Black Women Lead the Way in Ferguson Protests

by Ashley Sakuma for MSNBC

For a time, little more than a few inches of space separated a delicate line between peace and chaos.

Protesters tested the limits of the invisible boundary Friday night, toeing dangerously close to the row of officers lined up to protect the police headquarters here. Warnings from law enforcement officials that they may soon begin arresting people were easily drowned out by music and chants from the thickening crowd. Photographers readied their cameras, waiting for something to pop as demonstrators on the front lines stared down their opponents, leaving little room to breathe.

All except for Shermale Humphrey — she was facing the other way.

While the fallout of a teen’s death at the hands of a police officer focused heavily on the day-to-day injustices incurred by young black men, it’s the women who helped turn a string of protests into a movement, by seamlessly shifting between the roles of peace-keepers, disrupters, organizers and leaders.

In Ferguson on Friday night, Humphrey knew exactly what to do when she saw a young man — barely 15-years-old — struggling to contain the energy and anger building up inside him.

Carving space between a police officer dressed in full riot gear and a 6’3’’ tall teen on edge, Humphrey, a tiny young woman with a slight frame easily lost in a crowd, became the physical shield protecting the two sides.

“She’s got an officer in SWAT gear inches from her, and she’s just says, ‘You know what? Ain’t nobody putting their hands on him,’” Thenjiwe McHarris said of her friend on the protests’ front-lines, recounting Friday night. “Unafraid too. You gotta see there’s so much power in that.”

Photo Credit: Jim Young/Reuters

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