ST. LOUIS, Missouri - A few thousand protesters participated in a “Justice for All” march in St. Louis on Saturday, one of the largest and most diverse gatherings since activism began over the Aug. 9 police shooting of unarmed black teen Michael Brown.
The protesters were headed to a public square in front of the Old Courthouse, where the state once found Dredd Scott and other descendants of Africa were less human and as such, less American than whites. However, the scene felt more like a music festival than a protest.
Unions, religious groups and student organizations gathered behind banners as flags and posters bobbed down the street while drums thundered above a loud din of chants of “Black lives matter! Black lives matter!”
Peace-keepers and volunteers lined the march route while handfuls of police officers leaned back on their squad cars serving as barricades for the protest.
“No one will protect us but us. Today we show each other what family means,” Thenjiwe McHarris yelled through a speakerphone to kick off the march. “I need every single one of y’all to protect each other.”
Muna Mire drove 16 hours from Brooklyn, New York to join protesters this weekend.
“I’ve been trying to get here for awhile,” she said. “It’s such a critical moment in the conversation about police, the police state and race relations in America.”
“I’m out here to show solidarity,” she said. “I don’t know if this march changes anything in terms of an arrest Of Darren Wilson, but this march is about something bigger.”
“Apparently they thought that we’d get tired and leave. To all the politicians, the police leaders and prosecutor, we are not backing down,” said Rev. Carlton Lee.
St. Louis County Police made no arrests Friday night, and there were no reports of damaged property or injuries in the Ferguson area. Law enforcement officials monitored the crowds from a distance, some riding the perimeter of the march on bikes, all without the riot gear seen at protests after dark.
“That’s the message: let’s be respectful of everybody,” St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dodson told reporters ahead of the march. “All I ever want are peaceful protests, peaceful demonstrations, chances for groups to come together and be heard.”
Kicking off the multi-day event, demonstrators led a candle-lit march Friday night to steps of the Ferguson Police Department as others carried a mirrored casket, paying tribute to unarmed teen Michael Brown who was shot to death by local Officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9.
Bursts of violence erupted in the area once again this week after a black teen, Vonderrit Myers Jr., died at the hand of an off-duty police officer in St. Louis.
Protesters from around the country are expected to converge Saturday morning for another march, honoring Brown and the lives of young, black men that have been killed by police.
It’s been nearly 17 years since Pamela Selders moved out of West St. Louis, a town where she was born and raised on a backdrop of decades worth of racial tensions.
“I totally connect with the fearlessness of these young people,” she said. “Coming home and feeling that same spirit means there are a lot of problems here.”
Brown’s parents urged crowds to remain 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 in a statement on Friday. “We ask that those coming to show support for our son do so within the law.” The parents of Vonderrit Meyers are meeting with the parents of Michael Brown on Saturday.
Meanwhile, the area continues to confront waves of unrest following the shooting death of Brown and a grand jury is currently weighing the case against Wilson.
Organizers of the multi-day event, Ferguson October, estimated it could be ones of the largest demonstrations in the city’s history. By 2 p.m. on Saturday the crowd started to disperse, with a few hundred protesters marching out two by two. Some carried a mirrored coffin meant to symbolize the late Michael Brown.
They chanted “fight back,” and “can’t stop the revolution!”