FERGUSON, Missouri – A day of healing and uplift took a violent turn as protestors were doused with tear gas yet again after Molotov cocktails were allegedly hurled at police and shots were reportedly fired.
Police took to the streets late on Sunday in full riot gear, in a scene that has become frighteningly familiar to the Ferguson community. Although authorities have confirmed the gunshots have been fired, they have not said by whom and from where. Meanwhile, protestors insist, yet again, that they were marching peacefully.
“All we was doing was marching,” said Lisha Williams, a local protestor who was tear gassed, told msnbc.
This turn of events comes as members of the community, neighbors and supporters stood in solidarity with the family of the 18-year-old police shooting victim, Michael Brown, bringing together local leaders and civil rights icons to offer a respite from clashing tensions between protesters and police.
Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson, an African-American resident of Ferguson who has become a local hero for supporters wanting to rally peacefully in the streets, honored the slain teen and thanked him for the movement he inspired.
“This is my neighborhood. You are my family. You are my friends. And I am you,” Johnson said, bringing the more than 1,300 people convened at Greater Grace Church to their feet in applause.
“When this is over – I’m gonna go to my son’s room, my black son, who wears his pants sagging, who wears his hat cocked to the side, who’s got tattoos on his arms … But that’s my baby,” Johnson said to more cheers.
The mood inside the rally, organized by the Rev. Al Sharpton’s advocacy group National Action Network, was unified but somber as leaders called for swift due process with investigations into Brown’s case.
Earlier that morning, Attorney General Eric Holder ordered for a federal medical examiner to perform a second autopsy. The move to bring an outside opinion to aid investigations builds on festering skepticism among community members that local authorities will be able to properly handle the case.
Benjamin Crump, the attorney representing the Brown family, condemned the local police department for initiating a “smear” campaign against the late teen’s character.
“Your community deserves transparency,” Crump said to the crowd. “You all deserve to know that the police department will work in the best interests of you children.”
“There is nothing that can justify the execution style murder of Lesley’s child in broad daylight by this police officer,” he added, motioning toward the slain teen’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, who appeared onstage with her husband, Michael Brown Sr., but did not speak.
Ty Pruitt, a cousin of Michael Brown, greeted the crowd with the now familiar “Hand’s up, don’t shoot” refrain, popular with Ferguson protesters. “[Michael] was a son. He was an uncle, a nephew. He was not a suspect. He was not an object. He was not an animal … but that’s how he was killed.”
Rev. Sharpton, who also hosts MSNBC’s “PoliticsNation,” gave a fiery oration in which he called the fallout from Michael Brown’s death a “defining moment in this country.”
“These parents are not going to cry alone. They are not going to stand alone. And they’re not going to fight alone. We’ve had enough!” he said.
Sharpton also put the events in Ferguson in a political context.
“Where are the leading candidates for president?” Sharpton asked rhetorically. “Jeb Bush, Hillary Clinton, don’t get laryngitis on this issue. You can’t get to the White House without stopping by our house and talk about policing.”
He said he had never seen anything “more despicable” in all his years as an activist, as the Ferguson PD’s decision to “spit on the name and character of a young man who hasn’t even been buried,” by releasing the controversial surveillance footage which purports to show Brown shoplifting in a local convenience store moments before his death.
Sharpton also condemned those who have resorted to violence and crime in the wake of protests. “Don’t loot in Michael Brown’s name,” he said. “We’re not looters we’re liberators.” He concluded his initial remarks by calling on the community to get more active politically.
“Michael Brown is gonna change this town,” he said, before criticizing the paltry voting record on the area. “12% turnout is an insult to your children.”
A standing ovation erupted during a powerful cameo appearance from Howard University graduate Mya Aaten-White, a young woman who was wounded in the head while protesting for Brown in Ferguson. She is said to be making a full recovery. She didn’t speak to the audience but shared a long embrace with Michael Brown’s parents.
Hundreds more gathered outside of the church in support of the family in hopes that the movement galvanized by the peaceful demonstrations would lead to real change.
“This is not just a black/white issue — this is a human issue,” said Ferguson resident Lisa Williams. “If we all come together on this, then we can make a difference not only for African-American lives, but all children.”