By Helen Jaccard and Ellen Davidson
FERGUSON, Missouri–Thousands filled the streets of Ferguson, MO, Aug. 16 to protest the police killing of African-American youth Michael Brown, Jr., Aug. 9 and the harsh police response to subsequent demonstrations. After a week of police using tear gas, flash grenades, and rubber bullets against angry community protests, today’s rally and march, which included supporters from around the country, was nonviolent but spirited.
The initial rally was held right at the site on Canfield Road where Mike Brown, Jr. was shot by Darren Wilson of the Ferguson Police Department.
Rev. Jesse Jackson spoke passionately at the rally, ending with the chant, “Hands up, don’t shoot!” referring to Mike Brown’s words and actions as he was being shot to death.
The crowd then marched to the Greater St. Marks Family Church, where community meetings have been held all week. Along the way, they chanted “What do we want? Justice! If we don’t get it? Shut ‘em down!” and “Mike Brown is our son!” and held their hands up, shouting “Hands up, don’t shoot!” Passersby honked their support and held their hands up in solidarity.
At the church, there was another brief rally, followed by training in nonviolent direct action. Participants were also encouraged to write messages to the family and make chalk body outlines on the sidewalk.
“We believe that we must have peace at home if we are to have peace abroad and we must have peace abroad if we are to have peace at home,” said Veterans For Peace member Ken Mayers, one of many VFP members who came from around the country for the march and rally. “The militarization of the police at home severely inhibits our ability to achieve peace.”
The Ferguson Police Department, meanwhile, released a video allegedly showing Mike Brown, Jr. during a purported robbery at a nearby convenience store right before he was confronted by the police and shot. Police made clear, however, that Darren Wilson was unaware that Brown was a suspect in the robbery at the time he stopped Brown and his friend, Dorian Johnson, for walking in the street and blocking traffic.
In reaction to the video, Rev. Al Sharpton said, “It’s the epitome of an insult to the people of this country that law enforcement smear a young man before we can even bury him.” Mr. Brown’s relatives said that the release of the video was “strategic and aimed at destroying the character” of the victim. Anthony Gray, an attorney for the family, said the video was part of a “sideshow” to distract from the circumstances of the shooting. Although it has been made clear that the alleged robbery and the killing were completely unrelated, the damage to Mr. Brown’s character has already been done.
Rev. Sharpton and the Ad Hoc Committee for Justice on Behalf of Michael Brown have called on Ferguson police to:
- Immediately identify the officer who shot Mr. Brown (finally done)
- Fire the responsible officer and charge him with murder
- Distribute the Ferguson Police Protocol Handbook to the Ferguson community
- Take steps to make the racial composition of the police reflect the racial demographics of the community
Missouri Governor Jay Nixon held a press conference Aug. 16 at the Greater St. Marks Family Church to declare a state of emergency and a midnight to 5 am curfew in “the impacted areas of Ferguson.” In response, community organizers are holding a rally right at the Ferguson city line from 11 pm until at least midnight. In addition, the family has called for another rally and march Sunday, August 17.
See more photos here