Nat’l convergence in St. Louis, Ferguson: People resist police terror
St. Louis, Mo. — An unprecedented weekend of mass resistance took place in St. Louis, Ferguson, Clayton and other parts of Missouri on Oct. 10-13. Many actions demanded an end to police terror and for real justice for Michael Brown, John Crawford III, Vonderrit Myers Jr. and countless others who have lost their young lives at the hands of the police.
Initiated by local activists united under the theme of Ferguson October, the extremely organized, creative, disciplined and inspiring actions — some planned, some spontaneous — reminded Missouri, the U.S. and the world that the police murder of 18-year-old African-American Michael Brown on Aug. 9 will continue to be a major catalyst for building a national movement against police abuse and occupation.
The four days of resistance included marches, rallies, civil disobedience, forums, picket lines, assemblies and cultural events that erupted throughout St. Louis County. One of the first protests took place Oct. 10 in Clayton at the office of Robert McCullough, the county district attorney. McCullough comes from a cop family and is currently conducting the grand jury investigation to determine whether police officer Darren Wilson will be indicted for Brown’s murder. Brown’s family and their supporters have been demanding that McCullough recuse himself from this investigation — due to his well-documented bias against Black people — and be replaced by an independent special prosecutor.
One of the culminating activities that occurred on Oct. 13 was the dramatic unfurling of a banner in the stands during the pro-football game between the St. Louis Rams and the San Francisco 49ers. The banner read: “Rams fans know that Black lives matter on and off the field.”
“Black lives matter,” “No justice, no peace,” “Stop killing our people” and “Arrest Darren Wilson” were major demands for many of the protests. The largest mass action took place on Oct. 11 when 3,000 people took to the streets of St. Louis in a Justice for All march. Delegations representing labor, youth and students, community groups and the political movement all came together with a common sentiment: Enough is enough, as the racist war against youth of color worsens. The march ended in a park in front of the famous St. Louis Gateway Arch, which ironically is the exact site where at one time kidnapped Africans were sold during slave auctions.
Speakers, many of them young and African American, stated that they have spent more time in jail for protesting than Darren Wilson has for killing Brown. Links were made between police brutality and the need for union jobs and decent education for young people.
Solidarity between the Palestinian people in Israeli-occupied territories and Black communities being occupied by police was echoed by several speakers. It was publicly acknowledged that #FergusonOctober was the most retweeted site in the world that day, numbering over 91,000 tweets.
The families representing Brown and Myers thanked the marchers for their support.
John Crawford was fatally shot at a Walmart store outside Dayton, Ohio, on Aug. 6. A student activist from Ohio stated to cheers that in response to the grand jury not indicting the cop who fatally shot Crawford, the Beavercreek Police Station was recently shut down by activists. On Oct. 13, three Walmart stores were shut down in St. Louis and Ferguson by activists chanting, “I am John Crawford/We are John Crawford.” The action, mobilized by the Organization for Black Struggle, resulted in arrests inside and outside the stores.
Ferguson march led by Brown family
Just hours after the march in St. Louis, an estimated 1,000 people gathered in Ferguson for a brief vigil at a memorial set up at the exact place where Michael Brown had been gunned down in the Canfield Gardens apartment complex. Brown’s mother, Leslie McSpadden, and other family members helped lead a militant march down West Florissant Avenue, a flashpoint for the Aug. 10 uprising, to the Ferguson Police Department located on South Florissant Road.
As we were marching in the streets, a multitude of drivers honked, their fists outside their car windows, to express solidarity. Residents came out of their houses to give the “Hands up, don’t shoot” salute, which has become a clarion call for this struggle.
The protesters were met by armed police blocking the entrance to their fortress. But no amount of force could intimidate the marchers from getting right in the faces of the majority-white police force, chanting “Arrest Darren Wilson!” and “Hands up, don’t shoot!” We then sat in the street for several minutes in an act of civil disobedience.
Following the march, hundreds of the same protesters went back to St. Louis to express their outrage at the killing of 18-year-old Vonderrit Myers Jr. by an off-duty police officer on Oct. 8. Myers was shot at 17 times and was hit at least six times. Countering the account by the police that Myers had a gun, eyewitnesses say he had just bought a turkey sandwich. The protest ended at the Quik Trip gas station in The Grove section. When an estimated 50 protesters held a sit-in there, they were attacked with pepper spray and other forms of violence by the police. At least 10 people were arrested.
Moral Monday Oct. 13: ‘No business as usual’
Progressive clergy and faith-based people started day-long actions of civil disobedience on Oct. 13 in the tradition of Moral Monday protests that took place in North Carolina. There, hundreds were arrested over the past year challenging the ultra-right-wing, racist, anti-worker policies of the state government.
In addition to the shutdown of the three Walmart stores, 400 people marched from a local church to the Ferguson Police Department, where 10 people, mainly clergy, were arrested. Individuals took turns lying down on a symbolic chalked outline of Brown’s body. The police allowed his body to remain in the street for at least four hours after the murder on Aug. 9.
Participants from Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment and Ferguson October protested outside a fundraiser for Steve Stenger, the County Executive candidate known for close ties to supporters of Darren Wilson and DA McCulloch.
Despite a downpour, a coalition of labor and community members were arrested after blocking the street in front of Emerson Electric. This Fortune 500 company, based in St. Louis, had revenues of $24.6 billion in 2013, while the average per capita income in Ferguson last year was $21,000.
“We are calling attention to the economic injustice we live with in Ferguson,” said Jermaine Arms of Show Me $15. “Justice for Mike Brown means justice for all of us. This should be a moment where we all take responsibility for the conditions that his death exposed. Businesses and corporations based in Ferguson and St. Louis should promote fair employment and contribute to the well-being of our community.”
Millennial Activists United, a youth group, occupied two floors of Plaza Frontenac, an upscale shopping center in downtown St. Louis, where they engaged in a call-and-response choir demanding justice for Michael Brown.
Brittany Ferrell, a spokesperson for MAU, stated: “Young people are being killed by police in the streets of Ferguson. We came here today because we cannot continue with business as usual in the face of such injustice. Whether it’s the elected officials of our cities, the local police or places like Plaza Frontenac — we will continue to sound the alarm and demand justice for the family of Mike Brown. This needs to stop.”
Youth Activists United protested at St. Louis City Hall to demand that Mayor Francis Slay, the Board of Aldermen and Police Chief Sam Dotson make sweeping police reforms. Protesters were arrested attempting to unfurl banners from a balcony.
Youth Activists United are demanding: Body cameras must be worn by ALL police officers who have any interaction with the public; a civilian review board be chosen by the citizens, not by mayoral/police-approved appointees; removal of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department from the 1033 Program, a federal law that allows for the militarization of local police; and independent investigations of all police shootings resulting in fatalities, starting with Vonderrit Myers.
All quotes can be found at fergusonoctober.org, where summaries and video clips of many of the activities are also located.