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Lou Dubose: Acts of Human Kindness in Ferguson

August 28, 2014

A Missouri state senator on the ground in Ferguson, practicing brash acts of humanity and truth-telling.

https://www.guernicamag.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/maria-chappelle-nadal-jbouie.jpg
Missouri State Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal.
Image: Flickr user jbouie.

By Lou Dubose
By arrangement with The Washington Spectator.

Maybe state senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal caught your attention when she tweeted “fuck you” to Missouri Governor Jay Nixon earlier last week. Or maybe you saw her more than once in the continuing TV news coverage of the protests that erupted after Michael Brown was shot to death more than a week ago.

Chappelle-Nadal, who represents part of Ferguson, has been a regular presence at the protests on West Florissant Street, so she comes across as a little too eager to step in front of a TV camera.

There’s more to the Democratic senator than you’ll see in the fifteen minutes of cable-news TV fame she clocked since the protests in Ferguson began.

I tried to interview her last week as she stood on the curb near the makeshift shrine to Michael Brown, which sits on the spot where his body lie for more than four hours after he was shot.

She waved me (and another reporter) off, saying we would have to talk later.

Then she turned to a group of volunteers on the other side of the street, suggesting that rather than stacking the food they were delivering on the lawn, they should drop small packages on the doorsteps of the 400-plus apartments in the complex where Michael Brown had lived.

Chappelle-Nadal had lashed out at the Democratic governor, because he was ignoring the desperation of people in Ferguson.

She had enlisted a group of youthful volunteers from the complex and they were ready to work. One of the volunteers told her that residents were regularly lining up for food relief (local stores are burned or boarded up and it’s a challenge to get out in a car), and Chappelle-Nadal apologized.

There’s more to the Democratic senator than you’ll see in the fifteen minutes of cable-news TV fame she clocked since the protests in Ferguson began.

“You’re making it work,” she said. “You don’t need my help.”

Then she turned to talk to a young woman so grief-stricken and angry that she was inchoate. Only when the discussion ended did the senator signal that she was ready to talk.

She had lashed out at the Democratic governor, because he was ignoring the desperation of people in Ferguson while they were subject to brutal overreaction by the police on the street and tear-gassing in front of their own homes. (Chappelle-Nadal had been gassed at the protest.)

“Think about it. Talk to them. They haven’t been respected by any authority.”

“He still hasn’t come down here,” she told me.

“These kids for their entire life have been disrespected, insulted and abused by police. Disrespected by authority,” she said.

“They have no economic opportunity,” she said. “They are barely getting by.

“No jobs. No hope. They are constantly targeted by police for the most minor thing. For nothing.

“These young people are really hurting.

“Think about it. Talk to them. They haven’t been respected by any authority.”

Then she saw that the woman she had been talking to was still standing there.

Chappelle-Nadal turned to her and began a quiet conversation:

“I know you are hurting. They don’t care about us. But we are going to care about each other. We are going to take care of each other.”

With another reporter who was still waiting for an interview, I backed away while the senator and the woman talked quietly for about five minutes.

Then the woman, saying nothing, bowed her head and stared at the ground.

Until Chappelle-Nadal wrapped her arms around her and held her in a prolonged, comforting embrace.

No TV cameras.

Nothing for the record.

Just a genuine, intimate act of human kindness.

Lou Dubose is the editor of The Washington Spectator.

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