Taking a knee

A protestor took a knee as demonstrators blocked traffic near the Chaifetz Arena parking garage near Compton and Olive on October 11.

“Governor Greitens, you said during your campaign that if you had been governor during Ferguson the protests would have been done in two days,” Wes Schnitker said through a bullhorn outside of the Ritz-Carlton St. Louis on Friday, October 12. He directed the 100 or so protestors to repeat after him.

“Today marks day 28,” Schnictker said, and they repeated. He said it again with such intensity that his voice cracked and his face turned red. The protestors repeated with the same fervency.

“Today marks day 28. You lied.”

There have been a few scattered self-care days, but more than a month after people took to the streets in response to the not-guilty verdict in the Jason Stockley murder trial, a diverse, multi-generation coalition of people continued to stage direct actions.

“Y’all know I don’t say much because I want the young people to speak, but you all have to keep going,” said Reverend Darryl Gray as they stood in front of the St. Louis County Justice Center in Clayton waiting to march.

Attendance was on the light side for this action, so Gray seemed compelled to encourage. “Some days there will be just a few of us,” he said. “Other days it will be more people than you ever could imagine. This is a sprint and not a marathon. You have to keep going.”

Fired up, they proceeded with the action. After nearly an hour of chants that demanded Greitens to come out to address them, the protestors moved on and ended the action by marching through Clayton.

As they dispersed, it was announced that the group would return to Ferguson for what they called a “liberation party.”

It was the protestors’ second consecutive Friday returning to Ferguson. The crowd was small, but the group was energized. The week before they had marched through Ferguson for nearly three hours without incident – which was not the case this night. Less than an hour after they chanted “our streets” in front of the Ferguson Police Department on South Florissant Road, five arrests were made for impeding traffic.

Beyond the hashtags 

As the protestors made a circle blocking traffic at Olive and Tucker in downtown St. Louis on Saturday afternoon, each was instructed to say the name of an individual who lost their lives at the hands of police.

“Sandra Bland,” “Tamir Rice,” “John Crawford,” they shouted. They kept shouting more names. There were so many that the sounds flooded together. Among those names were those with St. Louis connections: “Mike Brown,” “Philando Castile,” “Kajieme Powell,” “Kiwi Herring,” “Cary Ball Jr.,” “Thaddeus McCarroll.”

They ended by collectively shouting the name of Patrick Harmon.

Patrick Harmon was killed by Salt Lake City police in August. But his case was recently in the news because footage from the fatal shooting showed him running away from police – which contradicts law enforcement’s original claims.

 “These are not just hashtags, they are real people,” Tory Russell said.

Antoinette Harmon, the sister of Patrick Harmon, had come to march with them.

“Who the hell do these police think they are?” Antoinette said. “Why do they think they get to be the law, the judge, the jury and the executioner? They need to act like they got some [expletive] sense, or put the [expletive] guns down.”

They marched to the courthouse, where they originally gathered a month before when Judge Timothy J. Wilson issued his verdict.

“We are at the steps of injustice,” Russell said. “We will disrupt. We will disturb. We will continue.”

Protestors march route of fatal chase 

“This is the place where Jason Stockley executed Anthony Lamar Smith,” Cheyanne Green said. “He said, ‘I’m going to kill this mf’ – and that’s what he did. Each time you guys come out here, it’s not for nothing. We are making a change – we are making a difference.”

When more than 50 protestors assembled at Lillian and Riverview on Tuesday, October 11, the sky looked as if it was going to do its worst. Dark clouds and drizzle appeared ready to give way to thunderstorms, but the idea of calling it a night never entered the many side conversations about the weather.

Trash bags were distributed. They became makeshift raincoats and hair bonnets as organizers gave instruction on what the evening would entail.

The plan was to follow the last route Anthony Lamar Smith would ever take. The sky was restless, but not a single person fell back as they proceeded with the 1.3-mile walk. Unlike other marches, there were no police to follow them and redirect traffic. A few designated drivers made a caravan and crept along to clear the path.

“Rain, shine, sleet, snow, hell no, we won’t go,” they chanted as the rain came down.

They blocked Riverview and West Florissant with their usual tactic of making a circle. As they proceeded down West Florissant, many drivers honked in solidarity. Other motorists honked for them to get out of the way.

Several patrons of the China Chop Suey near Goodfellow and West Florissant looked on while they waited for their orders to be called. Some expressed solidarity.

“I know that’s right,” a woman with bright red hair yelled as she made her way into the restaurant. She raised her fist and chanted along in sync with the group of protesters as they shouted, “Black lives matter!”

Wet, cold and undeterred, protestors made it to Acme and West Florissant. They held a moment of silence. Just before, a few gave remarks.

“Jason Stockley felt like Anthony Lamar Smith’s life wasn’t valuable enough for him to continue to move on,” Cori Bush said. “Since we have that opportunity, we must use it to hold the police accountable. We must not let them snatch another life from us.” 

As they observed three minutes of silence, the only sound was the crackling of those trash bag raincoats. The mildewed smell from the dilapidated building behind them blew in with each chilly breeze that accompanied the drizzle.

Just after their silence fell, a powerful voice – one everyone recognized – began to blast from a sound system.

A white mini-van, one of the those leading the protest vehicle caravan, began playing audio of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “Before the victory is won, some will be misunderstood and called bad names and dismissed as rabble-rousers and agitators, but we shall overcome. And I'll tell you why we shall overcome – because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

As with every action, they ended with the words of Assata Shakur: “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

Ebony Williams said those chains include trolls behind those keyboards – and the people who aren’t willing to protest.

“Those chains are all of those people who are criminalizing us,” Williams said. “We are the heroes. We have to be the voice of those people who are too scared to stand up – those people who are dead and can’t stand up.”

Along the route, they featured a new chant that said, “Tell them your demands: Y’all gon’ stop killin’ us.”

“That’s the only message,” Williams said. 

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