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Protesters' unity collapses as tensions rise

An interfaith service meant to bring protesters together instead exposed the movement's fissures between young activists and the older, black establishment.
Activists Protest For Justice After Police Shootings
Demonstrators protest outside the Ferguson police department on October 11, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri.

ST. LOUIS, Missouri -- What began as an interfaith service meant to bring a bruised community together in the wake of Michael Brown's death instead exposed the fissures of a movement of young activists who feel frustrated by the black establishment.

Hundreds of people of all ages and races attended the service in St. Louis, where a crowd of mostly young protesters, disillusioned by the response of their elders, stood up and demanded to have their voices heard. Hecklers interrupted speakers on multiple occasions, while a white activist who stood up and shouted was quickly booed by the crowd.

"I don't care how this looks, this ain't made for TV," said Tef Poe, a prominent young activist in the protests in Ferguson. "This ain't your parents' civil rights movement."

The raw emotions of the crowd came just 12 hours before protesters planned to stage acts of civil disobedience all across Ferguson and the St. Louis area to mark the final day of what activists have billed a "Weekend of Resistance."

Dr. Cornell West, a noted academic and activist, gave the keynote speech, rousing the visibly distraught crowd. "Everybody knows that if you shoot somebody down, you're supposed to be arrested," he said.

Young artists took to the stage unannounced, at times resorting to profanity as some openly criticized establishment organizations like the NAACP and black clergy.

Earlier in the day, a slow drizzle fell on the city once again as protesters recovered from another night of tense clashes with police and gathered Sunday to cope together as a community through faith and music.

Marking the third day of the "Weekend of Resistance," protesters came together for prayer, interfaith services and even a hip hop concert in support of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen who was fatally shot by a Ferguson police officer more than two months ago.

Just a day earlier, more than 100 protesters staged a sit-in at the foot of a convenience store in the St. Louis neighborhood where yet another black teen was shot and killed by police earlier this week, sparking clashes with riot police who made multiple arrests after protesters refused to budge.

Despite the showdown, the protesters' resolved remained strong through Sunday, looking ahead to the start of the week when groups planned to stage defiant acts of civil disobedience across Ferguson and the St. Louis area. Many are already bracing for their peaceful arrest.

"It's not just about us against the cops. It's about the recognition that the system is against us," said Calvin Green, a supporter who traveled from Michigan to join the movement for this weekend. "We have to come together."

Crowds of young people piled into a local bar in downtown St. Louis early Sunday afternoon where hip-hop artists blurred the lines between concert and protest rally. Organizers estimate that as many as 700 people made their way through the doors of Fubar to see everyone from local rappers to headliner Talib Kweli perform.

In a nod to traditions from the civil rights movement, Ferguson organizers scheduled an interfaith service into the night, with professor and intellectual Cornel West billed as the keynote speaker.

Outrage over Brown's death was intensified this week after yet another young black teen was killed by police in the St. Louis region. Police said an off-duty officer shot and killed 18-year-old Vonderrit Myers Jr. after the teen fired three shots with a stolen 9mm handgun. The Myers family heavily refutes the police account, saying the teen was only carrying a sandwich he had just bought at a convenience store.

The site where Myers was killed soon turned into a second protest location outside of Ferguson where activists gathered at night in oftentimes spontaneous protests. 

St. Louis Metro Police made 17 arrests for "unlawful assembly" after demonstrators sat down and blocked the entrance to a QuickTrip gas station in Shaw neighborhood. Protesters accuse police of using excessive force in making the arrests -- the first since the Weekend of Resistance began.