Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
We’re in our Spring Fundraiser and you can help! Support KSMU programming today!

Ferguson: Dignity, Poverty, Faith with Mustafa Abdullah

Briana Simmons

A handful of guests joined Mustafa Abdullah for an intimate conversation on dignity, poverty and faith in Ferguson, Mo.  He also discussed key issues surrounding the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson.  KSMU’s Briana Simmons has this report.

People around the world now know Ferguson, Mo as the place where Michael Brown was killed by Ferguson Police officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9, 2014. Since then, many communities, organizations and individuals have rallied for change to prevent similar killings from happening in the future.

Mustafa Abdullah was named one of 21 Kick-Ass Muslims Who Changed the Narrative in 2014 by Buzzfeed after becoming one of the co-founders of Muslims for Ferguson.

“There’s this tension between the world as it is and the world as it should be,” Abdullah said.

As he shared with the audience, it took Adbullah a while to own his identity as an American-Egyptian Muslim. 

When Abdullah began to recall the moments in his life where he was inspired to become an organizer and own who he is, he first reflected on a conversation with an eighth grade teacher about the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

“And out of the goodness of her heart at the end of the class she turned to me and says ‘Mustafa what do Muslims have to say about this?’ I remember thinking at the time that as a 13-year-old I was being asked to represent 1.5 billion people. Thinking back on it I knew my teacher didn’t know how to ask me but she wanted to include me in the conversation,” Abdullah said. 

During this time period Abdullah recalls being a key player on his eighth basketball grade team. During one game, the referee was not making any calls for the fouls against him.

“I remember walking over to the referee at the end of the first half, in front of my coach, and saying ‘Ref where are the calls?’ He said, ‘shut up you big monkey.’ Time slowed down, and my coach got in that Ref’s face and let him know exactly what he thought of him… he ended up being ejected from the game”

Later on in life, Abdullah was called on to give a presentation on an issue from the Muslim perspective.

“I was really nervous because I was being asked to be publicly and proudly Muslim--to actually live out my identity in a public space,” Abdullah said. (16:18)

But, remembering his experiences in eighth grade, he accepted the challenge.

“I needed to stand up for myself. My experience with my 8th grade basketball coach inspired me to say, ‘if that was the first person to stand up for me in a post 9-11 world I can stand up for these people when they’re getting bullied… Gerald was the first one to invite me to live out my values publically.’  At some point I realized I couldn’t ignore this opportunity,” Abdullah said.

Now, Abdullah is the program associate for the St. Louis branch of the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU defines its purpose as “our nation’s guardian of liberty, working daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and laws of the United States guarantee everyone in this country.”

A team of legal observers has been on the ground in Ferguson documenting the interactions of protestors with law enforcement. This documentation is then turned over to an arena of lawyers and attorneys to defend citizens who feel their civil rights have been violated.

When Abdullah heard about the death of Michael Brown he said his honest opinion was a shrug of the shoulders because he felt as though things like that happened on a weekly basis in St. Louis.  That is, until he got to his desk on Monday morning to see hundreds of emails from protestors who said their rights were being violated.

“The response I had in the car is actually a part of the problem. I had become so normalized and desensitized to the rate of violence that’s happening toward black bodies and in black communities. I was a part of the problem,” Abdullah said.

At that moment, Abdullah began his work. Since then, he’s been on the streets as a legal observer, challenging a host of laws that perpetuate these issues, spreading information about knowing your rights when interacting with law enforcement and is part of a team that facilitates conference calls among organizers. 

He said some of the main issues lifted up by this case are police accountability, racial profiling, economic injustice, militarization of police and the war on drugs.

Credit Briana Simmons
Abdullah describes the pictured moment of solidarity for students at Wake Forest.

Abdullah is one of many Muslims to speak in solidarity with the issues facing the black community. He said this unity is reciprocated from the black community when Muslims are hurting.

“That solidarity is what gets reciprocated via relationships.  I think that if people don’t see you at least attempting to understand where they’re coming from and building relationships and being there with them that they may not be standing with you,” Abdullah said.

For more information on Know Your Rights or the ACLU, visit ksmu dot org.

For KSMU News, I’m Briana Simmons.