FERGUSON, Missouri – Two peaceful demonstrations converged into one Friday night as groups led a candle-lit march, carrying a mirrored coffin in Michael Brown’s honor for miles to meet fellow protesters gathered before the Ferguson Police Department and kick off what organizers coined a “Weekend of Resistance” – a multi-day event designed to pay tribute to the lives of young, black men who have died at the hands of the police.
The deep bass of hip-hop music rang through the background of the protests as hundreds of demonstrators – a mix of residents and out-of-towners – stood toe-to-toe with police officers holding the line in front of their department headquarters.
With protesters at times standing just inches away as they chanted and yelled, police officers remained unprovoked as the law enforcement officials standing behind them warned that the crowd must keep a distance. “If you touch a police officer, you will be charged with assault,” police warned over a megaphone. But the crowd remained mostly calm – a distinctly lower level of energy than the groups gathered in the days and weeks here after Brown’s death.
Protesters planned to rally Saturday morning, bringing demonstrations to the heart St. Louis where organizers anticipate thousands of people will join to march through the streets of the downtown area. Later local and national organizers are holding speaking events, teach-ins and community outreach events, culminating with an after-party targeting young people who joined the march to end the evening at the City Museum.
Peace-keepers and volunteers held posts along the sidelines of the protests to keep the calm in the midst of raw emotions. On Friday, a vigil to honor Michael Brown – who was unarmed when he was shot and killed by a white police officer on Aug. 9 – began around 8:30 p.m., drawing several dozen people who gathered to light candles in a parking lot alongside W. Florissant Ave. The mirrored coffin, meant to represent both Brown’s death and all the deaths of those killed by racism and police violence, was placed before the makeshift altar as more people joined the solemn ceremony.
More protesters joined the group around 9:30 p.m. as they began their candle-lit march – quiet, except for the occasional recitation of poetry and the whir of a helicopter hovering overhead – on their way to the steps of the Ferguson Police Department. But as the mourners moved along W. Florissant Ave., their silence unfurled into chants of a familiar refrain: “Hands up, don’t shoot.”
Once the crowd began to disperse along the steps of the Ferguson Police Department, groups moved across town to the Shaw neighborhood, home to renewed rounds of spontaneous protests this week after a second black teenager was killed in the St. Louis region at the hands of local law enforcement on Wednesday.
The vigil and march Friday night took on greater significance this week after a second shooting just 12 miles away from Ferguson tapped into the community’s frustrations and sparked yet another round of spontaneous protests.
On Wednesday, a uniformed, off-duty police officer shot 17 bullets at 18-year-old Vonderrit Myers Jr., killing the teen on the spot after he allegedly fired three shots at the officer. According to St. Louis police, a 9mm handgun was recovered at the scene, as were the three bullets apparently fired in the direction of the officer. However, the teen’s family disputes the police account, saying Myers was unarmed and merely carrying a sandwich that he had bought at a local convenience store.
Anger and frustration over the death of another young black man in an already bruised community spilled over into the streets Thursday night, as a peaceful vigil gave way to pockets of violence, ending in eight arrests and clashes with police who tried to disperse the crowds by using pepper spray.
“The outrage in the streets is palpable,” said Mervyn Marcano, a spokesman for the weekend protests scheduled through Monday, known as Ferguson October and organized by local and national advocacy groups.
“Anger is expected at this point,” he added.
Marcano said that despite the tensions reignited by the latest shooting, organizers planned to carry out the protests, marches and organized movement to bring together ideas for change and political action – rain or shine.
Under fresh sheets of rain pouring in near constant streams, scores of umbrellas bobbed down the street in downtown Clayton Friday as protesters descended upon the offices of St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch. Crowds of out-out-towners came together with residents from the St. Louis region for a midday march to demand that Michael Brown’s killer, Officer Darren Wilson, be arrested and charged for the teen’s death.
As protesters marched through downtown Clayton, workers stood in the windows of nearby businesses and watched. Some stood under canopies as the protesters streamed by.
“I’m here to stand in solidarity with the people,” said Kahru Ceedivine, who traveled from Atlanta to attend the protests. “Ever since it happened I’ve been wanting to be here. I had to come. Nothing was going to stop me.”
Pastor Cori Bush of Hazelwood signed up on the Ferguson October website and had three days of training from groups organizing the event on how to manage crowds.
“I feel like I’m able to make a difference. This is where I belong. We’re not going anywhere, we’re not stopping until they give us what we want – which is justice. Regardless of your color, justice,” Pastor Bush told msnbc.
Ahead of the march, Brown’s parents urged protesters to be peaceful.
“We understand first-hand the powerless frustration felt by people of all walks of life regarding their interactions with law enforcement,” Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown, Sr. said Friday in a joint statement. “And for that reason, as Michael Brown’s parents, we ask that those coming to show support for our son do so within the law.”
A grand jury is currently deliberating whether to indict Wilson. Ferguson police claim that Wilson feared for his life when he shot and killed Brown, while the late teen’s defenders claim he was surrendering to authorities when he was gunned down.