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Journey For Justice Marchers Reach Jefferson City

Marshall Griffin/St. Louis Public Radio

Roughly 100 people marched the final miles into Jefferson City on Friday to protest the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson and the decision by a grand jury not to indict former police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting.

The marchers trudged down U.S. Highway 50 Friday morning east of Jefferson City during a steady rainfall.  A small group of counter protesters stationed themselves at an overpass along the Journey for Justice marchers' route, but there was no confrontation like there had been on Wednesday in Rosebud.  

When they reached the State Capitol downtown they were met by about 300 more supporters, who cheered and chanted "hands up, don't shoot" as they made their way inside.  The wet weather forced organizers to move the rally inside the Capitol Rotunda. It had originally been set to be held at the Lewis and Clark monument between the Capitol and the Governor's Mansion.

Cornell Brooks, national president and CEO of the NAACP, told the crowd that despite his status as a Yale-educated attorney who clerked on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, he experienced the same racial profiling that other African-Americans regularly face.

"I have been stopped and (racially) profiled, and had a police officer pull his gun on me!" Brooks told the audience.  "Class will not protect you from your race...being older will not protect you from the indignities visited upon those who are younger."

Brooks continued, with his voice increasing in volume: "If you're 15 years old, you're 16 years old, 17 years old, 18 years old, or 19 years old, or whether or not you're 30 years old, or 40 years old, or 50 years old, we are all in this together!"

Credit Marshall Griffin/St. Louis Public Radio
Roughly 400 people crowded into the Capitol Rotunda for Friday's Journey for Justice rally.

  The crowd roared their approval, often breaking into chants of "Hands up! Don't shoot!" and "This is what democracy looks like!"

But the audience listened silently as Brown's mother, Leslie McSpadden, addressed them.  She began by thanking them for their support.

"We've watched this play out unfairly and nontransparent for months," McSpadden said.  "We are all citizens, and what (Darren Wilson) did that day to my son was not right, it was very wrong...I want him to be held accountable for what he did."

McSpadden finished, her voice breaking, "our lives matter."  Many in the crowd applauded and shouted, "we love you!"

In addition, Brooks blasted the grand jury's decision not to indict the former Ferguson police officer for fatally shooting Brown.

“This family deserves a serious grand jury process…Darren Wilson should be charged and held accountable for his crimes," Brooks told reporters after the rally.  "We have a young African-American male who was, at worst, at the beginning, suspected of jay walking, yet he ended up dead…we need answers."

Brooks also criticized Governor Jay Nixon's decision not to appoint a special prosecutor in the case.  Brooks and other NAACP leaders met with Nixon on Wednesday and said they had an "active, engaged, and full-throated discussion" over several issues related to Brown's death and the unrest that followed.  But he also said it would have been great if Nixon had attended the rally.

Governor Nixon was on the campus of Missouri Southern State University in Joplin at the time of the rally, calling on lawmakers to pass legislation next year to help fund construction projects.  In a press release issued Friday, he said that he's "confident that together we can make meaningful change to address the challenges underlying the events in Ferguson, and build a future of greater peace, opportunity and fairness for all."

NAACP leaders also met Friday afternoon with Mo. Attorney General Chris Koster, who released the following statement:

"I appreciate these leaders for taking the time to meet with me after their week-long march to Jefferson City to highlight the need for reform following the death of Michael Brown and the unrest in Ferguson.  We discussed a full range of concerns regarding the Michael Brown case and its aftermath. While we did not agree on every point, I believe common ground exists to bring progress in areas such as body cameras for police officers, reform of municipal courts, and increasing minority participation in urban law enforcement agencies.  My hope is that Journey for Justice participants continue to make their voices heard as we search for ways to strengthen the trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve."

Credit Marshall Griffin/St. Louis Public Radio
A smaller group of masked demonstrators at the Journey for Justice rally, who were not officially part of the rally. Some of them tried to take the stage to speak, but were turned away. After the rally, around 50 of these demonstrators briefly blocked traffic at a downtown intersection across from the Cole County courthouse. They dispersed after they were threatened with arrest by local police.

At one point during the rally on Friday, some demonstrators who were not officially part of the NAACP group attempted to take the stage.  After the rally, they blocked a downtown intersection across from the entrance to the Cole County courthouse, about three blocks away from the Capitol.  Captain Doug Shoemaker with the Jefferson City Police Department says the group, some of whom were wearing Guy Fawkes "anonymous" masks, dispersed after being threatened with arrest.

"They have been adequately warned, and have been told that the next time they make some sort of violation or they break the law, then they will be placed in custody and taken to the Cole County jail," Shoemaker said.

The local police, sheriff's department, and the State Highway Patrol established an emergency command center in the event that anyone tries to disrupt traffic and business in Jefferson City over the weekend.  Downtown business leaders proceeded with their annual Christmas living windows display, which draws thousands of visitors every year.  As of Friday night, no disruptions or incidents of unrest had been reported.  Jefferson City's annual Christmas parade is also scheduled Saturday.  But candlelight tours at the Governor's Mansion were canceled due to security concerns.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.