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National March On Ferguson Draws Huge Crowds, Displays Wide Range Of Viewpoints

Emanuele Berry / St. Louis Public Radio

A crowd of more than a thousand gathered in Ferguson Saturday, responding to a national call to march in memory of Michael Brown.

The huge crowd milled chaotically at first. Then once Michael Brown’s family arrived, the group moved out to the beat of drums and the call of competing chants.

From the street corner where the QuikTrip burned, the crowd marched to the site where Michael Brown died. There, a group wearing black peacekeeper shirts circled the family while an Imam and a preacher prayed.

As the sky opened up and rain began to pour, marchers moved on to a rally point at Forestwood Park. The crowd was so big they filled the streets for a city block.

Credit Emanuele Berry / St. Louis Public Radio
Marchers carry a handwritten sign on Saturday, August 30, 2014 in Ferguson, Mo.

At the park, members of the leadership coalition who sponsored the march listed their demands and called for acts of civil disobedience.

Zaki Baruti of the Universal African Peoples Organization beseeched the crowd to join organizations and register to vote so that they can be part of a push for change.

“This is just the first step towards justice. This is where we’ve got to begin to define our movement. Our movement is not about civil rights. It is about human rights going into the 21st century,” he said.

Akbar Muhammad of the Nation of Islam said that Michael Brown’s death started a movement in America to stop police brutality, but they need to take a page from the civil rights era and keep the movement alive.

“Rosa Parks and those who started the Montgomery boycott, they marched for 381 days until they got victory,” said Muhammad. “And victory is that we make the police force balanced, that we qualify black men and women who will be involved in every police department in this country, and we put a stop to the culture of police cover-up.”

Credit Emanuele Berry / St. Louis Public Radio
A marcher leads the crowd in a chant on Saturday, August 30, 2014 in Ferguson, Mo.

Muhammad called for a boycott of stores as a way to motivate business owners to support their cause.

The leaders first called for a boycott of Burger King, saying that it was based in Florida where Trayvon Martin was killed.

“Whether we decide that they have to pay a price. And then they will get into the government of these cities and make sure that the police force doesn’t abuse our people,” said Muhammad.

Longtime activist Anthony Shahid of the Tauheed Youth Group said it was time for the people to engage in civil disobedience. He called on everyone to stop in the middle of the highway at 4:30 p.m. on Labor Day, and bring traffic to a standstill for four and a half minutes.

He said the time is symbolic of how long the body of Michael Brown laid in the streets. Shahid plans to give authorities a week to respond to the blockade and then repeat it the following week if Governor Jay Nixon doesn’t remove St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch from Brown’s case.

Credit Emanuele Berry / St. Louis Public Radio
A crowd gathers around Michael Brown's memorial. Rev. Raphael Warnock of the Ebenezer Baptist Church said the it was sacred ground.

“First we’re going to meet on Monday,” said Shahid. “If they don’t understand and Bob McCulloch’s not gone, then the following week we’re going to meet on Monday and Tuesday. We’re going to have our flashers on. We’re going to shut the highway down at 4:30 for four and a half minutes. If they don’t listen for a third week, then Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday we’re going to shut it down.”

Shahid also said they should demand a portion of the construction jobs from Barnes Jewish Hospital and the Metropolitan Sewer District.

“If we can’t get it, shut it down,” he said of the two organizations.

More than 10 younger protesters also spoke at the park, coming up on stage to share their experiences with police both before and during the protest.

Dante Carter of Lost Voices said that he had been out on the streets since day one of the protests, and he has been tear-gassed. He said he had been painted by the media as one of the looters, but he hadn’t done any looting.

Darren Sill said he didn’t want to be affiliated with any organization. “I represent the streets,” he said. “We got to start caring about black lives.”

Sill said that the older generations had left his generation to grow up without any fathers.

“We are the monsters who were raised by women when the men left,” Sill said, adding that the older men aren’t the ones getting shot by police.

“We are Mike Brown, not you,” he said.

A few young women also spoke, saying they were out protesting and representing the female voice.

Several of the younger speakers said they didn’t want to talk, they wanted to act. They seemed focused on expressing their anger and marching to the Ferguson Police Station.

Credit Emanuele Berry / St. Louis Public Radio
A man carries a portrait of Michael Brown through the crowd of protesters at the Ferguson Police Station on Saturday, August 30, 2014.

After the larger crowd dispersed from the park, a few hundred marched on to the police station, and protested for a few more hours.

While some preceded beyond police headquarters on South Florissant Road, over 200 marchers stopped to protest in front of the police station.

The demonstration at the Ferguson Police Department eventually spilled out into the street, effectively shutting down South Florissant Road. 

The group that continued to march down South Florissant, beyond the police station, included members of Michael Brown’s family.

The protesters who remained at the police station faced off with officers, who were standing behind yellow police tape in front of the station’s parking lot. Even through the crowed shrunk as time progressed, around 100 protestors continued to voice their frustration to police officers.

Amber Jones was on her way home from the laundromat when she felt compelled to speak her piece to officers and the assembled crowed. She said she felt she had to speak up.

“There is too much injustice in this world,” she said. “There is too much imbalance.”

Like Jones many protesters expressed their grievances to police. Jones said she’s concerned about officers hiding behind the law to commit crimes. 

“I’m not frustrated with police,” She said. “I know there are good cops and bad cops, but I’m frustrated with the hatred that’s hiding behind the badges of some police.”

By late afternoon, the street was partially cleared and traffic slowly trickled through, however some protesters remained.

Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille

Follow Emanuele Berry on Twitter: @emanuelewithane