The Mike Brown shooting resonated deeply with 15-year-old Robernae Perry. It was the second time her childhood was shaken by a police killing of someone in her community. In both deaths, there were no consequences for the police officer.
“It’s going to keep happening if we don’t remember it,” Robernae said. In the months since Brown's death on Aug. 9, many teenagers in his hometown of Ferguson, Missouri, have asked themselves: Could it have been me? For Robernae, the question is particularly haunting because she had lived through a similar shooting before.
Until last November, her family lived in a section of Champaign, Illinois, a two-hour drive from Chicago, plagued by gang violence, according to Robernae. There was little sense of security. A year earlier, a neighbor was shot two blocks from her house.
It was back in 2009 that Robernae's friend Kiwane “Lil Tez” Carrington was shot by a police officer. The teenager was locked out of his grandmother’s home and was trying to get the keys to the house by climbing through a window. A neighbor reported a burglary and an officer arrived on the scene and shot Kiwane in the back, Robernae said. Police told a different story -- that Kiwane was in a struggle with the police officer when he was shot. The officer wasn’t charged after authorities classified the shooting as an accident.
Robernae's family moved to Ferguson last year hoping to escape such conditions. Robernae's mother, Anitra Davis, who has five children ranging in age from 15 to 22, was attracted by the decent public schools. They are one of 5,000 families in Ferguson, population 21,000, according to 2010 Census data.
But life in Ferguson has been far from bucolic, Robernae said. The largely black population is ruled by a nearly all-white government. While she said she doesn’t fear the police in the St. Louis suburbs, she said friends in Ferguson “will treat the police differently. If they come close, they’ll just walk away. .. I have friends that have been stopped for no reason.”
After Brown’s death in August, Robernae wrote a poem titled “Canfield Fire,” named after the Ferguson street where Brown was shot and killed by Police Officer Darren Wilson. In the middle of the street, a memorial still stands for Brown piled with candles. “I wrote the poem because the incident that happened to Mike Brown also happened to my friend in Illinois,” Robernae said.
Robernae and her mother participated in the massive protests that unfolded after Brown was killed. “As a parent, my heart went out to his parents because it could’ve been my children,” said Davis, 38.
As a Christian, Robernae said she believes God is watching over her, ensuring she will not face the same fate as Brown. “I have no fears,” she said.
It’s a mentality shared by her mother, who said her children still respect police officers. "We’re covered under the love of Jesus. As long as God is on your side everything will be all right,” said Davis.
Robernae said she views police as "people, just like we are," and that others shouldn't paint either law enforcement or the protesters who supported Brown in sweeping generalizations. “Everybody should try to understand that not all white cops are racist and not all black people are gangbangers," she said. "I think the world would be much better than it is now.”