Outside Greater Grace Church in Ferguson on Sunday afternoon, upward of 800 people gathered for a rally for Michael Brown. With the church full to overflowing, the crowd outside held signs and chanted much like they did at Saturday’s march and other demonstrations this past week.
But inside the sanctuary there was a different tone. The enormous crowd inside sang worship songs, raised their hands in praise and even responded with an occasional amen.
A group of heavy-hitters – including the Rev. Al Sharpton, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Martin Luther King III – brought the capacity crowd to its feet. But perhaps the most striking speech came from Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, who was tapped by Gov. Jay Nixon to lead the police effort in Ferguson.
Dressed in his Highway Patrol uniform and using no notes, Johnson told Brown’s family: “I wear this uniform and I should stand up here and say that I’m sorry.”
“This is my neighborhood,” Johnson said. “You are my family. You are my friends. And I am you. And I will stand to protect you. I will protect your right to protest.”
Johnson’s speech electrified the crowd. He brought the crowd to its feet when he talked about how he was going to see his son after his speech concluded.
“When this is over, I’m going to go in my son’s room, my black son — who wears his pants saggy, his hat cocked to the side, he’s got tattoos on his arms — but that’s my baby. We need to thank Mike for his life and the change that he’s made,” Johnson said.
While Johnson’s speech was a tough act to follow, Sharpton and King III did their best to offer rousing support for Brown and his family. Both of Brown’s parents – Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown, Sr. – were on hand but did not speak. Jesse Jackson also did not speak.
Sharpton promised to push for federal legislation that he says would curb abuse from police. He also sought to condemn the looting and violence in Ferguson since Brown’s death. He said that some people are “angry and out of control – others are taking advantage of you.”
“And don’t take advantage of their child,” Sharpton said. “There’s a difference between an activist and a thug. Don’t loot in Michael’s name. We are not looters. We are liberators. We are not burners. We’re builders.”
During the rally, numerous luminaries – including Judge Greg Mathis – promised five-figured donations to Brown’s family. It was also announced that college scholarships would be provided to Michael Brown’s siblings.
Others who were present – including the Jesse Jackson – heeded Sharpton’s call to give, $10, $20 and $100 to help the Brown family. Members of the crowd lined up to drop bills of varying denominations into two baskets until they were filled to the brim.
More than anything, the speakers promised that the push to indict Officer Darren Wilson for Brown’s death would continue. Some – such as King – promised that the protest movement sparked by the shooting death would persevere.
“Because we’ve come much too far from where we started,” King said. “You see, nobody ever told any of us that our roads would be easy."
And Sharpton also promised that the protests over Brown’s death would continue.
“Peace means that we have equal protection under the law,” Sharpton said. “Quiet means you’re shut up and silent. We are not going to shut up. We are going to come together and have a real peace in this country.”