Protesters gather in front of the St. Louis Police department Fri. May 29, 2020 in response to the killing of a black man in police custody caught on camera in Minneapolis, Mn. this week. Photo by Wiley Price / St. Louis American

Hundreds of demonstrators assembled in St. Louis for over six hours Friday night, in solidarity with protests in cities across the country after former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin killed a black man named George Floyd on Memorial Day evening by kneeling on his neck for over eight minutes. 

Much of the protest recalled the energy of the marches in Ferguson in 2014, after then Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson killed 18-year-old Michael Brown. Brown’s name was invoked repeatedly throughout the march along with Floyd’s. “Ferguson is the home of the revolution,” Organizer Bishop Derrick Robinson said during the protest over a megaphone to a listening crowd. “We are the blueprint.”

Though the officially-organized protest began at 6:00 PM in front of the downtown St. Louis Metropolitan Police headquarters, marched through the city streets, and ended in the same location around 10, a group of community members followed that up by continuing to march onto Interstate 70. The group blocked both eastbound and westbound traffic on the highway from about 11:20 pm to around 2:00 am. 

As reported in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, around 2:00 am a man was killed after he climbed onto a FedEx truck early on Saturday morning. The driver drove away, dragging the man’s body underneath the truck, as people yelled at him to stop. After watching this incident, those assembled on the highway dispersed and traffic resumed. Police arrived on the scene after 2:00 am, and at one point in the early morning shots were fired by an unknown party. As of this writing no arrests have been made. 

For protester Dai Marie, this was a time to express anger at the police violence that killed George Floyd and call for change. “It’s peaceful right now because it always starts out that way. But wait until the police stop hiding in their buildings and cars...that’s when things will escalate, and they need to in my opinion, because we are tired. Tired of being scared, tired of being harassed, tired of being abused.” 

As people gathered to begin the protest at 6pm outside of police headquarters, others were taking similar actions in cities across the country. Groups protested in solidarity with Minneapolis in Oakland, San Jose, New York, Portland, and Detroit, as well as St. Louis. 

As the group marched along Market, Jefferson, and Washington streets downtown, the crowd grew larger as people spontaneously left their cars to join in.  “Last night was filled with new faces that we didn’t see during the protests responding to the [2017] Stockley decision,” said activist Amie Jade Maxwell. “Last night, so many people joined in from off the street and from out of their cars. It was shocking to see how positive their responses were to our presence.” As protesters marched, they carried signs reading Black Lives Matter, George Floyd, Stop Killing Us and Fed Up. They chanted “no justice, no peace,” and “when black lives are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back,” among other refrains often used in the 2014 Ferguson protests. 

One thing, of course, made this protest visually different from 2014: the overhanging threat of COVID-19. Almost everyone in the group wore masks, though some took them off periodically in order to chant or take a deep breath. “Protesting during a pandemic is strange,” as Maxwell recounted. “It’s impossible to imagine what the long term looks like with COVID’s effect on political action, but a vast majority of participants were wearing masks and doing their best to minimize the possibility of viral transmission.” The police kept about a block of distance for the entire event, though as Maxwell noted, “They weren’t wearing masks as much as the protesters if my memory is serving me correctly.”

Further protests were planned for 3:00 pm Friday in Clayton and 6:00 pm in Ferguson, as marches and riots continue across the country. Protester Marie put it as a nation-wide release of tensions. “How much are we going to allow?” she asked. “You can only poke at a balloon so many times before it pops. Right now, we popping.”

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