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Shooting won't change protests; leaders say plans have formed over the winter

Protesters are greeted by lines of state and county police during a demonstration march on the Ferguson police station on August 11, 2014.
Bill Greenblatt | UPI

The shooting of two police officers refocused national media's spotlight on Ferguson. Concerns were raised over protest safety, some asking if demonstrations will change. Alexis Templeton of Millennial Activists United says no.

“This does not change the way we protest,” she said. “Why would it?”

Last Thursday more than 100 demonstrators had gathered at the Ferguson Police Department, following the resignation of Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson. As the protest dwindled, the shots were fired from an area up the hill behind where the demonstrators had gathered.

On Sunday St. Louis  County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch announced that Jeffrey Williams was arrested in connection with the shooting incident. McCulloch said Williams claims that he was in a dispute with someone at the protest and that it’s unclear if police were the target of the attack. Williams is alleged to have fired the shots from a vehicle on a side street.

Tuesday, Williams’ lawyer, Jerryl Christmas, told the Post-Dispatch that his client was not the shooter and had been beaten by police.  St. Louis County Police denied the use of excessive force.

Not a protester

In his Sunday news conference, McCulloch also said that Williams was involved in Thursday evening’s demonstration and had attended past demonstrations.

Many protesters responded to this statement as Templeton did.

“I’ve never seen him a day in my life,” she said.

“It’s just another way to make the protest look like they're dangerous and pointless … and that’s not the case at all,” Templeton said.

Demonstrator Deray McKesson said the shooting was an isolated incident.

“It’s not clear that Mr. Williams was a frequent protestor, but either way what seems to be true is that the lives of protestors were just as at risk as the lives of police,” he said.

When asked whether protesters would do more self policing, McKesson said self policing has nothing to do with the shooting, because Williams was not among the protest community.

“There are many people who watch out and look for tension amongst each other and squash it before it becomes a thing,” McKesson said.

“The shooting however is a separate incident. He was not near the protesters. He was never in a space that protesters ever frequent when he fired the shots,” he said. “So those are not the same thing.”

According to McKesson, demonstrators remain focused on the problems that are consistent: “That the police department has been proved to be racist and that night (early Thursday morning) was reminder of what prejudiced policing looks like through the inflammatory language that Belmar used.”

The language he's referring to was in St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar’s statement at a press conference the morning of the shooting. Belmar said he believed the shooter was embedded among the protesters.

McKesson says language like that is “looking to discredit a movement that is specially focused on police reform.”

McKesson says the shooting hasn't changed anything, if anything it has made people more resilient and more focused on change.

Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, however, tried to put the focus on the Justice Department, whose report of severe problems in the Ferguson police and municipal court systems led to the resignation of several Ferguson officials, including Jackson. In an interview on NewsmaxTV, Kinder said, "There is more racism in the Justice Department than there is in anywhere I see in the St. Louis area."

He also said, "It is the left, it is the Eric Holder and the Obama left and their minions that are obsessed with race while the rest of us are moving on beyond it." The Republican officeholder said the Department of Justice report detailed some problems that needed to be fixed.

Warming up

Tory Russell an organizer with Hands Up United says with the warmer weather people should expect to see more demonstrations than they did in the winter months.

Credit Emanuele Berry | St. Louis Public Radio
Tory Russell speaking with a Ferguson community member after a meeting.

“I think you are going to see August,” he said. “Not burning buildings or things of that nature, just mass amounts of people in the streets still trying to get their voices heard, still asking for accountability, not just in Ferguson but across the St. Louis region. You're really going to see it around the country.”

Russell says that although the visible presence of protest may have dwindled during the winter, organizers continued to work. He said he thinks the groundwork organizers put in during the colder months is going to become clear this spring and summer.