50+ arrested in Ferguson protests police

2014-10-14 08:52
File: AP

File: AP

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Ferguson - Pounding rain and tornado watches didn't deter hundreds of protesters on Monday outside Ferguson police headquarters, where they stayed for almost four hours to mark how long an 18-year-old Michael Brown's body was left in the street after he was fatally shot by a white police officer in the St Louis suburb.

Organisers of the four-day Ferguson October protests dubbed the day "Moral Monday" and committed acts of civil disobedience across the St Louis region.

In addition to the initial march on Ferguson police headquarters, protesters blocked the entrance to a major employer, held a loud rally inside St Louis City Hall, disrupted business at a Ferguson shopping centre and three Wal-Mart stores and tried to crash a private Democratic Party fundraiser for a St Louis County executive candidate.

At the Edward Jones Dome on Monday night, protesters briefly draped a banner over a Jumbotron video board that read "Rams fans know on and off the field black lives matter". The St Louis Rams were playing the San Francisco 49ers in a National Football League game.

All told, more than 50 people were arrested, including scholar and civil rights activist Cornel West.

West was among 42 people arrested for disturbing the peace at the Ferguson police station. Some protesters used a bullhorn to read the names of people killed by police nationwide.

Christian, Jewish and Muslim clergy members — some of whom were among the first arrested — led a prayer service before marching to the station two blocks away.

Officers in riot gear

"My faith compels me to be here," Bishop Wayne Smith of the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri said outside Ferguson police headquarters. "I want to show solidarity, and call attention to the structural racism of St Louis."

Protesters were met by about 40 officers in riot gear. Several clergy members approached individual officers and asked them to "repent" for Brown's killing and other acts of violence. Some officers engaged the protesters, while others ignored the efforts.

"My heart feels that this has been going on too long," Ferguson officer Ray Nabzdyk told the clergy. "We all stand in fault because we didn't address this."

Tensions have simmered since the 9 August shooting death of Brown by a white police officer who has not been arrested or charged with any crime.

 Residents were upset about the way Brown's body lay in the street for more than four hours while police investigated the shooting.

Many insist Brown was trying to surrender, with his hands up. Residents also protested the military-style police response to the days of riots and protests that erupted immediately after Brown's shooting in the predominantly black St Louis suburb of Ferguson where just three blacks serve on a 53-officer force.

Further disruptions

Since Brown's death, three other fatal police shootings of black males have occurred in the St. Louis area.

 The most recent involved an off-duty St Louis officer who was working for a private neighborhood security patrol when he shot and killed 18-year-old Vonderrit Myers Jr on Wednesday night. Police said the white officer fired 17 rounds after Myers opened fire. Myers' parents say he was unarmed.

Outside Emerson Electric headquarters in Ferguson, six people were arrested for failing to disperse after blocking a street, St Louis County Police spokesperson Brian Schellman said. Emerson is one of the region's largest employers.

At St Louis City Hall, about 100 protesters blew whistles that echoed off the marble walls. Protest leader Kennard Williams presented a list of four demands to Jeff Rainford, chief of staff for Mayor Francis Slay. Slay was not in the office on Monday.

The demands called for an end to participation in a program providing military equipment to police, body cameras for all officers, a civilian review board for police and mandatory independent investigations whenever police kill someone.

Rainford said St Louis is not part of the militarisation programme; he promised the other demands will be taken seriously.

"We are already working on all of these things," he said.

Williams said that wasn't good enough, and pledged further disruptions in days to come. One protester was arrested for property damage.

Additional arrests

Earlier, hundreds of people marched to Saint Louis University in the pre-dawn hours. A small group held a brief demonstration inside the upscale Plaza Frontenac shopping centre in St Louis County.

Another group was turned away by police and security at a Ferguson Wal-Mart, but the store closed out of concern about the protest.

County police spokesperson Brian Schellman said Monday night that several protesters were arrested there but could not provide a precise total. He added that an unspecified number of additional arrests were made at the fundraiser for County Councilman Steve Stenger, a Democrat who has come under criticism for his political links to St Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch.

Ferguson October began Friday with protesters marching to McCulloch's office and renewing calls for charges against Darren Wilson, the officer who shot Brown.

 A grand jury is reviewing the case, and the US Justice Department is conducting a civil rights investigation.

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