St. Louis, Sat., Oct. 11: It’s been nine weeks since unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown was killed by police Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Mo. And for those in this majority-African-American municipality, as well as many citizens of the surrounding St. Louis metro area, Brown’s shooting, the hourslong delay after his death when his body was left lying in the street, and attempts by police to suppress community outrage are emblematic of the disregard for black life in a segregated and oppressive city.
Wilson hasn’t been arrested in connection with Brown’s death, and a grand jury is investigating to determine whether charges will be filed against him.
In response to Brown’s shooting and police violence in Ferguson, the killing earlier this week of 18-year-old Vonderrit Myers Jr. in St. Louis and a series of incidents of police brutality nationwide, on Saturday, thousands of peaceful demonstrators from around the country—of all ages, races and backgrounds—gathered at the Justice for All: National March and Rally to protest the response of local government and prosecutors to Brown’s death, nationwide police violence, media bias and racism. It was one of many events organized as part of Ferguson October, a weekend of resistance that included a candlelit march; a law teach-in; discussions on race, class and privilege; and a hip-hop concert.
Brendan Van Gorder, a 22-year-old student at the University of Pennsylvania, drove 15 hours from Philadelphia for the march and told The Root, “It was bizarre to see police with all of their guns and tank-like vehicles. I did not feel like this was a free, democratic country.” He added, “Ferguson is a place to learn, where people are teaching and training others new ways to resist together.”
During the rally, Lee Carlton, a pastor from Flood Christian Church who is also a spokesman for Brown’s family, said the family was “extremely humbled, privileged and honored that everyone came out today to show their love,” and added that they “support peaceful protesting all the way.”
Several other speakers discussed the history of St. Louis and how it relates to the shootings of black men and boys in the 21st century.
“The building behind you was the place where more than 200 years ago, Dred Scott’s life was ruled three-fifths of a human being,” said Montague Simmons, president of the Organization for Black Struggle, who spoke at the rally. He added, “Police terror existed way before slavery ended. They didn’t value black lives then, and they don’t value black lives now.”
Marching past local businesses and blocked-off streets—with police officers nearby riding bikes and on foot—protesters chanted: “This is what democracy looks like,” “No justice, no peace,” “Hands up, don’t shoot,” and “I believe that we will win.”
Pamela Germany, 27, who drove about 1,800 miles from Los Angeles to St. Louis for the rally, said Ferguson October is “about shedding light on injustice in the United States. Not just in Ferguson, but in L.A.; not just in L.A., but in Florida, everywhere.” She told The Root that she wants laws enacted to hold police accountable for their actions, pointing out, “Just because they have a badge doesn’t mean they’re able to kill. If it were me, I’d be in jail.”
Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, is proud of the work that her organization and other Ferguson October organizers have done to make police brutality against African Americans a topic of discussion. “What we have done is rallied new black leaders in this conversation around ending state violence,” she said. “We have also gathered creative ideas to push forward and create a new narrative for black life.”
Tory Russell, co-founder of Hands Up United and a representative from the Organization for Black Struggle, offered his thoughts on how the community should respond to the pending grand jury decision on Wilson. “We need to organize and be proactive, just as we are doing today. If there is no indictment for Darren Wilson, we will shut the whole country down, no matter what.”
He went on to mention several options that could impact a potential outcome, including petitioning the Department of Justice, sit-ins in all 50 states, sitting in at the Missouri governor’s mansion and boycotts.
“The whole system has to change,” said Russell, “and we’re going to receive justice.”