FERGUSON, Missouri — Undeterred by the rash of gun violence that broke out the night before, scores of activists were arrested throughout the St. Louis region on Monday in a series of peaceful acts of civil disobedience to honor Michael Brown Jr., the teen who was slain here one year ago.
Demonstrations lasted throughout the day as activists stormed the steps of a federal courthouse in St. Louis and later blocked both directions of traffic on a major stretch of Interstate 70 by linking arms and creating a human chain. At least 56 people were arrested by midday, with dozens more expected to be brought in after police continued to remove more demonstrators who were blocking the highway.
Monday’s peaceful resistance was stained by the violence that erupted Sunday, just as demonstrations marking the anniversary of when Brown was fatally shot by a white police officer one year ago came to an end.
A young man was wounded in a gunfight with detectives wearing plain clothes late Sunday night, following a barrage of gunfire that was exchanged between two rival groups. The suspected gunman, identified as 18-year-old Tyrone Harris, was rushed to a nearby hospital for surgery and remained in critical condition, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said in a press conference early Monday. Harris faces multiple charges for possessing a weapon and assaulting officers.
Responding to the rash of gun violence, St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger on Monday afternoon declared a state of emergency, tasking Belmar with overseeing all emergency law enforcement operations ahead of nightfall.
“The recent acts of violence will not be tolerated in a community that has worked so tirelessly over the last year to rebuild and become stronger. The time and investment in Ferguson and Dellwood will not be destroyed by a few that wish to violate the rights of others,” Stenger said in a statement.
Speaking before the nation’s largest organization of law enforcement officers in the country, Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Monday condemned the violence against the community and its police officers in Ferguson.
“As we have seen over the recent months and years, not only does violence obscure any message of peaceful protest, it places the community, as well as the officers who seek to protect it, in harm’s way,” Lynch said.
Sunday night’s violent outburst threatened to overshadow Monday’s events, which were billed as a 24-hour “Moral Monday” action for demonstrators to demand greater accountability for police violence.
Events kicked off as community leaders, protest groups and members of the clergy marched through the heart of downtown St. Louis and climbed over the gates blocking the entrance of the federal courthouse.
Chanting ”the people united, will never be defeated,” demonstrators linked arms to occupy the square with the intention of getting arrested. Police arrested Cornel West, an academic and prominent civil rights activist, as well as several leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement. St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson was overheard saying those arrested could face federal charges, since the courthouse is a federal government building.
Activists arrested Monday condemned county authorities for declaring the state of emergency.
“It’s like the police have learned nothing. The state of emergency is the result of county government’s unwillingness to control the police and authorities, who used excessive force on a crowd that was retreating as instructed,” Montague Simmons, executive director of the Organization for Black Struggle said in a statement.