WEEKEND protests in the St Louis area against police violence have made a tense but peaceful start, with none of the clashes that have rocked Missouri in recent weeks.
Civil rights organisations and protest groups invited people from across the United States to join vigils and marches from Friday to Monday over the 9 August shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a white police officer in the St Louis suburb of Ferguson.
Protesters marched through downtown St Louis yesterday. Organising group, Hands Up United, said discussions about race and teach-ins about how to interact with police officers were also planned.
The weekend’s demonstrations began on Friday afternoon with hundreds peacefully marching through the rain to the St Louis County courthouse in Clayton, neighbouring the city itself.
Protesters have called for the arrest and prosecution of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, who shot the unarmed Brown, as a grand jury weighs whether he should be charged with a criminal offence.
Some 300 people later assembled outside the nearby Ferguson Police Department, chanting phrases such as “My hands on my head. Please don’t shoot me dead”, “Who shuts it down? We shut it down!”, “Who are we? Mike Brown!” and “Indict. Convict. Send those killer cops to jail. The whole damn system is guilty as hell!” just inches away from dozens of officers clad in riot gear.
Most of the crowd soon left, with organisers urging people to avoid arrest so that they could come back for more protests planned throughout the weekend.
Protesters renewed their call for prosecutor Bob McCulloch to charge Wilson. A grand jury is reviewing the case, and the US justice department has opened a civil rights investigation into Brown’s death and a broader inquiry into the Ferguson police force, which has faced criticism of being overly militarised and insensitive to racial tensions.
“We are here to demand the justice our people have died for,” chanted protest organiser Montague Simmons of the local group Organisation for Black Struggle. “We are here to bring peace, to bring restoration, to lift our banners in the name of those who’ve been sacrificed.”
Yesterday morning, many protesters had moved on to the St Louis neighbourhood of Shaw, where 18-year-old Vonderrit Myers jnr was shot dead by an off-duty white officer working for a private security firm in what police described as a firefight last Wednesday. Myers’ parents claim he was unarmed and the officer’s name has not yet been released.
Black leaders in St Louis want the US justice department to investigate Myers’ shooting as well. Police said the officer fired 17 rounds after Myers shot at him. Preliminary autopsy results show a shot to the head killed Myers. The officer escaped any injury.
Online court documents show Myers was free on a bail bond when he was killed. He had been charged with the unlawful use of a weapon and resisting arrest in June.
“It’s important for this country to stand with this community,” said protester Ellen Davidson of New York City, who was making her second trip to the St Louis area since Brown’s death. “This community is under siege ... the eyes of the world are watching.”
Ferguson mayor James Knowles said law enforcement agencies in the area were preparing for large crowds and possible violence, particularly given the killing of Myers.
Police arrested eight people during chaotic protests that followed that killing on Thursday night.
While the atmosphere was at times tense, there were none of the clashes with police that have marked protests in the St Louis area in the wake of Brown’s killing. Police said as of yesterday morning there had been no arrests, injuries or damage from the protests.
Police in Clayton reported no arrests, and officers stewarded the several hundred demonstrators as they marched.