Celebrations in St. Louis for Martin Luther King Jr. were interspersed with protests on Monday as activists continued their call for social justice in the wake of the police shooting of Michael Brown last August in Ferguson.
The Old Courthouse hosted a civic ceremony for the slain civil rights leader in the morning. Clergy led gatherers in prayer, city leaders praised King as an inspiration for confronting today’s racial inequities, and singers and musicians filled the rotunda with gospel music.
On the steps outside, about 300 protestors had gathered as many vocalized some of the familiar chants associated with the social unrest in Ferguson last year. Some waved signs with phrases like "Black Lives Matter" or "Missouri is the new Mississippi."
Though St. Louis has held an annual civic ceremony in King's honor from more than 40 years, activist Donald Moore said the holiday this year was particularly different.
“Well, what’s different with this one is the Mike Brown incident in Ferguson and the Eric Garner situation in New York has brought to light that we still got a lot of work to do in America as far as racism and police brutality,” he said referring to the black man who died last July in New York while in police custody.
The official events of the day also included a march down Market Street to Harris-Stowe State University, but some attendees were confused by the protesters who preceded the march from the courthouse with one of their own to the New Life Evangelistic Center.
Christopher Grundy joined the roughly 100 protesters who had gathered at the shelter on the corner of Locust and 14th Streets to protest its potential closure this May.
“All these things are related to each other,” he said. “So, whether people went with the dignitaries for Martin Luther King Jr. Day or … the group that’s here trying to keep this homeless shelter open, they’re all related to each other, they’re all forms of protest trying to increase the amount of justice in the city.”
At Harris-Stowe State University, about two dozen protesters later interrupted an interfaith service that later led to angry confrontations with students outside the campus auditorium. Police kept watch on the dispute, but no arrests were immediately reported.
The protesters waved an upside-down American flag, took to the stage and used a microphone to criticize the university and participating clergy members for being part of the "establishment" and not doing more during the holiday to agitate for change. Among their demands, the demonstrators are seeking independent investigations for police-involved shootings.
The protesters left the stage and the building after an appeal for calm from Michael Brown’s mother Lesley McSpadden.
Later in the afternoon activists marched from Canfield Green to the Ferguson police department. In the evening demonstrators gathered at Michael Brown's memorial for a vigil.