More than 50 people were arrested in a series of peaceful rolling protests in the St. Louis area on Monday, staged to draw attention to police violence more than two months after a white officer killed an unarmed black teenager in a local suburb.
Several dozen protesters — many of them ministers and activists from out of town — were arrested in the pouring rain in civil disobedience acts in Ferguson, the suburb where Michael Brown, 18, was shot dead.
Throughout the day, other groups occupied St. Louis city hall, shut down two Walmarts, chanted outside a fundraiser for a local politician, and unfurled banners reading “black lives matter” at a St. Louis Rams football game.
One person was arrested at St. Louis city hall, police said, and a Reuters witness saw three more people arrested as 150 protesters chanted at the Walmart in the small inner suburb of Maplewood.
“This is a historic day,” said Mervyn Marcano, a spokesman for “Ferguson October,” four days of protests culminating on what organizers call “Moral Monday.”
Over the weekend there were marches, rallies, vigils and teach-ins in Ferguson and St Louis and organizers livestreamed events to show that there was no violence or looting.
Drenched in a deluge of rain, protesters chanted “Wade in the Water” and other spirituals and civil rights anthems as ministers of different faiths kneeled on the wet pavement before a line of state troopers in Ferguson. In a carefully choreographed demonstration the activists slowly broke the police line and forced police to arrest them.
“I’m taking a step forward now. I’m not resisting arrest. I’m going to step forward. I demand to meet with Ferguson authorities. I want to demand justice for Mike Brown,” said Communist Party representative Carl Dix as he breached the line and got arrested. He was released later in the day.
Other activists and ministers prayed and preached to the troopers.
Demonstrator Aaron Burnett, 45, said he saw two troopers get emotional during the civil disobedience act.
“We had a couple police officers crying. You’ve got pastors in front of you and people praying and they were feeling that,” said Burnett, from the Organization for Black Struggle.
Apart from some brief moments of pushing, the police were restrained and even chatty, and they did not face a barrage of insults and thrown objects on Monday as they have in other protests in Ferguson.
Local and national clergy, civil rights groups, activists and community organizers were helping lead the demonstrations, which they said were aimed at drawing attention to what they say is police mistreatment of blacks, and building momentum for a national movement against police violence.
Numerous protests have been held since the Aug. 9 killing of Brown, by white police officer Darren Wilson. Tensions escalated last week after a white officer in St. Louis shot and killed another 18-year-old black man, Vonderrit Myers Jr., last Wednesday. Police say Myers fired at the off-duty officer and that they have recovered a weapon for the scene.
A grand jury is considering charges against Wilson, who has been placed on administrative leave. Protesters want Wilson arrested immediately and have called for the appointment of a special prosecutor. The U.S. Justice Department has launched a civil rights investigation into Brown’s death.
“The weekend has been incredible to help re-energize those of us that are here,” said Ferguson Democratic Committeewoman Patricia Bynes. “The message is getting out there.”
People of many races and backgrounds participated in the protests.
“I believe in my black brothers and sisters and the fact they feel they are threatened by the police and that racial profiling is going on,” said Brenden Graczak, a 22-year-old white man from St. Louis who joined the demonstration at the police department.
(Reporting by Fiona Ortiz; Additional reporting by Jim Young in St Louis and Carey Gillam in Kansas City, Missouri; Editing by Peter Cooney, Lisa Shumaker and Richard Pullin)