Thousands of people gathered across the nation Thursday night for candlelight vigils to remember Michael Brown and others killed in confrontations with police in the wake of unrest over allegations of growing police brutality in the U.S. The peaceful protesters wore red bands on their right arms, shared stories of encounters with aggressive police officers and stood together in silence to honor the dead.
At a gathering in Brooklyn, two young women sat on the floor next to a display of the name "Mike" spelled out in white tea light candles. Across New York City in Harlem, another crowd gathered with candles as four police officers stood on guard, unadorned with the riot gear and other equipment that have caused so much controversy since Brown, 18, was fatally shot by police in Ferguson, Missouri, on Saturday. Authorities have yet to release the name of the police officer who killed him, nor have they said how many times Brown was shot. Brown was reportedly unarmed.
The vigils named the National Moment of Silence by organizers were largely peaceful despite members of the online hacking group Anonymous posting a video on YouTube on Thursday calling for protesters across the nation to demonstrate against police brutality in a "#DayOfRage." "REMINDER: THIS IS A PEACEFUL SHOW OF RAGE; WE CONDEMN ANY ACTION OF PHYSICAL VIOLENCE," read a message posted with the video.
Brown’s death is the latest case to make headlines in an ongoing national debate on police brutality and killings. At least five people nationwide have been killed by police so far this year. Members of Congress asked on Thursday for a probe into the death of Eric Garner, 43, a father of six. Garner, an asthmatic, died in July in a New York police officer’s chokehold after repeatedly saying he could not breathe. Earlier this month, 22-year-old John Crawford III was fatally shot by police in a Walmart in Ohio for reportedly taking a BB gun out of its original packaging and holding it up. On Monday, the Los Angeles police fatally shot 25-year-old Ezell Ford, who was also reportedly unarmed. Last month, 18-year old graffiti artist Israel Hernandez was killed by a police Taser in Miami.
Protests against police brutality broke out across Ferguson soon after Brown's death, with the demonstrations reaching a boiling point Wednesday night when two journalists were arrested and Ferguson police made use of full riot gear to disperse demonstrators, using rubber bullets and tear gas. At least 10 people, including three police officers, have been injured in the protests since Saturday, according to KMOV.
President Barack Obama called Thursday for an open investigation into Brown’s death. "Here in the USA, police should not be bullying or arresting journalists who are trying to do their jobs," Obama said.
As the peaceful demonstrators gathered around the nation to share their own stories of police brutality on Thursday night, no one lost sight of Brown’s death.
"I have never been to a rally before but decided that now was the time to come out," said Imani Hinkson, 22, an intern in Manhattan, at a gathering of about 100 people at Harlem's Morningside Park. "I come because I fear for my future."
The Harlem vigil began with prepared remarks by Feminista Jones, a social worker from the Bronx and one of the organizers behind the nationwide vigil. Jones spoke out about police brutality and described her fears for her son, now 7.
"I am afraid that in 10 years, when he's 17, something will happen to him with the police," she said.
In Brooklyn, the gathering was far less peaceful. It began with demonstrators calling the names of their friends and family affected by police, but quickly dissolved into a shouting match over how to respond to alleged cases of police brutality.
"We need to start organizing armed resistances," said Stacey Muchammad, a 40-year-old filmmaker from Brooklyn. "We keep doing the same thing over and over again and expecting something different to happen. We're not being honest with ourselves that this is a traumatized community."
Deeana Owens, 31, an account manager in Brooklyn, described feeling "racially profiled" while driving a "very nice car."
"It's pain everyone is expressing," she said. "It's feeling helpless. If you can't trust the law then who can you trust? And how do you protect yourself?"
International Business Times writer Matt Schiavenza contributed to this report.