About 150 people set out from Ferguson Saturday on the first leg of a seven-day, 134 mile march to end racial profiling organized by the NAACP. Some participants, such as NAACP president Cornell William Brooks, plan on walking all the way to the governor’s mansion in Jefferson City.
Others, such as Tim and Tia Swain, are walking a day or two. The couple drove out from Indianapolis to be part of the action, but have work commitments later in the week.
Tia Swain said she and her husband are marching for equal access to justice regardless of skin color.
“It’s a scary thought that because of the way you look or because of the way someone feels when you’re around your life is at stake and the justice system in this country won’t fight for you,” she said.
The NAACP is calling for federal legislation to end racial profiling, civilian police review boards, body cameras on police and for better implementation of Missouri’s racial profiling statute.
Missouri does have a state law that requires law enforcement agencies to report traffic stop data based on race, but Brooks says it is not adequately implemented.
“One hundred years ago the NAACP was founded to combat a form of racialized violence then known as lynching. We solved that problem in the last century. We can solve this problem in this century,” Brooks said.
The march is modeled after the historic 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, the capital of Alabama.
About 200 protesters demonstrated at several stores in and around the Brentwood Promenade shopping center Saturday in response to a grand jury decision not to indict former Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown.
Following several days of demonstrators, organizer Brittany Ferrell of Millenial Activists United said the protesters will continue to “stand on the side of justice and morality.”
“We’re going to be out here until we get…justice,” she said. “Mike brown’s family did not get a chance to heal, the community has not had a chance to heal, they did not indict Darren Wilson. That is very problematic in a system that is supposed to uphold justice and accountability.”
But the timing of Saturday’s action on what some call the biggest holiday shopping weekend of the year also was purposeful.
“This is the biggest shopping holiday for America, so what we’re doing is we’re causing a disruption,” said Millenial Activists United organizer Ashley Yates. “We’re taking our righteous anger and we’re causing a disruption. There’s no business as usual, because business as usual leaves us dead in the street.”
The protest’s initial location was Target, but a heavy police presence prevented protesters from entering there. Instead, demonstrators staged a so-called "die-in" at a Trader Joe's, marching around the store aisles and lying down on the floor, before leaving and yelling chants such as “Stop shopping, join the movement” and “Hands up, don’t shoot.” They also walked through Bed Bath and Beyond with their hands up, as police looked on.
Protesters also briefly shut down Eager Road right outside the entrance to the shopping complex, at which point police formed a line in the street. After being warned over bullhorns by police that they would be arrested if they stayed in the street, protesters returned to the sidewalk and leaders cautioned people to stay off the roadway. Police maintained a line blocking the eastbound lanes of Eager. At one point, a man crossed the street and was detained by police; Brentwood police said they believed only one person was arrested during the demonstration, but could not provide information on charges.
Several motorists honked their horns and shouted out their windows in support of the protesters, and one woman got out of her car and hugged protesters going by. As demonstrators walked south on Hanley Road, one police officer tried to find out where the march would go next to, as he said, help block off traffic. But one organizer said the protesters would march where they wanted, and the officer walked away, frustrated.
The protest dispersed after another die-in outside Buffalo Wild Wings, during which demonstrators chanted “No justice, no wings.”
“They can't have wings, they can't have Home Goods, they can't have Target goods, no Trader Joe's groceries until they acknowledge and start to deal with the problems that leave us dead in the street,” Yates said, “until they acknowledge the police state we live in that the black community has had to deal with for years and years and years, there's no business as usual for anyone."
Demonstrator Rev. Melissa Bennett says demonstrating in such a high-traffic location will help make and keep people aware of policing and justice issues.
"We need to keep visibility up about this issue, we need to educate ourselves about the gaps in the grand jury, we need to read statistics about black young men and being 21 times more likely to be shot and killed by police, we need to be aware and abreast."
Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille.
Follow Stephanie Lecci on Twitter: @stephlecci.