A group of protesters attempted to stage a sit-in Wednesday at St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department headquarters. Authorities barred entry into the building and used pepper spray to disperse the crowd, reports said.

Police-escorted demonstrators began their march through St. Louis in the morning, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. Chanting “Show me what democracy looks like” and “Black lives matter,” the protesters walked to police headquarters, where a small group entered the lobby and read a list of demands for department officials. The demands included the immediate dismissal of police officers who have used deadly force and dropping charges against nonviolent protesters.

Protesters also placed “notice of eviction” fliers outside the building, Fox 2 in St. Louis reports. “We are informing you that the police department is scheduled to be reclaimed by its citizens today, December 31, 2014,” the notice read.

St. Louis police officers removed protesters from the lobby and joined together to bar the rest of the crowd from entering the building. Some used pepper spray to push the crowd back. Demonstrators planned to spend four and a half hours outside the building – the same amount of time that the dead body of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown lay in a Ferguson, Missouri, street after he was killed Aug. 9 by Officer Darren Wilson.

The New Year’s Eve protest occurred just days after a Ferguson police spokesman was suspended after he referred to a local memorial to Brown as a “pile of trash.” The spokesman, Officer Timothy Zoll, was placed on unpaid leave. Officials said his comments “do not reflect the feelings of the Ferguson Police Department,” according to Fox News.

St. Louis’ homicide tally reached 159 in 2014, a 30-percent increase from last year and the city’s highest total since 2008, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The names of every victim will be read during the city’s annual candlelit vigil Wednesday night. St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson blamed the rise in part on what he called the “Ferguson” effect – a theory that criminals became more aggressive since Brown’s death at the hands of local police.