Special to the NNPA from The Final Call
FERGUSON, Mo. (The Final Call) – White minority rule in South Africa in 1960 resulted in Black youth getting gunned down by police officers while White minority rule in Ferguson, Mo., and an entrenched White power structure is connected to the shootings and targeting of Blacks and Black youth in the St. Louis metropolitan area, said activists during a recent weekend of protests.
Demonstrations over the March 20-21 weekend coincided with the 55th anniversary of the Sharpeville Massacre in South Africa and hundreds of protestors journeyed to Ferguson and Clayton, Mo., to continue demands for justice linked to the shooting of unarmed Black teenager Michael Brown, Jr., last summer and a Justice Dept. report condemning systematic targeting of Blacks by police and essentially a city government that extorted money from Black residents through the police department and the courts.
The Leadership Coalition for Justice and several other groups organized the National March on Ferguson with the theme “We Can’t Stop Now!” The first day of protest was a Friday gathering March 20 with people, some from across the country, gathering in Shaw Park in Clayton, Mo., the seat of county government and offices for the county attorney who failed to indict officer Darren Wilson for the shooting of Michael Brown, Jr.
Among those protesting was the young victim’s father, Michael Brown, Sr., who marched, chanted and shared a few words. “We showed up and out this weekend and I’m happy to see all the support out here, this means a lot, thank you,” he said.
“I’ve been out here marching with the organization Leadership Coalition For Justice for two days in Clayton and Ferguson, Mo., but this weekend means even more because it marks the 55th anniversary of the Sharpeville Massacre, which was an incident that happened in South Africa where several youth activists decided that they were going to refuse to carry their passes during apartheid in South Africa,” said Nadeehah Azeez, a St. Louis resident who joined the protests.
“Because they were refusing to carry their passes they all left their homes marched down to the police station to turn themselves in for violating the law there. And while all these youth were out there marching, peacefully protesting, they were very intentional about being peaceful and non-violent. The police officers got nervous, someone pulled the trigger and 69 of those children ended up getting killed and several others were injured,” she said.
“We are here today because we stand in solidarity with those people who lost their lives in South Africa and we stand in solidarity with all of the unarmed Black men, women and children who have lost their lives here in the United States of America and in St. Louis,” said Ms. Azeez.
Protestors shut down and diverted traffic on a main expressway in Clayton and disrupted the flow of business in the county seat. Several municipal police departments were dispatched to help with traffic and crowd control.
The next day March 21, demonstrators joined a Saturday march on the Ferguson police station. Several hundred people carried signs, placards, chanted and called for the resignation of Mayor James Knowles and federal oversight of the police department.
At the Saturday rally, activist Anthony Shahid of the Leadership Coalition for Justice told the crowd that Clayton police tried to plant a gun on Larry Miller, who spoke at the protest. “Listen up brothers and sisters, pay attention because you don’t know these wicked people, you are not paying attention to what I’m saying. I’m telling you they wanted to plant a gun on a brother yesterday in Clayton but got caught and it’s on video,” said Mr. Shahid.
“After the rally we walked around to where my car was parked. But one of the protestors in a wheelchair was catching the Metro train and our motto is leave no one behind so we stayed until she got on. Afterwards we drove off the lot so I can take Ralph to his car and noticed we were being followed by the police. We made several turns to the right, left and so on. When we got to his vehicle they pulled me over,” said Mr. Miller. “He said I made an illegal U-turn but it was not posted. I gave him my license and insurance card, by that time we were surrounded by four more police cars. I never experienced anything like this for making a supposed to be illegal turn.
Anyway, he came back to the car he said ‘can I speak to you a minute or do you want me to say it in front of these guys?’ I said, it’s okay these are my protest buddies, but I decided to get out the car and step to the back. He told me someone said they saw me put a gun in my waistband, is there any weapons in that car can we search that car? I said, ‘Sir, I’d rather you tell me the truth than to stand here and tell me a bold-faced lie. That’s an insult to my intelligence, we been protesting over 220 days do you think we are that stupid to bring a gun to Clayton, really sir? Don’t paint us with the same paint brush you put on the young man in Ferguson concerning the police who got shot.’
“Just like I don’t paint all cops as bad I don’t think you should do that to us, and as I was speaking with him someone yelled out, ‘You got a gun in your boot. What are you getting ready to do with that gun?’ The officer didn’t deny he didn’t have anything, instead he just started moving back and hiding it, but (we) filmed it. Then they let us go when I told the police officer that he cannot do anything to the passengers in my car if nothing is wrong with me as the driver, then they let us go.”
