Sunday, August 31, 2014

At Ferguson March, Call to Halt Traffic in Labor Day Highway Protest
Demonstration in Ferguson, MO marking three weeks since the police
killing of Michael Brown.
New York Times
AUG. 30, 2014

FERGUSON, Mo. — Activists on Saturday called for mass civil disobedience on the highways in and around this St. Louis suburb to protest the killing of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer, with the leaders of one coalition encouraging supporters to stop their cars to tie up traffic on Labor Day.

The appeal came at a peaceful if at times tense march and rally on Saturday that drew what appeared to be well more than 1,000 demonstrators to some of the same Ferguson streets where the police clashed with protesters in the days after the killing of Michael Brown. Mr. Brown, 18, was shot Aug. 9 by Officer Darren Wilson of the Ferguson Police Department, and his bloody body lay on Canfield Drive for about four and a half hours before it was removed.

Organizers at the rally called on demonstrators to drive on Interstate 70 and other area highways at 4:30 p.m. Monday, turn their hazard lights on and stop their vehicles for four and a half minutes to symbolize the four and a half hours that Mr. Brown’s body lay in the street.

“We’re going to tie it down, lock it down,” Anthony Shahid, one of the lead organizers of the rally, told supporters from the stage at a park. The following week, if the coalition’s demands were not met, including that Officer Wilson be fired and arrested on charges of murder, another four-minute traffic shutdown would occur on two days instead of just one, he said.

“I want the highways shut down,” he said of the Monday protest. “I know it’s a holiday, but it won’t be no good holiday.”

Mr. Shahid’s announcement was met with applause by many marchers, but it was unclear how many people would take part. Only a few hundred demonstrators were in the park when Mr. Shahid made the appeal, and another organizer suggested that the plan for Monday could change because the action was still under discussion. It was also unclear what the authorities intended to do in response to the civil disobedience plan.

“There will be an appropriate, measured response based on conditions, but we cannot discuss the specifics of operational plans,” said Mike O’Connell, a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Public Safety.

The march and rally were organized by a coalition of black activists and leaders largely from the St. Louis region, including state legislators, lawyers, and representatives of the Nation of Islam, the N.A.A.C.P., the New Black Panther Party and the Green Party. Organizers with the group, called the Justice for Michael Brown Leadership Coalition, said they wanted Saturday’s event to be peaceful and had coordinated with city, county and police officials. They estimated the crowd at 10,000. For much of the event, the police had a light presence compared with the show of force seen at other protests.

“They’ve already seen the whole world look at the missteps that they made, how they handled the black community like an army going to war in Iraq,” said Akbar Muhammad, an organizer of the demonstration and a top aide to Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam. “If they had any sense, they will handle it in a tactful manner.”

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The march on Saturday showed how difficult it may be to direct the actions of a young, decentralized and assertive protest movement. A mile into Saturday’s demonstration, the march seemed to split, with some heading to a scheduled rally in a public park and others insisting that the marchers continue to the Ferguson police station. Few seemed to know whether the turn into the park was the plan all along or an unscheduled deviation, and several marchers began a chant of “Ain’t no justice in the park!”

“If they stop here a lot of people will feel misled,” said Trinette Buck, 40. She said that the younger protesters were not waiting on leadership, nor were they concerned about what might happen if things turned ugly at the police station.

“There is no fear anymore,” she said. “It’s either stand up or die.”

A few marchers began heading to the police department without waiting for official word, peeling off in small groups and walking along the shoulder for two miles of road, drawing supportive honks from cars along the way. By the time the main body of the march, as well as the demonstration’s leaders, arrived at the police station, well more than a 100 had already gathered and were chanting in a somewhat tense face-to-face confrontation with a line of police officers.

Shortly after 5 p.m., one of the marchers who had been taunting the police line was surrounded by law enforcement officers and was apparently placed under arrest. It was unclear why.

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