The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Powerful images as massive Ferguson protests kick off peacefully

FERGUSON, Mo. — Hundreds of protesters from across the country have descended on the St. Louis area for a planned weekend of protests and demonstrations as part of the continued unrest following the August police shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown.

And though protests in south St. Louis on Thursday night – spurred by another police shooting of another black 18-year-old — turned violent and were met with pepper spray, the large demonstrations on Friday remained peaceful and were largely concluded by 1 a.m.

An even larger protest, in which organizers expect thousands to participate, is planned Saturday morning in downtown St. Louis.

“Ferguson October is our freedom summer” organizers said in a text message to supporters sent early Saturday morning.

Organizers held two protests on Friday, the first an afternoon march in Clayton, Mo., to the office of St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch — who protesters want removed from the case out of concerns that he is too close with local police officers and will not indict the officer who killed Brown.

Crowds marched through much of Clayton, the county seat, despite heavy rain. Rather than banners and signs, many wrote “Justice for Mike Brown” and “Indict Darren Wilson” on their umbrellas.

Protests organizers, many of whom have been out on the streets nearly every night since Brown was killed, marveled at the turnout despite the heavy rain.

“It shows the power of our movement,” said Netta Elzie, who runs a daily newsletter that updates protesters on events and shares articles being written about the protests.

By 5 p.m. local time, the Clayton protest had died down as organizers were preparing for an evening demonstration in Ferguson, in north St. Louis County. By 8:30 p.m., demonstrators were gathering in two separate parts of that city.

The protests were highly organized. While hundreds gathered on West Florissant Avenue, near the spot where Brown was killed, hundreds more took up across town, outside of the Ferguson police station.

On West Florissant, protesters held a candlelight vigil for all victims of police shootings, standing next to a casket made of mirrors. Then, they began the several-mile march to join the protest outside of the police department.

Across town, the protests at the police station remained peaceful. Demonstrators blasted “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy and chanted. Officers stood inside of the department parking lot, not engaging.

About 10:15 p.m., the protesters at the police station marched several blocks down the street to meet the group arriving from West Florissant.

After the two groups met, they marched back to Ferguson Police Department and, for the first time, entered the police station parking lot – holding the mirror casket directly to the faces of the officers.

Officers, who had been standing in a loose formation, primarily just watching the protesters across the street, quickly scrambled to change tactics. Officers in riot gear emerged to replace those who were in normal uniform. Soon, batons and shields were distributed.

But officers remained silent and stoic, allowing protesters to take over the entrance to the police station and to chant and shout just inches from their faces.

As officers on the front lines continued to gear up – now with gas masks, batons, and facial shields – others took positions on the roof above, which inflamed some of the protests.

A police voice then came over the loud speaker telling the protesters they must move one step back from the officers. For the most part, the protesters complied.

For hours, protesters chanted and screamed at officers who remained silent and did not engage.

Activist Bassem Masri, who live streams from the protests, worked his way up and down the police line, aggressively taunting the officers.

“Who paid for that gear? You didn’t buy that shield, officer. We bought that shield. That’s our shield” Masri said, before peppering an officer who wasn’t wearing a nametag with questions.

Among the officers were several dozen black patrolmen, primarily from the state highway patrol and St. Louis County Police Department. Police diversity has been a major theme of the Ferguson protests – the local police department includes just three black officers despite being a city that is majority black.

“How can you stand there with them?” shouted one protester at one of the black officers.

Added another woman: “The moment you take your uniform off, they’d shoot you too!”