Ferguson, the Missouri suburb that will forever be stained with the blood of an unarmed black teenager who was gunned down by a white police officer on a blistering hot August day, was freezing.
The crowds that lined the streets in late summer were gone. The stores — businesses divided on whether to trust a community after an eruption of protests led to broken windows — were boarded up with thin, beige plywood. A layer of dusty snow — snow that blew into the neighborhood just a week before a grand jury elected not to indict Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown — was stuck to the soil. The wind that was so stale, stagnant, and full of frustration just months before, was active in the November afternoon, whipping the prints of hands artist Damon Davis took the night before into a tornado of paper — wind that sent Davis and his fellow activists scrambling to weigh down the posters he was using to beautify the empty streets of Ferguson.
The All Hands on Deck movement was born.
The project began in Ferguson a mere six days before the grand jury decided whether to indict Officer Wilson after the killing of Brown. As residents of Ferguson and St. Louis, Missouri braced for the announcement, Davis executed a community beautification project on West Florissant Avenue, the main site of ongoing protests. Davis said he felt strongly that the universal symbol of the hands would unify residents and storefront owners and send a clear message to the world that West Florissant Avenue was not a war zone, but a neighborhood. Although the violence and crime during protests had been minimal, the protesters had been misrepresented as violent and destructive — a representation that has led to their subsequent criminalization and dehumanization.
A small team quickly formed under the direction of Davis — within 24 hours the hands of local leaders were photographed and the project was named “ALL HANDS ON DECK” to signify the coming together of protesters, artists, community members, and storeowners in a single call to action.
On Wednesday, November 19, the team spoke to as many storeowners as possible, getting permission to post large images (3’ x 6’) on their boarded up windows. Over 150 large photographs went up along West Florissant Ave. Within minutes of posting the images, reporters showed up and began reporting on “a good news story in Ferguson.”
By day’s end, cans of glue and evaporated milk littered the ground around Ferguson Market. Dellena Jones, a beautician at the local 911 Hair Salon, had come out of her shop to watch the St. Louis-born artist transform a scrap of paper into a “We’re Open” sign for her — a payment in exchange for plywood space to glue an image of a pair of hands on her window. Down the road, a storeowner who remarked the price of broken windows was upward to $5,000 ripped Bud Light promotional posters from his walls to make space for Davis’ creations. All along West Florissant, the road perpendicular to the street where Brown was killed, doors, walls and windows were dotted with images of hands in a surrender position taught to young black girls and boys as a survival tactic — hands that “helped mold and uphold the movement to obtain justice and fight police violence.”
Just days later, a grand jury announced Wilson would not be charged for killing Brown. Some of those buildings were vandalized. Others, images of hands swaying from the wood in the winter wind, are still standing. And Davis, who said he created the project both to enhance the streets that were boarded up in misplaced fear and as a call of action to those who stand against police brutality, was inspired to keep the #AllHandsOnDeck movement going.
“I tell stories that speak to the human experience,” Davis said. “The hands you see are images I have captured of people who have shaped and upheld this movement. The people’s movement. It is our right — to be seen, to be heard…to be validated. It is our collective responsibility. The ‘All Hands On Deck’ project is an ode to that diverse collective dedicated to protecting our human rights, no matter race, age or gender. ‘All Hands On Deck’ is our charge – a call of action to stand with those who stand for us all.
This week, Davis took his project across the country, vowing to make All Hands On Deck a movement that encompassed police violence nationwide. For Davis, standing in solidarity with those in New York following the non-indictment of the police officer who placed Eric Garner in a fatal chokehold was just what this project was about — extending the hope and sustaining the fight to end state violence.
“The beauty, the art, and the culture…that’s why I came out here. I thought it was only right, especially coming here to show solidarity with the family of Eric Garner and the people of New York,” Davis said about his decision to use Harlem as the resurgence for the project.
“It’s been the universal thing that people rally around. It’s something easily identifiable. When you see those hands, you know exactly what it means at this point and if you don’t, you’ve been living under a rock.”
Before Harlem, Davis shared his images with New Jersey. Just recently Davis visited Boston to expand the movement. Now, he’s asking people around the country and world to get involved with the project by putting up the images in their town in solidarity with this worldwide movement, having made the print files available for download at allhandsondeckproject.org.
In addition, Davis is also doing a limited edition run of 10 hand-numbered and signed prints of the project mounted to wood. These pieces will go for $1,500 and a considerable portion of the proceeds will go to Ferguson Action, to be distributed among organizations on the ground in Ferguson and in St. Louis to sustain efforts of change in this movement.
For more information on Davis and the All Hands On Deck Project, click here. To witness Davis’ first installation of the project, check out the video below: