Since the killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown two months ago, protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, have defied a militarized crackdown and taken to the streets to call for the arrest of police officer Darren Wilson, who shot him. Their efforts have made Ferguson the ground zero for the movement against police brutality and racial bias. Democracy Now! was there this weekend when thousands of people traveled to St. Louis to take part in “Ferguson October,” four days of action calling for justice in Brown’s case and the reform of police practices nationwide. “Everybody that we know and love is held accountable for breaking the law,” says activist and actor Jesse Williams, star of the TV show, “Grey’s Anatomy.” “So those who break the law, if they happen to be wearing a blue shirt with a button-up that we paid for, they should probably be held accountable also.” We hear from residents of St. Louis, and from many of the protesters who traveled to Ferguson from around the country. “Everybody here is representing a family member or someone that’s been hurt, murdered, killed, arrested, deported,” notes Richard Wallace, with the Chicago Workers’ Collaborative. Over the weekend, 17 people were arrested in a sit-in at a gas station near the St. Louis neighborhood of Shaw, where protests have broken out since last week when police fatally shot Vonderrit Myers, an 18-year-old African American. Police say Myers fired at them and that they recovered a gun at the scene. But his family claims he was unarmed, holding only a sandwich he had bought minutes before. On Sunday night, Myers’ parents led a march to Saint Louis University, where they held a four-minute moment of silence for their son. Ferguson October organizers say more nonviolent civil disobedience is planned for today.
AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Ferguson, Missouri. Since the killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown two months ago, protesters there have taken to the streets to call for the arrest of police officer Darren Wilson, who gunned Mike Brown down. Defying a militarized crackdown that drew world headlines, the young activists have made Ferguson ground zero for the movement against police brutality and racial bias.
This weekend, thousands of people traveled to St. Louis to take part in “Ferguson October,” four days of action calling for justice in the case of Mike Brown and the reform of police practices nationwide. In addition to protests, the weekend events included an interfaith meeting, civil disobedience trainings, a gathering for women activists and a hip-hop concert featuring Talib Kweli and Dead Prez. Democracy Now!’s Aaron Maté and Messiah Rhodes were there to cover a day of protest Saturday, from a mass march in downtown St. Louis to another protest later that night at the Ferguson Police Department. These are some of the voices of Ferguson October.
PROTESTERS: Hands up! Don’t shoot! Hands up! Don’t shoot! Hands up! Don’t shoot! Hands up! Don’t shoot!
AARON MATÉ: We’re in downtown St. Louis, about eight miles from Ferguson, Missouri, where Michael Brown was shot dead by Officer Darren Wilson on August 9th. It’s two months later, and activists here have organized Ferguson October, a weekend of resistance. And one of the main actions is this Saturday morning march, where hundreds behind me have gathered to call for Officer Wilson’s arrest.
THENJIWE McHARRIS: We have been shown that we cannot trust this country to protect us. So I need y’all to remember that we are community. We are family. This is your people. Keep your people safe this entire weekend.
PASTOR DERRICK ROBINSON: Pastor Derrick Robinson. I’m a local pastor in this community. What’s going on today is that the people of this country, of this “Justice for All,” we’re tired of it’s not being justice for all. And so today we’re here to make a stand, that either we get justice or we shut the street down.
LEW MOYE: My name is Lew Moye. I’m from St. Louis. I’m president of the St. Louis chapter of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists. We have asked for an independent prosecutor in the investigation of the killing of Michael Brown. That’s one of our major demands. We’re also—this situation has shined a spotlight on some other issues in the African-American community, particularly of Ferguson, the economic situation. Ninety-seven percent of African-American males between 19 and 24—I mean, 67 percent are unemployed. So, that’s an issue. The other issue is, that we’re finding in Ferguson and other black cities, a lack of African-American involvement in the governance of those cities. So, those kinds of things are being pointed out by the situation.
DEON BROWN: My name is Deon Brown. We’re here to struggle against injustice everywhere. So that’s why I’m here. I’m here to share in this movement. Mike Brown is me. Mike Brown is my son, you know? Mike Brown is everybody out here who can’t even walk down the street. We’re tired of being harassed.
ALICIA GARZA: Alicia Garza with the National Domestic Workers Alliance. We, as domestic workers, are here to stand up for justice, to stand in solidarity with Lesley McSpadden and her family, to lift up the burden that women of color and immigrant women bear when one of our children is murdered by the police or vigilantes, and, again, to work as hard as we can to make sure that there is not one more Darren Wilson.
CARL DIX: My name is Carl Dix. The police kill black youth all the time, too often. But it usually happens, people get mad, and then it dies down, and they push it under the rug. Here in Ferguson, the youth stood up. They stayed in the streets. They didn’t let tear gas or rubber bullets or National Guard mobilizations or curfews stop them. And because they stood up, it forced the whole country to look at this and even opened it up to the whole world.
PROTESTERS: No justice, no peace! No justice, no peace!
AARON MATÉ: We’re marching down Market Street toward the famous St. Louis Arch. And with people here across the country, organizers are saying that this is their largest protest to date.
TORY RUSSELL: I’m Tory. I’m with the Organization for Black Struggle and Hands Up United. The people came out, and they responded to a call. We told people to come. This is where you bring your energy, and you’re going to take it back home.
LINDA SARSOUR: My name is Linda Sarsour, and I’m here all the way from Brooklyn, New York. So I think that there is an alignment between the devaluing of human life, the occupying of a land of people where they live and where their livelihood is, the kind of lack of remorse that we have for looking at dead babies in a place like Gaza and continuing to justify government actions for people resisting—same thing that we’re doing here in Ferguson, bringing out the military against our own people for resisting a brutal murder of an unarmed young man and the continuing systematic racism that we continue to commit against people of color in the U.S.
HEDY EPSTEIN: Hedy Epstein, and I live here in St. Louis. And I’ve lived in St. Louis since 1961, and I very quickly became aware how racist this city is. It’s probably one of the most racist cities in the United States. And what happened to Michael Brown is not that unusual, unfortunately.
AARON MATÉ: Hedy, you recently turned 90?
HEDY EPSTEIN: Right.
AARON MATÉ: You survived the Nazi Holocaust.
HEDY EPSTEIN: Right.
AARON MATÉ: What keeps you marching?
HEDY EPSTEIN: I guess I can’t stop. I don’t know how to stop. And, you know, I know what oppression is like. As a child in Germany under the Nazi regime, I experienced it. And no two situations are the same, but there are always similarities. And oppression, no matter where it is or who does it and who is at the hands of the oppressor, we’re all the same. We’re one human race.
AARON MATÉ: The protest has marched down Market Street past the St. Louis Arch and arrived at Kiener Park to hear from a series of speakers.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: This is our Freedom Summer.
PROTESTERS: And we will win!
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: This is our Freedom Summer!
PROTESTERS: And we will win!
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Thank you.
ALEXIS TEMPLETON: We get all these young people on these front lines to protest for the—to get out here and protest, you know, for their right to live, the human right to protest, and we get arrested, and we get maced, and we get tear-gassed, and we get rubber-bulleted. And yet, I’ve been arrested three times. I have spent more time in jail than Darren Wilson, and it’s ridiculous. We are sick of it. We are sick of it. We are tired. We are tired, and we want St. Louis to know, in front of this Arch, that we aren’t going anywhere until you stop killing us. You will stop killing us. And we mean that.
AARON MATÉ: We’re here with Jesse Williams, the star of television’s Grey’s Anatomy. Jesse, why are you here in St. Louis?
JESSE WILLIAMS: Because I couldn’t get here sooner, because I had to work, but got here as soon as I possibly could. I think you need to—we need to stand up and show some support for an incredible weekend of resistance, people coming from all over the country to say, “Enough is enough,” and we’re not going to, you know, be strung out in isolation anymore; recommit ourselves to finding unity, finding common ground, finding what’s common to all of us. And that is just a basic, really, desire to be able to survive and not be killed with impunity, to have those who’ve taken an oath serve and protect us to, on occasion, serve and protect us, to be held accountable for our actions. Everybody that we know and love is held accountable for breaking the law. So, those who break the law, if they happen to be wearing a blue shirt with a button-up that we paid for, they should probably be held accountable also.
AARON MATÉ: You’ve used your platform as a celebrity to speak out very forcefully on issues of racial justice. What kind of response have you gotten?
JESSE WILLIAMS: The response that I’ve gotten is right down the middle. I get plenty of negativity. I get plenty of hate. I get plenty of racism. I get plenty of, you know, spiteful, bitter-ass comments. But that was always there anyway, and I get plenty of love and support. Neither one of those are really a factor for me. You know, I was an activist first. I was in the streets of Philadelphia first. I’m with Friends and Family of Mumia, and at Temple University and a public school teacher. I happen to act now. That really has zero to do with my awareness of what’s going on and my giving a damn about human life, about brown life, about disenfranchised people, about indigenous people, about us holding ourselves up to the ideals that we claim to pledge to every day.
PROTESTERS: Fight back! Fight back! Fight back!
AARON MATÉ: It’s just after the main rally in Kiener Park. The protest was supposed to end there, but a breakaway group of demonstrators has decided to keep this rally going, marching now to the St. Louis Police Department headquarters.
MONTAGUE SIMMONS: We don’t want there nothing for four-and-a-half minutes. I need somebody to give me the exact time it is right now. I don’t want a sound for four-and-a-half minutes, and this is for Mike Brown, starting now. Four minutes and 30 seconds, symbolizing the four hours and a half Mike Brown laid on that ground. Don’t forget it. That’s how long he laid on that ground! Don’t forget it! We’re going to march. Put your hands up. Don’t shoot! Hands up!
PROTESTERS: Don’t shoot!
MONTAGUE SIMMONS: Hands up!
PROTESTERS: Don’t shoot!
MONTAGUE SIMMONS: Hands up!
PROTESTERS: Don’t shoot!
MONTAGUE SIMMONS: My name is Montague Simmons. I’m the chairman of the Organization for Black Struggle. We’re actually marching to the new, brand-new police headquarters, that they spent multi-millions of dollars to actually renovate a brand-new building—an older building, even though they had one that was intact over on Tucker. So we’re actually taking it right to their front door.
So, as we approach, we’re going to let the casket come first. And then when we get up there, we’ll get ourselves organized. All right? But this is going to be done in silence.
AARON MATÉ: As we hit the last stretch of this march to the St. Louis Police Department headquarters, protesters, led by this symbolic casket behind me, are marching in silence.
TEF POE: This is the front line of resistance. And I want to say that when y’all see us put our hands up—I see online a lot of times people say, “Yo, why they putting their hands up? That’s to surrender.” This don’t mean surrender [inaudible]. If it meant surrender, I would be at home. That’s surrendering. Surrendering is sitting at home on Facebook telling me that this means surrender. I’m front line. I want thank y’all for coming here, standing with us. When this situation happened, we were regular people. We didn’t know what to do. We just knew we had to do something.
PROTESTERS: Fight back! Fight back! Fight back! Fight back!
AARON MATÉ: It’s nighttime in Ferguson, and just hours after 3,000 people marched in downtown St. Louis, now protesters are back in the streets of where it all began, where two months ago Michael Brown was killed. They’re marching now to the headquarters of the Ferguson Police Department.
Protesters have cleared to the side to make way for Michael Brown’s family, led by his mother, Lesley McSpadden, leading this march behind me.
MELANIE WILKERSON: OK, so my name is Melanie Wilkerson.
AARON MATÉ: Are you from here?
MELANIE WILKERSON: No, actually, I came with a team of mine. We’re from Massachusetts. We drove here 18 hours. And we see ourselves not as leaders trying to come in and make change in the community, but we’re really regarding ourselves as allies and trying to just aid in whatever kind of support the community needs.
RICHARD WALLACE: I’m Richard Wallace for Chicago Workers’ Collaborative. They keep pushing us, pushing us, pushing us far enough, something will break. I think that everybody here is representing a family member or someone that’s been hurt, murdered, killed, arrested, deported, etc., etc., by the country that they supposedly love, you know? So it becomes even harder, because it becomes personal that way, right? Like, we love the country that we live in, but we don’t love the politics that govern it.
HEATHER: My name is Heather. I am from St. Louis.
AARON MATÉ: People came in from around the country for this Ferguson October weekend. What does that mean, as a local resident, to see people coming in to support the struggle here?
HEATHER: It means a lot to me, because this is a nationwide thing. This isn’t just happening in Ferguson. Something needs to change. Things need to change.
PROTESTERS: Indict, convict, put the killer cops in jail! The whole damn system is guilty as hell! Indict, convict, put the killer cops in jail! The whole damn system is guilty as hell!
AMY GOODMAN: That report from Democracy Now!‘s Aaron Maté and Messiah Rhodes. Thanks also to Hany Massoud. And the protests continue in Ferguson and the St. Louis area. Overnight on Saturday, 17 people were arrested in a sit-in at a gas station near the St. Louis neighborhood of Shaw. Protests have broken out in Shaw since last week, when police fatally shot Vonderrit Myers, an 18-year-old African American. Police say he fired at them and that they recovered a gun at the scene, but his family claims he was unarmed, holding only a sandwich he had bought minutes before. The officer fired 17 shots, hitting Myers seven or eight times. On Sunday night, Vonderrit Myers’ parents led a march to St. Louis University, where they held a four-minute moment of silence for their son. Ferguson October concludes today with what organizers say will be more acts of civil disobedience around St. Louis. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. Back in a minute.