“I grew up in Kinloch, Mo., which borders Ferguson. The main reason I’m out here is after the murder of Mike Brown it brought back a lot of memories because every person in Kinloch had some type of negative moment in Ferguson. When I was 11-years-old walking down the street … just going into Ferguson to get an ice cream cone, two White men in a car threw a cup of piss on me and I never got over that. So I’m out here not only to get justice for Mike Brown and to end police brutality from this racist community, but I’m trying to get some satisfaction for myself for the injustice that was done to me as a kid,” said 62-year-old Larry Lewis.
“This weekend was something magical, you got a chance to see the Muslim brother, the Black Panther brothers, a lot of other spiritual religious people coming together for one cause and move with one voice and one sound. A lot of things was a little bit different because we let our elders take the lead, you know usually the youth is taking the lead but they led us to some good things this weekend,” said Marcellus Buckley, 23.
“But where we go from here is hard to say, because everyone is saying we need officials in but at the same time we feel that the whole system is guilty as hell. We say, ‘indict, convict, send that killer cop to jail, the whole damn system is guilty as hell,’ ” he chanted.
Mr. Shahid said the county executive refused to coordinate a simple stage and sound system for protestors with the mayor of Ferguson, who is trying to improve things. That means there is no respect for free speech from Steve Stinger, whose office is in Clayton, Mo., said the activist.
In a telephone interview, Mayor Knowles told The Final Call, “We committed to helping the organizers with their protest.” There are two stages and the county stage was the only one available, he said. But, the mayor added, that he was told to make a personal request to Mr. Stinger. My request was turned down, the county executive had no interest in doing anything with the protestors, said the mayor. “I told Mr. Stinger every time I work with (Min. Abdul Akbar Muhammad) or Shahid the outcome has always been positive. Mr. Stinger responded he did not like the idea of people being on a stage that has St. Louis County name on it and talking negatively about people,” said the mayor, who has been under pressure to resign.
The mayor said he told Mr. Stinger, “I would rather they be on the stage in the park than in the middle of the street.”
Democrat Stinger has a problem with the leaders of the coalition and me, and the county exec promised efforts to promote racial healing while running for office but isn’t living up to it, said Mr. Shahid. Clayton is a very affluent area, has Whites in power with few Blacks holding positions and they do not believe a problem exists, Mr. Shahid said. We plan continue to pressure him, vowed the veteran activist.
In these small municipalities in St. Louis County, not just Ferguson, young Black men are targeted and can face warrants and fines from multiple jurisdictions at the same time, said Mr. Shahid. We want a consent decree for the 88 area police departments under one authority and a civilian review board with subpoena power, he said. You can’t have the county police oversee Ferguson, he said.
We also want the police department, fire department, city officials to look like the residents of the majority Black communities, Mr. Shahid said. “We can’t win with these conditions,” he added.
There must be inclusion of Blacks in construction work so Blacks can make a living as tradesmen and not be blocked by trumped up arrest and conviction records, continued Mr. Shahid. The same people who got the world’s attention are not being given work and the insurance companies are hiring Whites for demolition and construction, he said.
“That’s a problem. We don’t want nothing built or torn down there unless Black folks are there,” Mr. Shahid said.
Activists David Royal and Tory Russell are working to get people out to vote and stress how important voting was 50 years ago and today, he said. If we elect people, the newly elected officials can appoint the police chief and mandate that Blacks be included in the rebuilding effort, he said. “How can we talk about bringing crime down and racial harmony and we don’t have anything?” asked Mr. Shahid.
Race relations could be better but the county executive isn’t setting the right tone for racial healing, said Mr. Shahid. He pointed to an article in the St. Louis Post Dispatch that has contributed to the targeting of volunteer Jana Gamble, a production assistant with a local TV station, who helped during days off over the weekend. Social media has been full of attacks and insults lobbed at the young woman, who said in an initial post that her desire was to work with everyone and get justice for everyone.
Mr. Stinger only wants to work with a select group of Black people, not everyone as he said while running for office, said Mr. Shahid. “We have to stay out there in Clayton,” said Mr. Shahid. “They are not trying to sit down with us and work with us. This thing is far from over and if anything it’s just starting now.”
Mr. Shahid also wants to boycott St. Louis and the metropolitan area, whether its tourism, sport teams, colleges or any venture that makes money.