Kids grapple with Ferguson shooting

A girl stands over a makeshift memorial near the site where unarmed teen Michael Brown was shot dead in Ferguson, Missouri August 22, 2014.

FERGUSON, United States - Six-year-old Elijah grabs hold of a reporter's microphone, faces the video camera, and sums up the news that has deeply shaken his neighborhood.

"It was a very bad day over there," he said, looking over to the spot where unarmed black teenager Michael Brown was fatally shot six times by a white police officer.

"I did not like it, and it was very very bad. I had to stay home from school and today they blocked the street. They killed a young boy. Right there. On the street."

It's tough enough for adults to come to grips with a police shooting that has suddenly turned this St Louis suburb into a focal point for a fresh debate on race and law enforcement in 21st century America.

But it's no less perplexing for children whose first two weeks of school have been cancelled amid ongoing street protests that have frequently turned violent.

Many youngsters will remember these hot, humid late summer days as the first time they heard tear gas and rubber bullets used to disperse crowds, or the first time they followed their parents to a protest march.

Teachers huddle

This past week, teachers, counsellors and school personnel in the St Louis area have discussed how best to respond to their students' trauma, once classes resume.

In the Riverview Garden school district that includes the residential neighborhood where Brown was shot, teachers have been instructed not to let the incident become a subject of classroom discussion.

Students wanting to talk are to be steered instead towards social workers and counsellors, the St Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper reported.

On a lush green lawn along Canfield Drive, where a makeshift memorial marks the spot where Brown fell, children found another way Friday to express themselves.

There they found crayons, colouring pens, sheets of paper and some blank white face masks, plus the encouragement of adult volunteers, to create whatever they wished for a collective artistic narrative.

The resulting eight-foot (2.5 meter) "story wall" ran the gamut, from incongruous cutouts of basketball stars and sports cars to the words "I believe that we will win" scrawled in crayon beneath a orange and purple heart.

Aware of parents' fear

"Oftentimes, with kids, I've found that they sort of have a comprehension of what's going on, and they know that adults are afraid," said Elizabeth Vega, a St Louis artist who often works in schools and detention centers.

"But they process grief through playing and short verse. This is to allow them to express (what they feel) in a way that is safe and transcends language," she told AFP.

"You can see it come out in the masks," Vega added, gesturing towards one example that a young girl had decorated with red glitter.

"You know, to me, that's like blood," Vega remembered the child as saying.

Nearby, June Glover, associate minister at the Liberation Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in St Louis, took her turn manning an all-day walk-in counseling centre.

She said it's critical to allow kids a safe space in which to vent their feelings.

"Just really talking, and allowing them the space to talk and to vent - and being OK with it," she told AFP by way of prescription.

Glover also recommended getting a punching bag, which could prove beneficial to adults as well: "Hopefully, when they see their kids angry, they'll check themselves."