Fil-Am activist aids tear-gassed journalist in Ferguson protest

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LOS ANGELES – A Filipino-American activist played a key role in the administration of first aid to a journalist who was caught in a cloud of tear gas while he was covering the civil unrest and mass protests that took place in Ferguson, Missouri in the wake of the shooting death of Michael Brown, an 18-year old African American teen who was reportedly shot at least six times by police officer Darren Wilson.

According to reports, Brown was unarmed and had no prior criminal records. However, local authorities claimed that he was a suspect in a robbery that was reportedly committed moments before he was shot to death on August 9.

The Fil-Am activist, the aptly named Kalayaan Mendoza, is a member of Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) and is in Ferguson to represent the organization to encourage peaceful demonstrations. Together with other members of AIUSA, Mendoza wore bright yellow shirts that bore the words “Amnesty International USA – Observer.”

The death of Brown, a black teen who was shot dead by a white police officer, further incensed the debate on racial profiling and discrimination, and sparked numerous protests and mass actions across the United States. But none of those demonstrations have been as violent or as tense as those in Ferguson, where a majority of residents are black.

School has been suspended by local authorities, due to the increasingly violent situation in Ferguson. Police officers have been reportedly injured by flying projectiles, like bottles and rocks. At least two people have been reportedly shot during the protests.

Mendoza, who is based in New York, told Balitang America that he had seen police use smoke grenades, sonic devices, and tear gas in their efforts to quell the riots and disperse the protesters. Other news outlets claimed that police also used rubber bullets against the demonstrators.

Among those caught in the crossfire was a journalist who apparently fell to the ground after police supposedly deployed tear gas canisters towards a group of protesters.

Mendoza, who is a trained street medic, assisted the journalist and provided first aid, together with a nurse and a local resident. As a member of AIUSA, Mendoza also has background in non-violent direct action.

“The situation here in Ferguson, Missouri has been very tense,” Mendoza said to Balitang America during a telecast of the news program, “There have been curfews, and the community has been under attack, and has pretty much [had tear gas running through their neighborhood] since last week. The streets are a pretty tense environment.”

Mendoza added that the protesters in Ferguson are clamoring for justice and accountability for the shooting of Brown, and called for authorities to respect their fundamental human rights to peacefully assemble.

Aside from himself, Mendoza said that there was at least one other Filipino based in St. Louis who is working with one of the major organizations in the area — the organization called Organization for Black Struggle.

Mendoza said to Balitang America that he was not worried about his safety when he was helping the journalist who was tear gassed.

“My first and foremost duty is to support the community and anyone here at the protests. So, my safety was secondary,” Mendoza said.

He added that he focused on the individuals that needed to be taken care of, and that his training enabled him to do so. The Filipino activist also said that he still believes that it is still possible for peaceful protests to be held.

“Peaceful demonstrations have been happening since the shooting. What the media does not report is that there is a very vibrant organizing culture here in Ferguson that have been doing [and have been continuing] non-violent protests to hold the police accountable,” Mendoza said.

Calming down

In a recent correspondence with Asian Journal, Mendoza indicated that the situation in Ferguson may have calmed down a bit since the violent protests.

“It’s rather calm in Ferguson. The police haven’t [used] the same level of heavy handed tactics that they have used earlier in the week,” Mendoza said on social media.

In a phone call with Asian Journal on Friday, August 22, Mendoza said that the activists have sent letters and have had meetings with local authorities urging for a further investigation into the shooting of Michael Brown and the treatment of the protesters of Ferguson.

In the wake of the violence that erupted in the past couple of weeks, Mendoza said that local organizers and the community are helping to rebuild Ferguson and in dealing with the trauma that they have faced throughout this ordeal.

In spite of the turmoil, there is a prevailing sense of optimism among the activists and organizers, Mendoza said.

“I think there’s a lot of hope, especially with the youth leaders. In this situation, this is a pivotal moment in US history that highlight race, discrimination, and policing,” the Filipino activist added.

Mendoza was born in Manila and was raised in California. As a young child, he saw many documentaries and news features about Martial Law in the Philippines, and admitted that he was inspired by Filipino youth organizers to become an activist himself.

“As a Filipino American, I stand with the people of Ferguson because we’ve seen what it’s like to have our people live under martial law in the Philippines. And also, because police brutality also affects Asian American communities,” Mendoza said.

While the Filipino media outlets that have caught on to his work in Ferguson have touted Mendoza as a hero, the 35-year old activist has downplayed his brave act.

“What I did was by no means an act of heroism. The people of Ferguson have always taken care of the community, protesters, and the media whenever the police have used teargas, smoke bombs, and rubber bullets. The people of Ferguson are the true heroes in this struggle,” Mendoza said.

(With reports from Balitang America)

(LA Weekend August 23-26, 2014 Sec. A pg.1)

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