Acts of civil disobedience took center stage in St. Louis this weekend, as youth organizers wrangled local activists and out-of-state visitors in town for "Ferguson October." The event has drawn thousands to St. Louis to publicly oppose police brutality.
"We're here to destroy systemic racism and white supremacy!" shouted one organizer at the crowd surrounding the clock tower in Saint Louis University's midtown campus around 2 a.m. Monday morning. Most of the group had marched from a rally in the Shaw neighborhood, the scene of last week's police shooting that left eighteen-year-old Vonderitt Myers dead.
Myers' death ignited a new round of protests over law enforcement's treatment of young black men, and organizers tell Daily RFT that the shooting, along with an influx of activists from all over the county, laid the perfect groundwork for so-called "direct action."
"The issue we're dealing with is white supremacy, it's not white people," said one protest leader, who gave his name as Dharuba Shakur, from the group Tribe X. "But it's hard to have that conversation with people who are white and who experience privilege and benefit from systemic racism."
One way to bridge that gap, he said, is by disrupting business as usual, in order to "open the consciousness" of those blind to society's pervasive inequalities.
Shakur noted that his group collaborated with other local activists to stage the massive sit-in at SLU. They targeted the campus, he said, as a way to further "radicalize" those out-of-town protesters who'd tasted true civil disobedience on Saturday, when dozens of people locked arms and blocked the entrance to a QuikTrip in the Grove. That night, police in riot gear moved in with pepper spray and arrested seventeen protesters.
Shakur said he was also dismayed by the earlier Saturday protests in front of the Ferguson Police Department, which included a police escort and had the feel of a "dance party."
"That's not really civil disobedience, being escorted by the enemy," he said.
The sit-in at SLU began as a rally in front of the Shaw Market, where Vonderitt Myers -- who police say was carrying a pistol -- bought a sandwich on Wednesday minutes before his fatal confrontation with an officer from the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. Police say Myers shot at the officer first.
See also: The Faces of #FergusonOctober
At around 11 p.m. Sunday, organizers asked the crowd to split into two. Neither group was told where they were going.
One group of about 200 walked along Shaw Avenue and veered toward the Grove, where they stopped at Boyle and Manchester avenues. There, as a riff on the popular "They think it's a game, they think it's a joke!" chant, organizers brought out jump ropes, balls, sidewalk chalk and Twister. The protesters blocked the intersection for about 30 minutes before continuing the march to SLU.
Continue to read about where the second protest group marched -- and who they encountered on the way to SLU.
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