a stand and it is happening all throughout the country. Black folks are getting killed and nothing has been done about it. There has been very little press attention, and it happens all the time. Black kill blacks all time but white kills white all the time; it is no excuse to be shot in the street. They said perhaps he charged the officer, what fool would believe an unarmed African American man would charge an armed police officer, that is ludicrous.