ST. LOUIS — In a third day of civil disobedience, local and national clergy members with up-stretched arms cross police lines and were arrested during a protest at the Ferguson Police Department.
The planned act, which organizers called Moral Monday, featured a more-than-four-hour protest in which waves of clergy demanded to speak with Ferguson Police chief Tom Jackson and crossed police lines.
Among those arrested in one of the first waves was Dr. Cornel West, an activist and scholar who declared his intentions on Sunday. “I’m not here to give a speech,” he said. “I’m here to get arrested.”
Clergy members conducted at least three waves of arrests, with many kneeling in prayer as they were taken into custody. Police officials could not immediately confirm how many arrests had been made.
Heavy rain poured from the sky as the protest went on for more than four hours. The demonstration is the first of several planned demonstrations and mass-arrest events on Monday, all part of a campaign centered on Ferguson, Mo., the small suburb where Michael Brown, a black 18-year-old, was killed in August by a white officer.
The clergy march in the morning began at Wellspring Church then headed to the Ferguson Police Department where they encountered a line of police. There, a clergymember declared the crowd would be claiming the police department’s parking lot as public space to serve as a memorial and “sacred worship space,” to Brown. Brown was unarmed but police have said he’d struggled with Officer Darren Wilson over his gun. Witnesses have said Brown was trying to surrender when he was killed. Participants in the protest used white and yellow chalk to outline the figure of a body on the parking lot’s wet pavement. Religious leaders then took turns sharing pieces of Brown’s life before concluding it was “cut short by police brutality and systemic racism.” The rain soaked into their clothes as they waited the four hours and 32 minutes in remembrance of the time Michael Browns body lay in the street in Ferguson. The front line of protesters closest to the police was composed of youth and clergy from around the country. Rev. Ashlee Weist-Laird of Boston and activist Sister Dragonfly of New York City held on to each other as they prepared the Cross the police and be arrested “I don’t want to be arrested but I am willing to be because I want a better world for my children,” she said. It was the second wave of the day’s actions. Sunday night and early Monday morning more than 1,000 peaceful protesters shut down an intersection by playing jump rope and silently marching through St. Louis before staging a sit-in at St. Louis University.
The protests are part of the “weekend of resistance” that brought scores of sympathizers to Greater St. Louis.
The demonstrations are the latest in a series of meticulously organized protests and acts of civil disobedience. The specifics have been held tightly by organizers, with just several dozen people aware of each night’s plans until moments before the actions.
Sunday evening demonstrators gathered in the Shaw neighborhood — at the scene of another recent police shooting — and split into two groups.
The first group departed just after 11 p.m., marching to a nearby intersection and shutting down traffic by playing hopscotch, jumping rope and tossing footballs.
The demonstration was a play on what has become one of the most popular chants during the protests:
“They think it’s a game. They think it’s a joke.”
The second group departed about 45 minutes later, marching silently on the sidewalk to meet up with the first group.
As the groups converged, they were met by officers in riot gear who held cans of pepper spray and smacked their shin guards.
The officers stood both on the sidewalk and the street and threatened to make arrests. Protest leaders said they had the right to proceed on the sidewalk.
“This is an unlawful assembly,” an officer yelled.
“No. It’s not,” protesters responded. “This is a peaceful group of people silently walking on the sidewalk.”
Officers continued to make noise with their batons as protesters refused to move.
“Can you please stop beating your sticks and talk to the people you protect?” asked Derek Robinson, a local minister.
Protesters asked officers why many did not have visible name tags and warned them that observers from the Department of Justice were in the crowd.
After about 20 minutes, officers allowed the march to continue up the sidewalk.
As the march continued, scholar and activist Cornel West emerged — prompting a massive cheer. Earlier in the night, West had announced he’d come to be arrested in solidarity with protesters.
Chanting “hands up, don’t shoot,” marchers headed toward St. Louis University. University security and police officers tried to stop the protest from entering the campus.
“I am a student, I have my ID, and I have a lot of guests,” a protest leader said into the megaphone.
The security officers stepped aside and the crowd kept moving. Participants then gathered at the campus center chanting “out of the dorms and into the streets” as students rushed out of buildings. Some joined the protesters, others took photos and others brought out bottles of water.
“This let me know that my son was loved and he is still being loved, right now,” said Vonderitt Myers Sr., whose son was shot and killed by a police officer earlier this month. Police said that Myers, 18, fired shots at the officer and that a gun was recovered from the scene. Family members insist Myers was unarmed.
Myers’ family marched at the front of the protest and demonstrators observed four minutes of silence in his honor.
Lesley McSpadden, the mother of Michael Brown, marched with protesters in Ferguson on Saturday, where protesters also observed a four-minute silence, a reference to the more than four hours that Brown’s body was on the street.
More clergy arrests pic.twitter.com/Y3sgcp674s
— Wesley Lowery (@WesleyLowery) October 13, 2014
On SLU’s campus Monday morning, protest leaders addressed the crowd. They said their demonstration was about ending white supremacy and addressing systemic problems people face regardless of race.
Protesters gather around clock in center of university. Chanting “out of the dorms into the streets!” View on Instagram
“This is the real definition of resistance … this thing right here that we’re doing right now is not only a symbolism of what we can do when we stick together, this is … It’s the beginning in a change in our consciousness as a people, as a human race,” Dhoruba Shakur said.
They noted the significance of it being Columbus Day, calling him “the first looter” and saying they were “reclaiming” the college campus. “I know this was a college a couple of hours ago, but as of right now this is our spot and we not going nowhere,” a protest leader said.
[This post has been updated. Last update: 4:26 p.m.]