ST. LOUIS — Thousands of people from this city and across the nation turned out Sunday for STL Peacefest in a sprawling park on behalf of Michael Brown, an African American teenager who was killed by a white police officer in nearby Ferguson on Aug. 9.
Saprena Riley was one of them. She drove from Dayton, Ohio, to support Brown’s family because her son, Dante Price, also African American, was shot 22 times by security guards at a housing complex in St. Louis two years ago.
“I’m tired. I just drove seven hours,” she said, tears streaming down her face. “I want to hug them and be there for them. But it brings back stuff and it hurts. My son is gone. Their son is gone.”
The guards who shot Price were indicted and are scheduled to stand trial. In Brown’s shooting, the legal process is less clear, sparking a massive protest in which police trained automatic weapons on demonstrators and businesses were looted.
The demonstrations along the main drive in Ferguson, now much smaller, are ongoing. But when he took the stage at Peacefest, Michael Brown Sr. asked the crowd to suspend them for his son’s funeral on Monday.
“We appreciate your love and support,” he said, his voice nearly a whisper. “All I want is peace while my son is laid to rest.”
An event organizer said another date, Aug. 30, is set for a march in Ferguson.
Minutes later, Sybrina Fulton spoke. Her son was Trayvon Martin, another black teenager who was shot dead in a controversial incident that drew worldwide attention, and her voice was strong and clear.
“We want you guys to stay focused on what you need to do,” she said.
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who attended the gathering, wanted to leave no doubt about what that focus should be.
“There is power in Ferguson,” she said. “There is power in the vote, and if you don’t know that, something’s wrong with you.”
In Ferguson, where a large majority of residents are black, residents often complain about what they see as the racial insensitivity of the mayor and the police chief, who are both white. African Americans are the targets of a disproportionate number of traffic stops and arrests, they say.
“You don’t have to complain about the mayor,” Waters said. “You can get rid of him. If you don’t like the police chief, you can get rid of him, too.”