BY DAN FEIN
FERGUSON, Mo. — Some 500 people demonstrated here Aug. 16 to protest the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson. Autopsy results released the following day show that Brown, who was unarmed, was shot at least six times, including twice in the head. Eyewitnesses say Brown was facing the cop with his hands in the air.
“It broke the camel’s back,” Garland Moore, who has lived in Ferguson in St. Louis County north of the city for 33 years and works at an area hospital, told the New York Times.
Protests demanding the arrest of Brown’s killer have taken place here daily and the fight has received prominent coverage in major dailies and TV news outlets. Millions have viewed images of a militarized cop response with officers donning camouflage and employing military troop carriers defended by snipers.
The development has given impetus to fights around incidents of killings by police around the country. On Aug. 14, protest actions over Brown’s killing took place in more than 90 cities across the U.S. and beyond. Thousands took to the streets in New York, about 1,000 in Washington, D.C.
That same day Gov. Jay Nixon ordered the Missouri Highway Patrol to relieve the Ferguson cops and put Ron Johnson, who is Black and from the area, in charge. Only three of the 53 Ferguson police are Black.
After withholding the name of the cop involved for six days, Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson identified Wilson on Aug. 15. At the same time authorities released a surveillance video pur-porting to show Brown shoplifting cigars at a convenience store the day he was killed.
A statement from Brown’s family and their lawyers released that day called the video a “character assassination.”
“They released the video to dehumanize us — to justify the murder,” David Royal, 33, who lives near the site of the killing, told the Militant at the Aug. 16 march.
Delores Rich helped lead one of the more popular chants: “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” referring to how Brown was standing when he was gunned down. “It’s not about race, it’s about humanity,” said Rich, a Ferguson resident. “The blood of Michael Brown represents everyone out here,” she said, adding that she also has an 18-year-old son.
Many came from the surrounding region and beyond.
“It got on television and then it got to a point where it felt like it was wrong not to be here and take a stand,” said Anna Readye, who has worked in factories in the area and drove in with her husband from Granite City, Illinois, about 15 miles from here. “My grandson died in the back seat of a cop car in Bloomington, Illinois, two years ago and they never found the cause of death.” Readye is Caucasian; her grandson, Black.
The protest began at noon at the memorial to Michael Brown on 2900 Canfield Drive, where he was shot down, and marched two miles to Greater St. Mary’s Church. The action was disciplined with organized security. Police presence was restrained. A short rally followed featuring Rev. Jesse Jackson.
The QT gas station, which was burned down the day after Brown’s killing, has become a protest and gathering spot on West Florissant Avenue. Hundreds came together here after the march and held another street demonstration with participants directing traffic. Most passing cars honked or made other gestures of support.
Meanwhile, at a news conference inside the church Governor Nixon declared a nightly curfew to “restore peace” from midnight to 5 a.m., pointing to incidents of late-night looting and vandalism.
Demonstrations have continued into the night, as have attacks on police, looting and vandalism by a small group of provocateurs, opportunists and undisciplined youth — which have been met by police assaults, tear gas and rubber bullets.
On the first night of the curfew in a heavy downpour demonstrators were dispersed with tear gas and seven were arrested. One person was shot in a nonpolice-involved shooting, reported the Wall Street Journal.
On Sunday morning Aug. 17 an overflow crowd of some 2,000 people met at the Greater Grace Church to take part in a protest meeting.
“Michael Brown is going to change this town,” said featured speaker Rev. Al Sharpton of the National Action Network. The police have become militarized, he said, they act like they are “at war with the citizens.”
“We are not calling for the federal government to work with local authorities in this investigation, but to take it over,” Sharpton said. He urged everyone to register to vote, saying, “Nobody can go to the White House unless they stop by our house.”
“I am sorry. This is my neighborhood. I will protect your right to protest,” said Highway Patrol Captain Johnson, wearing his cop uniform. “When this is over I’m going to go into my son’s room, my Black son, who wears his pants sagging, wears his hat cocked to the side, got tattoos on his arms. But that’s my baby.”
The same day around 150 cops and their supporters rallied in defense of cop Darren Wilson in downtown St. Louis, the Post-Dispatch reported.
That night, starting around 9 p.m. three hours before the curfew, cops threw tear gas and smoke canisters to disperse hundreds of protesters on West Florissant Avenue. At least seven protesters were arrested on charges of violating the curfew. Two women gave statements to Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment, saying cops pulled them out of their car by the hair.
The next morning, Aug. 18, Governor Nixon announced an end to the curfew. Instead, he said the National Guard will be called out with a “limited mission” — to protect the police command center in the Westfall shopping center on West Florissant.
“We are all frustrated and looking for justice to be achieved regarding the shooting death of Michael Brown,” Nixon said, adding that they will still act to protect Ferguson from looting and other disturbances by “violent interlopers.”
That evening cops fired tear gas at protesters after a small group within a large crowd of demonstrators hurled bottles, rocks and Molotov cocktails at the police. “Some demonstrators, including a church minister using a blow horn, urged crowds to calm down,” Reuters reported. Cops said they came under gunfire later that night. Two people were shot in the crowd; police say they fired no shots. Seventy-eight people were arrested. “At one point, demonstrators formed a human chain to prevent more aggressive protesters from reaching the police line,” reported the Journal.
Some 20,000 people have signed a petition calling for appointment of a special prosecutor to indict the cop who shot Brown.
St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch has been caught lying to protect cops from prosecution. In 2000, for example, he told the public that a secret grand jury had found that “every witness” to the killing of two men in a car had testified that the men tried to run the cops down. But the Post-Dispatch later found that only three of the 13 detectives who testified made that claim — two of whom faced indictment — and four disputed their statements.
In New York, the National Action Network, the NAACP, Service Employees International Union Local 1199 and the United Federation of Teachers have called a march Aug. 23 in Staten Island to protest the cop chokehold killing of Eric Garner July 17. Michael Brown’s parents, Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown Sr., plan to participate.
Protesters here plan to keep demonstrating.
“We got to start to win the little battles and not get discouraged on the road to something real,” Lance Morrell, an unemployed worker in his mid-20s who lives in Brown’s neighborhood, told the Militant.
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