FERGUSON, Missouri— A cold, steady rain is falling over Ferguson, cooling tension that reignited after a black teen was killed about a dozen miles away in St. Louis earlier this week. For a second straight night, protesters took to the streets of St. Louis yesterday in an outpouring of grief and anger over the killing of 18-year-old Vonderrit Myers Jr., whom police say fired on an off-duty police officer and was killed in the process.
Police used pepper spray on the crowd. A few rogue protesters broke a couple windows and burned American flags. There were tears and disbelief.
“Today I woke up angry,” Deray McKesson, one of last night’s protesters said. “This is not the America I know.”
This morning in Ferguson — as often is the case in this bruised little city still reeling from the killing of teenager Michael Brown by a police officer here two months ago — there’s a sense of tenuous calm. Thousands of protesters from across the country are expected to land in Ferguson today for what organizers expect to be an historic weekend of rallies and protests. Billed as a “Weekend of Resistance,” organizers have planned a series of actions that begin with today’s march on the office of St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch and continue until Monday’s widespread civil disobedience, a la the Moral Mondays movement.
Ahead of the expected influx of protesters, city officials are preparing for the worst.
A city spokesman told msnbc that police have added additional officers to weekend shifts and that neighboring towns have lent the city additional manpower. The St. Louis County police, which recently took over protest control efforts from Ferguson police, as well as the Missouri State Highway Patrol, are also offering assistance.
“There are a lot of people coming into town,” Ferguson Mayor James Knowles told Reuters. “We are going to be prepared. There is intel out there that there are people wanting to do bad things. And people who want to cause a problem are going to use that [Myers’ shooting] as a rallying cry.”
On Thursday night, hundreds of protesters spread across several blocks on St. Louis’ south side, riled by the shooting death of Myers, who was shot and killed on Wednesday by a white off-duty police officer. Police say Myers brandished a 9mm pistol and fired on the officer who then responded with approximately 17 shots.
Family of Myers refute the claim that the teen was armed. They said he had nothing more than a sandwich he’d purchased minutes earlier at a nearby convenience store. But police say they recovered a handgun at the scene believed to be used in the shooting and cite bullet casings and bullet holes in the officers direction as proof of Myers’ misdeeds.
Myers’ killing energized protesters who, for more than 60 days, have made areas around Ferguson ground zero in their fight for justice for Michael Brown.
“I think it rejuvenates a lot of people,” said Johnetta Elzie, who’s been protesting since Brown’s death. “I was getting worn out. But once we started getting more details [about Myers’ killing], all they had to tell me was that he just turned 18. Police said he had a gun, neighbor say he had a sandwich. I don’t trust the police at all. I just don’t believe them.”
While Myers’ killing in St. Louis sparked spontaneous protests this week, it was the shooting death of Brown in Ferguson two months ago that has fueled widespread discontent and outright anger across the region.
Brown was unarmed when he was shot dead by a Ferguson police officer on Aug. 9. Since Brown’s death some 63 days ago, protesters and supporters of Brown’s family have demanded an arrest of Brown’s killer, officer Darren Wilson.
The Ferguson-based protests and demonstrations have evolved from spontaneous and often violent to well-organized and intentional with seasoned activists and organizers grooming the more inexperienced groups of protesters.
But as the movement built around finding justice for Brown expands geographically — with supporters congregating from all over the country — and thematically — to the broader issues around police abuses and the plight of black and brown men more generally — there remains an unwieldy nature to it all here on the ground.
Protesters said St. Louis police last night had ambushed them and that peaceful protesters were hit with pepper spray and roughed up. At one point, a fringe group of three or four white protesters in St. Louis allegedly threw a rock through the window of a private residence, and someone else smashed the storefront glass of a vitamin shop. Police say someone threw a large knife at a police officer. And still other burned a couple American flags as protesters at the scene last night say police responded to petty slights with heavy-handed action.
Some witnesses said St. Louis police demanded that everyone had to vacate the street or face arrests: No standing in the street, no standing on the sidewalk, no standing anywhere. Police eventually pepper-sprayed dozens of protesters and made eight arrests — one for marijuana possession, two for property damage and five for unlawful assembly.
McKesson said despite a small handful of protesters on the street last night with “bad energy,” the majority of the protesters were peaceful, albeit angry.
“With Mike Brown there is this righteous indignation in the protests because we know that that was wrong, that there was something fundamental and core about what happened to him. That is unquestioned,” McKesson said early on Friday morning. “With Vonderrit Myers there are a lot of questions and you can feel that as you protest. But the common thread though both is what is the response to blackness? You maced us and I did nothing wrong — God only knows what you did to him without the crowd and without the press.”
Friday morning’s steady rain dampened prospects of an ideal weekend of street demonstrations. The rain is forecasted to continue throughout the weekend.
McKesson says his spirits aren’t the least bit doused.
“Racism doesn’t take a nap on a rainy day so I don’t get to,” McKesson said. “Rain, snow, sleet, whatever. You don’t get to wash away my feelings.”