Sunday was the first time Erica Garner stepped foot in Ferguson.
She’s the daughter of Eric Garner, a man who was choked to death by a New York police officer. She ventured to the St. Louis region to pay tribute to Michael Brown, the 18-year-old who became a symbol for a growing movement to change policing.
Standing close to the spot on Canfield Drive where Brown died, Garner lamented that changing attitudes takes more than 365 days.
“It has to do with something that’s institutionalized. It’s systemic,” Garner said. “I believe that the criminal justice system needs to be reformed. Our schools need reform. Our elected officials need to stand up. And we as people need to go out and vote and hold our elected officials accountable.”
Garner joined hundreds of people Sunday near the Canfield Green Apartment Complex to mark the one-year anniversary Brown’s death. One of the many speakers at the ceremony was Michael Brown Sr., who used his brief remarks to reflect on his son’s impact – and the media frenzy surrounding his shooting death.
“The biggest question that’s always asked to me is how I feel,” Brown said. “I think that’s just the dumbest question you can ever ask me. How about how is your day? How is this moment? I just don’t get it. You know? People just aren't considerate – and it be a lot of these newscasters that be saying the question.
“I just want to give all my love to my family, my friends, my new friends – my world! Ya’ll my world. Ya’ll made this happen for us,” he continued. “If it wasn’t you all, this would have been swept up under this carpet too.”
Among the people who watched the ceremony was Kim Huntspund, a St. Louis County resident who lives close to the Canfield Green apartment complex. She says the last year has been a whirlwind for the St. Louis region.
“The Bible says we perish for lack of knowledge,” Huntspund said. “And we’re going to need a lot more knowledge on culture, love and peace.”
Also watching the ceremony was Beldon Lane, a University City resident who was perched on the grass with his family. Lane said he has seen some positive change in a year.
“The police, bless them, were passing out popsicles – far different from a year ago,” Lane said. “But a lot needs to be changed. … It’s going to this – white people showing here along with black people. And all of us witnessing to what we want to see happen – walking together in the streets peacefully.”
Marches and maneuvers
Soon after the ceremony, hundreds of people marched about a mile and a half through the streets to Greater St. Mark Family Church.
Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson briefly stopped the march close to the church. While no explanation was given, the stoppage may have been related to a shooting near a home close to the march. St. Louis County Police officials said in a press release that a man was shot in the foot and that the wound was non-life threatening.
Federal and state prosecutors didn’t charge former Ferguson Police officer Darren Wilson with a crime for shooting and killing Brown. But the killing became a flashpoint for a broader debate about the relationship between law enforcement and African Americans.
St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said the aftermath of Brown’s death taught him that “things matter that don’t necessarily boil to the surface right away.” He said the shooting prompted policymakers to get serious about cracking down on municipalities that depend on traffic fines for budgetary revenue.
“You’ve heard me talk a lot about where we are with generating revenue for municipal governments on the backs of poor people – and typically on the backs of poor minority people,” Belmar said. “How does that leave us with the perception that we have of the police. And I think those are damaging. And I don’t think we really understood that. I think understood that for decades. But I don’t think necessarily as an entire community we understood that.”
One of the people watching the march from behind the fence of her home was Loretta Johnson, the former mayor of Dellwood. Long before Brown’s death, Johnson helped dissolve Dellwood’s police department and forge a contract with St. Louis County Police Department.
When asked if other cities would follow her city’s lead, especially after Brown’s death, Johnson said “I think it eventually, yeah – it’s going to happen.”
“A lot of the mayors and the elected officials think that their power is through the police department,” Johnson said. “You know, it takes a selfless act to give up your police force. But if you’re really doing it for the residents in the area that you serve, this shows that it’s the right thing to do.”
More protests expected Monday
Organizers are planning widespread acts of civil disobedience throughout the St. Louis region on Monday. While they haven’t divulged what’s going to happen, local activist Anthony Shahid hoped that protests would spread beyond Ferguson and St. Louis’ borders.
“I’m asking for all over this country,” Shahid said. “You want to see something about peaceful? Ya’ll learn how to be peaceful!”
Over the past year, protesters have blocked roads, briefly shut down area highways and demonstrated in area stores.
Organization for Black Struggle is one of the groups planning the disruptions, but according to the organization chair even he doesn't know what all will happen.
“There’s a number of groups from around the area that will actually be doing actions. The beautiful thing about it is we don’t know what everybody’s going to be doing. So they’ll be striking various targets — some government, some like law offices, some people that just benefit from the system the way it is," Montague Simmons said.
Simmons said to him the disruptions are a way to fight for democracy.
“For us it’s a fight to say that we have the right to actually be protected and we should expect the same kind of accountability in the system that folks get when they live in other places. Policing in our community should not have to be different. And if it weren’t different we wouldn’t see continuing loss of black lives,” Simmons said.
As he stood by a permanent memorial for Brown, Eddie Umana reflected on how Wilson didn't face charges for Brown's death "makes you wonder how is it as a country we view human life in general."
The University City resident says he has hope St. Louis can change in the future. But he added it may not happen as soon as people want or expect.
"I think it’s not necessarily correct that the hope will come within our lifetimes," Umana said. "The example I give is Harriet Tubman and all the work she put in. And for all the work that she did, what right do I have to expect to see what I want to see? It’s just more about doing the work, connecting with people, doing what we can and just seeing what we can do from there."
"And we can hope that at the end of day, that change will come," he added.
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