Almost 60 days after 18 year old Michael Brown was shot six times and left for 4 hours and 34 minutes in the street in front of the apartment complex where he lived, the youth of Ferguson, Missouri are not letting their community, state or country forget. Their cries of “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” have echoed across American cities as they press for police accountability in the large numbers of police shootings of unarmed persons of color. Nor are they letting the country forget the militarized response by local and state police agencies to protests that followed Brown’s shooting. After two months, there still is no decision by the county’s grand jury on whether Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson will be charged in the death of Brown.
I joined CODEPINK: Women for Peace, Veterans for Peace and Palestine Solidarity groups in Ferguson and St. Louis for the Weekend of Resistance October 9-12, 2014. The weekend was an important acknowledgement of continuing local community and national concern for police brutality, racism and injustice. Organized by those who daily have challenged police brutality in Ferguson, the four days of solidarity provided an opportunity for persons from around the country to join those on the front lines.
The protest baton in Ferguson is firmly in the hands of the youth of the community. While supported by many of their elders, the spirit and commitment to challenge police brutality has been generated by the younger generation as they take on the mantel of the leaders of the movement. During the sixty days since Michael Brown’s death, they have held a daily vigil, sometimes for 24 hours a day, in front of the Ferguson police station. In the evenings, a larger group forms across the street from the police station with signs against police brutality and in the evening, a larger group crosses the street to stand directly in front of the police station.
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With the killing of 18 year old Vonderrit Myers on October 9, the night before the Weekend of Resistance began, vigils are also held at the site where he was killed on Shaw Street in South St. Louis by an off-duty St. Louis police officer working for a private security company who fired 17 bullets hitting Myers 7 times, including the fatal shot to his head. The police say the off-duty officer felt three youth were “suspicious” upon emerging from a local deli and began following them. The police officer reportedly said that three shots were fired at him and he returned fire with 17 bullets. Surveillance tapes at the deli show him buying a sandwich with no weapon visible. Police say that a weapon that had been fired 3 times was found at the shooting scene.
Many of the youth leaders have been very disappointed by the lack of assistance from major civil rights groups including the Missouri NAACP. They feel they have been carrying the load without much help from organizations they had hoped would have spoken out more strongly and would have provided long-term support to challenge systemic police brutality.
During the Weekend of Resistance, activists joined many actions planned by the youth organizers. On Friday, October 10, despite an intense rainstorm, hundreds marched in Clayton, Missouri demanding that the county prosecutor step down.
On Saturday, October 11, thousands marched in St. Louis challenging police brutality and racism and in the evening marched from Michael Brown’s memorial in the apartment complex where he lived and died to the Ferguson police station.
On Sunday, October 12, 150 women gathered to share stories of social injustice in the St. Louis area. Later in the afternoon, nationally known Hip Hop artists portrayed police brutality and injustice intensely in spoken word and songs. That evening, an interreligious symposium with local and national speakers including Dr. Cornell West culminated with rebellion in the audience in support of youth of the front lines of protest being allowed to speak to the 4,000 person audience. Democracy prevailed when the organizers rightfully changed the program to include the voices of the youth leaders.
Later than evening, the vigil for Vonderritt Myers ended in marches that came together at 1am on the campus of St. Louis University, where Myers’ father is employed. Police attempted to stop the march by blocking the sidewalk on a major bridge leading to the campus, but with the intervention of the National Lawyers Guild, the riot police who had been ominously hitting their police batons on the street in an attempt to intimidate the 500 marchers finally faded away without instigating an incident with the marchers.
With national and international media in St. Louis to cover the protests and the heightened national dialogue on militarization of police, law enforcement had made the decision to keep their military vehicles out of sight. However, heavily armed riot police used pepper spray and tear gas twice during the weekend, once when protesters blocked an intersection at the end of a march in memory of Myers and a second time when marchers blocked the entrance to a local gas station.
On Monday, October 13, religious leaders in the community joined in a “Moral Monday” march to the Ferguson police station. Clergy talked nose to nose with members of the Ferguson police department who were lined up in front of the station. Displaying for the cameras a different image from 60 days ago, Ferguson police had name tags on their shirts and had ditched the hard helmets with visors for a softer look with regular police hats. However, lurking in the parking lot were the ninja turtle riot police fully decked out with padded uniforms with no name tags, black batons, plastic shields, tasers and weapons.
Religious leaders of Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths talked with about 20 Ferguson police officers as they stood in a line in front of the police station. Remarkably, a few of the police officers actually responded to the comments of the clergy and a couple of conversations developed. More remarkably, a several of the conversations ended with hugs between the clergy and the police officers!
However, as one could predict, most police officers stood stone-faced with jaws clenched. They are the ones we hope can be reached to do their jobs with respect for those they serve.
Other actions on Moral Monday included actions at three Wal-Marts in memory of John Crawford, 22, who was killed on August 5, 2015 by police in an Ohio Wal-Mart while carrying a pellet gun sold at Wal-Mart.
Other actions on Monday to remind the community of police killings took place at an upscale Mall, at a Missouri State office and at a political fundraiser.
The Weekend of Resistance was a time for mothers and fathers whose children had been killed by police to get together. Colletta Flanagan travelled to Ferguson from Dallas, Texas. Flanagan’s son Clinton Allen was killed by police last year in Dallas. Flanagan formed a group called Mothers Against Police Brutality and was in Ferguson in support of the mothers of Michael Brown and Vonderrit Myers and other mothers whose children haven been killed by police. Flanagan said, “I’ve seen claims of ‘public safety’ used to justify senseless abuses, including my son Clinton Allen’s murder at the hands of a Dallas police officer. I don’t want the same unaccountable culture of secrecy to protect the agencies using “national security” as a pretext to assault me and my neighbors’ rights. No one’s security required my son to be taken from me, or his life to be taken from him, and no one’s security requires that my government tap my phone or track my use of the Internet.”
Communities around the country will hold more actions for police accountability on October 22, the national day of action against police brutality.
About the Author: Ann Wright served 29 years in the U.S. Army/Army Reserves and retired as a Colonel. She was a U.S. diplomat for 16 years and served in U.S. Embassies in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia. She resigned from the U.S. government in March, 2003 in opposition to the war on Iraq. She is the co-author of “Dissent: Voices of Conscience.”