Highway shutdown, raucous city council meeting signals the struggle for justice is far from over in Ferguson, Mo.
by Dr. J. A. Salaam
Special to the NNPA from The Final Call
Final Call Full Coverage: Ferguson & Police Brutality
BERKLEY, Mo. – Two days after a very heated City Council meeting in nearby Ferguson, Mo., more than 150 protestors gathered to shut down Highway 70 for a few minutes.
The shutdown planned as part of efforts to pressure authorities to deliver justice in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager shot by a White police officer in Ferguson, was thwarted by a heavy police presence along the road leading up to the highway on-ramp.
Demonstrators started by gathering at the southwest corner of Hanley Ave. and Highway 70, just opposite the place where two unarmed Black men were killed by a pair of police officers back in 2000.
“The reason for this action is because the community is demanding a special prosecutor over this case,” said Attorney Eric Vickers, main organizer of the Sept. 10 shut down.
One police captain told Atty. Vickers, “I told you 15-years-ago, you are not going to shut down my highway. You are not going down the ramp and you cannot walk on the grass.”
“We will make a point to stop business as usual. This shut down gets the attention. We have rights, now they are saying we cannot be on the grass, shoulder or highway. I thought we had an understanding with the highway patrol when we met, but we will see,” Atty. Vickers responded.
Protestors were lead by activists Anthony Shahid and Zaki Baruti of the Justice for Michael Brown Leadership Coalition and Attorney Vickers. As the protestors began to huddle and organize for the planned civil disobedience, police in riot gear started to line up across all entry points at the highway ramps.
When the protestors attempted to squeeze through an opening to the ramp they were blocked by the police and ordered to step back.
“We are young and strong and we’re marching all day long!” and “If we don’t get it, shut it down!” demonstrators started to shout.
The attempt to shut down the highway was prevented by the massive presence of highway state troopers and county officers. But the scene drew so much attention, highway traffic in the east and westbound lanes began to slow down. Drivers blew their horns and raised their hands out the window showing their support. This caused such frustration and inconvenience that the highway patrol detoured traffic two miles away from the area of protest.
As the protestors continued to fill the streets peacefully chanting and marching in a circle, the ranks of the officers increased and arrests began. The first people taken into custody were organizers Shahid, Vickers, Baruti and local Urban League president Michael McMillan.
Tensions rose as the atmosphere turned hostile with officers seemingly rushing and randomly snatching people from the crowd.
“Stand your ground, don’t run, when they come at you,” yelled one protestor.
At one point a woman was walking across the street and three officers ran up, grabbed her by the arm and snatched her sign. As she resisted and tried to get away, other protestors yelled and pleaded for officers to let her go. “She wasn’t doing nothing; why are y’all doing this?” another woman cried out.
“Clear the streets, this is a hostile situation, please leave the area or you will be arrested, including the media,” came a warning from a police vehicle intercom.
Demonstrators were determined not to be moved. Next appeared familiar armored vehicles, the same type from which stun grenades and tear gas canisters were launched in Ferguson during mainly peaceful protests.
Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson was on the scene but was unable to calm protestors. The order was given for officers to form a single file line across a service station lot to the highway ramps. Officers began walking toward protestors pushing them backwards, all who resisted or didn’t move were arrested.
At this point one of Mike Brown’s family members, Amir, told everyone to go to the Ferguson police department.
When asked why he was sending people there, he replied, “I’m talking to Brother Shahid on the phone from the bus they are on and he said to tell the people to go there.”
“I’ve been harassed by Ferguson, I don’t live there but I’m out here with the residents to see everyone come together. Ferguson police always pick on people,” said Margret Morrow, 67, who also attended the city council meeting earlier in the week.
Fiasco at Ferguson City Council meeting
The people of Ferguson came out to express themselves Sept. 8 to city council members and city officials. Among those present were Mayor James Knowles of Ferguson. The full capacity crowded into Greater Grace Church in Ferguson, Mo., which holds about 4,000 people.
Residents of Ferguson and surrounding areas came to voice concerns and dissatisfaction with the police department and its policies. People were met at the door by police officers in full combat gear and metal detectors. Emotions were high and the church foyer area was filled with law enforcement personnel.
A panel of 11 people, 10 Whites and one Black man, was seated before the crowd. Ferguson Mayor Knowles thanked everyone for coming and church pastor Bishop L.O. Jones opened up in prayer. Then the mayor asked everyone to stand for the national anthem and pledge of allegiance. As the last verse was recited “and justice for all,” the crowd roared, “For all, for all, for all!” for about 10 seconds. Then the pastor stood up with the microphone to settle the audience down.
Next, the mayor outlined the agenda for the meeting. “Everyone can speak and ask questions but the board members will not be answering them,” he said.
“We fired up! Can’t take it no more!” shouted the crowd for at least 30 seconds in response.
“Respect the house of God and allow the panel to discuss their business first then you can discuss the other concerns. But we will respect God’s house,” said Pastor Jones.
“I understand you are angry and have a reason to be, just remember to choose words that’s respectful,” he said.
The council meeting was cut short because of the many outbursts from the audience in response to information presented. The city council meeting had also been postponed for several weeks.
One of the bills mentioned spoke of “a citizen review board to work with and review the practices of the police department.” This infuriated the crowd as many felt they were being ignored. As people began to line up at microphones in the aisles on opposite sides of the auditorium, the panel seemed to be conducting business as if no one was present. The crowd also was upset by the pronouncement that speaking time would be limited to two minutes, not three, for the last hour because of the number of people present.
“Taxation without representation is what I see sitting up there,” said Louis Wilson. “The community is tired, we’re going to get answers,” he vowed.
“We must have better communication, diversity training and crises preparation,” added Shelly Gradford.
John Chasnoff, 62, a University City, Mo., resident and member of the Hands Up United coalition told the panel, “You’ve lost your authority and ability to rule Ferguson.”
“Mayor you don’t even live in Ferguson, you just own property in Ferguson, so you are an outside agitator sir,” added Terrence Wilson of Hands Up United.
Michael Johnson, 42, said, “It’s time to vote each one of you out of office. If there’s anyone that need their license paid for or renewed, I will pay for it, see me after the meeting.”
“We need to come up with our own candidate, who is sincere, has passion for what he believes in. We need young leadership that looks like, think like and is about us,” Mr. Johnson continued.
“The whole world sees us from St. Louis, from being the last state to free a slave, now we can be the first to create a new revolution for our people to witness,” he added.
“Why is officer Darren Wilson still on payroll and why Chief Thomas Jackson have not been fired?” shouted someone from the audience. Officer Wilson is the policeman who fired at least six shots into Michael Brown in a confrontation that started with an alleged jaywalking incident.
“We are not going to answer questions tonight, but we are taking notes and there are people I’ll get back with directly and personally,” Mayor Knowles said. “I will say this that Ferguson is no longer handling this case; it’s now in the hands of the county.”