Theater-goers attending Annie Sunday afternoon were serenaded by two dozen protesters outside the entrance to Fox Theatre.
The demonstrators sang modified versions of songs from Annie, including “It’s a Hard Knock Life” and “Tomorrow,” as theater-goers, many with children, passed by on their way to see the musical.
The protesters, like many others throughout the region, were acting in response to what they perceive as unfair treatment of African Americans by police — a groundswell movement that has spread after a grand jury declined to indict a white police officer, Darren Wilson, in connection with the August shooting death of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black man.
After being asked by police not to block the doors, the protesters lined up near the curb in front of the theater’s iconic marquee. Most theater-goers either ignored the protesters or watched politely before going inside. One man shouted an expletive as he walked by the group.
Protest organizer Alisha Sonnier said they wanted to bring their message to a new audience, and they deliberately included children in their demonstration and chose a venue where there would be children.
“There’s this image that children and activism have to be separated. And that’s really false,” said Sonnier, who graduated from high school last year and now attends Saint Louis University. “We saw a lot of kids today who were like ‘mom, what’s going on?’ …and some parents were like ‘honey, this is a good thing. They’re fighting for their rights’ and some parents were like ‘just go on into the show, that’s not important.’ But either way those kids now have questions in their head. We took away a little bit of their privilege.”
The demonstrators also chose the venue because they saw parallels between the musical and real life experience.
“If you want to see a show, if you want to see some hard-knock lives, you don’t have to pay for it. You can see it right here,” Sonnier said, adding that real Americans have been orphaned by the justice system.
To show that history repeats itself, one demonstrator read a monologue about Emmett Till and another read a monologue about Eric Garner.
Till was was a 14-year-old African-American from Chicago who was murdered in 1955 in Mississippi after allegedly flirting with a white woman. Garner was an African-American man who died in July, Staten Island, N.Y., after a police officer put him in an apparent chokehold, in an attempt to arrest him on suspicion of selling individual cigarettes.
Although separated by decades of history, Sonnier said both were denied justice.
Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille.