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Long-Simmering Anger Over Police Violence Erupts At St. Louis Forum

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Cary Ball Sr., left, and others from the St. Louis area gathered to speak about their experiences with police at a local forum Tuesday. | Mariah Stewart/The Huffington Post

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ST. LOUIS, Mo. -- It was roughly two hours into the forum on Tuesday night, hosted in a college auditorium by local hip-hop station HOT 104.1, when Cary Ball Sr. decided he had heard enough.

Ball, a large man wearing a plain white T-shirt, gray fitted baseball cap and cargo shorts, was here to attend a discussion about the issues raised in the wake of the death of an unarmed, black 18-year-old in the nearby suburb of Ferguson earlier this month.

Michael Brown was killed by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9. Both the Saint Louis County Police and the FBI are investigating the circumstances surrounding the shooting that ended Brown's life. The Ferguson Police Department wasn't represented on the stage Tuesday night, and many people in attendance were from the greater St. Louis area rather than Ferguson specifically. But everyone in the audience seemed ready to unleash their long-simmering frustration over policing as well as de facto segregation in the greater St. Louis area, which Brown's death has brought into the media spotlight.

Like many people in the crowd, Ball was angry. But he had a particular connection to Brown's death, and it was something that St. Louis Metropolitan Police Chief Sam Dotson said that set him off. After Dotson reassured an audience member that his department would have been more compassionate if Brown's death had occurred in the city of St. Louis, Ball rushed to the edge of the stage, pointing and screaming at the head of the department.

"You lying bro!" Ball shouted. "You ain't called me! I'm Cary Ball Sr. You ain't never called me when my son got shot!"

Ball told HuffPost afterward that after his son was shot to death at the end of a high-speed chase in the city last year, the chief never called him. Unlike Brown, the younger Ball did have a gun. He also reportedly had a violent criminal history. But his family and supporters claim he had already dropped the weapon when police unloaded bullets into the 25-year-old's body.

"They did not let me see my son," Ball said. "When I seen my son, it was when I opened up the casket at his funeral."

Dotson told another family member from the stage that he's met with Ball's family twice. He said he was sorry that Cary Ball Jr. was killed and promised he is trying to improve the department.

Later in the forum, before an overwhelmingly black audience, Dotson made a more general apology about the sometimes strained relations between the mostly black city and its mostly white police force.

"It's not easy for the white police chief to sit here and hear these comments, because I know some of them are true," Dotson said.

Dotson was joined on stage by almost a dozen other people, including a community organization leader, a politician, a civil rights attorney and a rapper who used to be in Nelly's St. Lunatics.

Like the beginning of pretty much any movement, the one that has grown out of Brown's death is a bit disorganized and sometimes lacks a specific direction. Questions turned into stories, which dominoed into more questions, stories and long diatribes.

One man -- who later gave his name as "Brother Ya Ya" -- took the microphone to tell the "affluent-looking" panel members they shouldn't "empathize with your masters."

"I can't say I love white folks for what y'all done to us, but black people that's working on their side, please help us to blur the lines and come together so that we can defeat this system of white supremacy," he said to cheers from the audience.

Another audience member asked St. Louis rapper Murphy Lee, who was seated on the panel, to speak out because he would have the best connection to and understanding of the experiences of young black men in the St. Louis region.

Lee took his opportunity on stage to address issues he felt were tainting black culture. His speech lasted more than 10 minutes, but his message stayed the same. "Don't expect people to care about you, if you don't care about you."

It wasn't only family members of people who have been shot by police who spoke at the forum. One man, 42-year-old Michael Moore, was shot three times in St. Louis City when he was 18. He said he was unarmed and sued, but claimed he was harassed by police until his lawsuit was dropped.

"When I got shot, I was going to the Marines," Moore told HuffPost after addressing the panel. "I was supposed to turn my stuff in, I was supposed to check into the Marines two months before I got shot. Once I got shot, it killed my whole Marine ... going to the Marines. From then on, I'm just trying to live my life, which is pain, doing whatever I can to survive. If I've got to mow some grass, paint some houses, whatever I've got to do to survive, because I'm living every day in pain. I got doctor bills, millions of dollars, so my credit ain't good, because I got doctor bills that I can never pay."

"Ain't nothing been easy in this life, and they made it that way," Moore continued. "They didn't even say, 'We're sorry.' They didn't say, 'Oops, my fault.' So I think I'm obligated to come out here so they don't fuck somebody else's life up, because they fucked my life up. I wouldn't be here right now, I'd be in the Marines like my dad."

Moore said he's been out in Ferguson every night of the protests. A Huffington Post reporter spotted him outside the Ferguson Market & Liquor one night when looting had resumed, trying to order people out of the store. "We out here for a cause, not to steal people's shit," he said at the time, calling the looters "rats."

Moore said he's also upset about the level of black-on-black crime, but said he's particularly upset about "trained people who are supposed to be here to serve and protect" treating people "like dogs" and "like animals."

"So I don't mind dying, if it's gonna make sure that another little boy don't get shot," Moore said. He felt an obligation to be at the protests in Ferguson since "God didn't take" him when he was shot as a teenager.

"I'd die right now," Moore said. "So that's where it is, I guess."

Yashima White AziLove of the broadcasting company Radio One, which organized the event, said in a statement Wednesday that the company's role was to "give the many voices and perspectives of this diverse community a platform to be heard," which could begin a healing or educational process.

"What we experienced at the Radio One Town Hall in St. Louis last evening was the power of the media to give voice to a people who have not been able to express themselves for the past 18 days since the killing of Michael Brown. Furthermore, what we learned during the spirited dialogue is that our forum provided an opportunity for thoughts and emotions to be expressed that had no outlet for over 40 years of unrest," AziLove said.

This article has been updated with comment from Yashima White AziLove of Radio One.

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