ST. LOUIS -- The resolve of black youth has only grown stronger in the two months since Michael Brown was shot and killed in Ferguson, Mo. Hundreds of people congregated on Market Street here Saturday and marched through downtown seeking justice, hoping for an indictment of Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson in what was the largest Mike Brown protest in St. Louis.
“A month ago, I would have never thought that this is what it would turn into. I can die today and feel I can be proud,” said St. Louis resident Rockit Ali, 22. “This is the new norm, for sure. This is the most beautiful thing that happened in my 22 years of life.”
Before the unarmed Brown’s shooting, Ali said he barely gave a thought to how police conduct themselves. But the incident caused him to mobilize with others, he said, because he had future generations in mind. “When they’re 22, they won’t stand for the same s--- I did,” he said.
Chants of “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” and “No Justice, No Peace” reverberated through the streets, while demonstrators held signs, one reading “Jail Killer Police,” another reading “Angry White Woman” with an arrow pointing down and yet another reading “Arrest Darren Wilson for Murder!” One protester carried a large papier-mâché figure of a young black man’s head, while two others held up papier-mâché hands of two black hands raised.
The mood of the demonstration Saturday contrasted with that of the protests that erupted in Ferguson after Brown’s death. Those initial demonstrations featured officers clad in riot gear using rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse protesters. On Market Street, authorities kept their distance, and organizers urged participants to be peaceful. The rally was also more organized than the impromptu protests of August.
“They’re still talking about what damage we’re going to do,” a demonstration leader from the St. Louis-based Organization for Black Struggle told the crowd. “We are not going to wage the violence that’s waged by police on this community.”
While protesters were hopeful, those living in St. Louis and Ferguson said they were more fearful of police than they were before the Brown incident, and that anxiety has only grown since Wednesday’s police-involved shooting of Vonderrit Myers Jr. Police said Myers shot at an off-duty officer, but his family and supporters contend he was holding a sandwich, not a gun.
“If I see a cop, I get scared as hell,” said St. Louis resident Brandon Garner, 19, who watched the demonstration on Market Street and said police beat his brother without justification before the August shooting in Ferguson. “The police, they do have anger problems. They approach people with a gun out to their faces without knowing what the situation is.”
The apprehension about cops wasn’t limited to the youths in the crowd.
“I’m always cautious. I’m driving the speed limit, I’m doing my best not to be stopped,” said Aman Lado, a 50-year-old St. Louis resident who grew up in Ferguson. He said he couldn’t count the times he’s been pulled over by police.
White residents also showed their support despite not having the same apprehensiveness toward police. Rachel Voth Schrag, 30, brought her toddler to the protest. “I want him to know we should stand in solidarity with people who are hurting,” said Schrag, who lives in the St. Louis suburb of University Heights. “I think we need to transform racial relationships in this country. We have to break down the institutionalized structures of power and oppression.”
The protesters called for Wilson to be indicted over Brown’s killing. Wanda Brown, a 54-year-old St. Louis resident, said she has participated in many of the demonstrations since August. “There’s a lot of tension, restlessness,” Wanda Brown said. “People are tired of waiting on the grand jury. It shouldn’t take this long to come back without an indictment.” She said she never thought about giving up the struggle. “Got to fight back,” she said. “I’ve been raised to fight.”