By Christine Byers and Robert Patrick, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
FERGUSON, Mo. — Police already tense from a series of violent confrontations have turned to 12-hours shifts and limits on vacations as they face a new challenge of potentially hostile protests that may blanket the region this weekend.
Effective Thursday, St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson began requiring that two officers answer every call, even for a parking violation.
St. Louis County officers and Missouri Highway Patrol troopers also are on 12-hour shifts. Ferguson has all its officers working through Monday.
The immediate concern is a national invitation that could bring protesters by the thousands to the area to vent frustrations stoked by the Aug. 9 killing by white Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown.
A march to St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch’s office Friday will kick off days of marches, rallies and civil disobedience planned by organizers who demand action on behalf of Brown and others they say struggle against racial profiling and police violence.
Mervyn Marcano, a spokesman for “Ferguson October: A Weekend of Resistance,” said he expects 6,000 to 10,000 people at attend.
“I’m coming to Ferguson because repentance has not happened there yet,” said the Rev. Jim Wallis, founder of the Christian magazine Sojourners and a spiritual adviser to President Barack Obama. He is one of the key speakers at Sunday night’s interfaith event at St. Louis University’s Chaifetz Arena.
Wallis said from his base in Washington, D.C., “What is very clear is black lives just are worthless in America.”
On the “Ferguson October” website, people are seeking or offering rides to the area from as far away as Massachusetts, Florida and California. The site is brokering free lodging and information about hotels, mainly in downtown St. Louis and Clayton.
Lamont Lill, said in a telephone interview that he’s coming with a group of 15 “mostly young, mostly organizers of color” from the Durham, N.C., area because “the country we live in does not recognize … our humanity.”
He added, “I belong to a nationality of people who are being killed by the police every day anyway. Every day of my life is a risk. So I might as well be serving a cause … the cause of justice and of humanity.”
Some volunteers are being trained to direct traffic, act as medics, mediate conflict, distribute water, provide information and clean up.
Many of the events are scheduled for downtown St. Louis, with some arranged by local organizations, Marcano said.
Said Ferguson Township Democratic Committeewoman Patricia Bynes, “I’m glad that they’re going places other than Ferguson because the people of Ferguson are a little tired.”
Several dozen protesters have demonstrated outside Busch Stadium at recent baseball games, including the National League Division Series games this week. No protests are publicly listed for the St. Louis Cardinals’ first two league championship games against the San Francisco Giants, on Saturday and Sunday.
Abby Bobe, interviewed Tuesday in the Ferguson offices of the group Hands Up United, said protesters plan to “peacefully” make people “uncomfortable” to expose hate and racism that will be recorded and posted on social media. “OK, let’s show the world what you look like,” he said.
Bobe said that eventually, they will work on “growing white empathy.”
Marcano said he expects Saturday’s march and rally in downtown St. Louis to be perhaps the biggest of events that include rallies, teach-ins, potluck meals and training sessions.
Kept quiet, for now, are a series of “autonomous, decentralized actions” throughout the weekend, said Andy Stepanian, another spokesman. That includes a sit-in on “Moral Monday,” named for a series of protests last year in North Carolina that resulted in hundreds of arrests.
Stepanian said he anticipates that most of these actions will culminate in civil disobedience. “I don’t see it as far-fetched that arrests might happen all three days,” he said.
Bobe said organizers would release information on the smaller events just an hour before, to limit law enforcement’s ability to prepare.
Bobe, who has been arrested and, she says, hit with a Ferguson police officer’s baton, said that many of the protests started out peacefully but became aggressive after police arrived.
Dotson, the city police chief, said “We have a responsibility to protect those who want to come and express their First Amendment rights as well as those who are coming to enjoy hockey games, baseball games, et cetera. It is prudent that we have the resources to do both.”
It has been a difficult period for police. While a St. Louis County grand jury continues to investigate whether Wilson’s killing of Brown was a crime, other episodes have put officers on edge.
On Sunday, a man fired shots at two St. Louis officers at about 6 p.m. as they were responding to a call for a “suspicious person” in the 4500 block of Chouteau Avenue. They returned fire and he ran. Nobody was hit or arrested.
On Sept. 27, a man ran from a Ferguson officer then ambushed him and shot him in the arm. The gunman fled.
Also Sept. 27, someone in a car fired multiple shots at an off-duty St. Louis city police officer while he was driving his personal vehicle on Interstate 70 near Hanley Road. He was not hurt. It was not clear if the attack was targeted or random.
Jeff Roorda, business manager of the St. Louis Police Officers’ Association, said the tension is taking a toll.
“These guys go to work with a badge in one hand and their lives in another and they don’t know which one they are going to have to give up at the end of the day,” he said. “It’s a terrible burden for them to be put in a situation where they have to use deadly force, and by God when they do, they shouldn’t have to worry about a trial in the court of public opinion before the evidence and facts come to light.”
He also said, “We want our officers to be safe, and being safe right now means having enough of them out there.”
Although the first scheduled event does not occur until this morning, Ferguson canceled Thursday night’s municipal court after hearing of a planned disruption, said police Col. Al Eickhoff.
AFP Photo/Scott Olson