David A. Lieb, ASSOCIATED PRESS
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Chants of “Hands Up. Don’t Shoot!” echoed through the Missouri Capitol on Friday as hundreds of people protesting Michael Brown’s death rallied after the culmination of a weeklong, 130-mile march from the site of the police shooting in Ferguson.
The demonstrators were joined at the Capitol by Brown’s mother, who denounced the grand jury decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for the Aug. 9 death of her son. She called upon Gov. Jay Nixon to hold the local prosecutor accountable for not taking the case to trial.
The rally was held within earshot of Nixon’s office, but he wasn’t there. Nixon, who had met with NAACP organizers of the march two days earlier, traveled Friday to an economic development luncheon in Kansas City and a state university in Joplin.
The shooting of the unarmed black 18-year-old who had physically struggled with the white officer has prompted rioting and repeated clashes between protesters and police in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. It’s also sparked demonstrations around the nation from people who believe that minorities are too often the targets of overzealous police.
The chant about raised hands has become symbolic of the movement, although there was conflicting witness testimony about whether Brown actually had his hands raised in surrender — or was charging at the officer — when he was fatally shot.
Speaking at the Capitol rally, NAACP President Cornell William Brooks denounced the grand jury process, calling it “completely, morally and legally bankrupt.”
“We’re seeking justice for the family of Michael Brown and nothing less than fundamental, systematic reform of policing in this country,” said Brooks, who participated in the march.
The trek began Saturday and remained peaceful, though at times tense. Earlier this week in the rural town of Rosebud, some people opposing the march yelled obscenities at the demonstrators and displayed a Confederate flag.
The number of marchers dwindled at times to a few dozen but swelled to about 100 as they walked in the drizzling rain past the Missouri Governor’s Mansion — escorted by police both in the front and rear — and then climbed the state Capitol steps to join others already waiting inside.
Charles Pannell, of Jefferson City, walked the route carrying a cardboard cross with the words “Right 2 Life.” Others held “Black Lives Matter” and “We Are Mike Brown” signs. Most of the marchers, but not all, were black and some came from other states to participate.
As their march brought them closer to the Capitol, they chanted, “We are the justice warriors!” Many held their hands up above their heads.
Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, thanked the marchers and the NAACP for their support and said they all had watched the legal process “play out unfairly and nontransparent.”
“I want him to be held accountable for what he did,” McSpadden said, referring to Wilson, who has since resigned.
As her voice broke with emotion, she added: “Our lives matter.”
Missouri NAACP President Mary Ratliff said the march was not only meant to protest the grand jury decision but to draw attention to broader racial inequalities.
“We are marching because we feel that injustices are done to African-Americans — the judicial system is biased and unfair, racial profiling is rampant and our young men are dying at an alarming rate,” Ratliff told The Associated Press.
Nixon met with Ratliff, Brooks and other NAACP leaders for nearly two hours Wednesday at his office. Maida Coleman, director of Nixon’s Office of Community Engagement, said Brooks told Nixon during the meeting that he should promote legislation providing jobs, education and fairness for all people.
The governor did not commit to any particular action, said Coleman, who also attended the meeting.
The NAACP leaders met later Friday with Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster. He issued a written statement afterward saying there’s common ground “to bring progress” regarding police body cameras, municipal court reforms and minority police officer hires in urban areas.
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