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Saturday, December 3, 2016

By Carey Gillam

FERGUSON, Mo. (Reuters) – Hundreds of people marched, prayed and observed a moment of silence in Ferguson, Missouri, on Sunday, a year after a white police officer shot an unarmed black teenager to death, igniting months of protests and a national debate on race and justice.

A racially mixed crowd of young and old, some pushing children in strollers, turned out for a day of mostly peaceful commemorative events in the mostly black St. Louis suburb where Michael Brown, 18, was gunned down on Aug. 9, 2014.

After nightfall, however, a smaller crowd numbering dozens of protesters converged on West Florissant Street, a flashpoint in last year’s unrest, and blocked traffic while chanting “Shut it down” and anti-police slogans during a severe thunderstorm.

At about the same time, the front door of a beauty supply store was smashed in an adjacent shopping strip, prompting police to move in to secure businesses and investigate. Police had kept a low profile until then.

Eyewitnesses told reporters they had seen members of the crowd looting the store, located around the corner from the spot where Brown was killed.

No arrests were reported immediately, but protest organizers pledged to carry out further acts of civil disobedience starting after midnight.

Brown’s death, and a grand jury decision to spare Darren Wilson, the officer who shot him, from criminal charges, sparked a prolonged wave of demonstrations in Ferguson last year that boiled over into rioting and arson at times and spawned sympathy rallies across the country.

It also sparked greater scrutiny of racial bias within the U.S. criminal justice system, giving rise to the “Black Lives Matter” movement that gained momentum from a series of other high-profile slayings of unarmed minorities by white police in cities such as New York, Baltimore, Los Angeles and Cincinnati.

White doves were released after 4-1/2 minutes of silence to represent the roughly 4-1/2 hours that Brown’s body lay in the middle of the street after he was shot. A crowd of about 1,000 then embarked on a silent march through Ferguson to honor Brown and others killed in confrontations with police.

Another name was added to that list on Friday when unarmed 19-year-old Christian Taylor, a black college student, was shot dead by a white police officer investigating a burglary at a car dealership in Arlington, Texas.

In New York, about 100 protesters in the borough of Brooklyn lay on the ground on Sunday for 4-1/2 minutes to mark Brown’s death. Two were arrested and some of the protesters later held a second rally in central Manhattan.

“A year ago this day people took to the streets in defiance all over the country and it was inspiring, it was liberating, it was beautiful,” said Jamel Mins, 29, the organizer of the New York protests. “Our work is not done.”

CANDLES AND TEDDY BEARS

In Ferguson, Brown’s father, Michael Brown Sr., wore a T-shirt bearing his son’s image and the slogan “Chosen for Change” as he attended a newly rebuilt memorial of teddy bears, candles and flowers on the quiet residential road where Brown died.

Others held “Black Lives Matter” banners and signs calling for justice for those killed by police.

“I hurt every day. But I’m trying to make it uncomfortable to people that think this is OK to do this stuff,” Brown explained to reporters on Saturday.

A plaque featuring a metallic dove has been installed on the sidewalk a few feet from the spot where Brown died. The street where his blood pooled has been repaved.

Hazel Bland, 51, who lives in the Canfield Green apartment complex near where Brown was killed, said she thinks about the shooting every day.

“It is really sad. You never think this would happen, all these police officers killing all these people. I really hate that it happened,” Bland said on Sunday.

A federal review found that officer Wilson broke no laws when he shot Brown. However, it also determined that Ferguson’s predominantly white police department had for years violated the rights of the city’s black population.

The Justice Department report found police were singling out African-Americans for arrests and ticketing, in part to raise revenue for the city. It also found a pattern of excessive force, including the use of attack dogs and electric stun guns, by police against unarmed black citizens.

The city’s police chief, city manager and municipal court judge all left their jobs following the report.

The anniversary weekend in Ferguson was marred by an apparently unrelated drive-by shooting on Sunday afternoon a few blocks away from a church as marchers were approaching, police said. One person was wounded in the foot.

A 17-year-old was arrested early on Sunday after firing at a 22-year-old man in a strip mall parking lot, police said.

(Additional reporting by Sebastien Malo in New York; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Eric Walsh)

Photo: Michael Brown Sr., (R) father of Michael Brown killed by a Ferguson police officer in 2014, and other family members, walk by the spot where Brown was killed at the start of a protest march in Ferguson, Missouri August 8, 2015.  REUTERS/Rick Wilking