St. Louis Post-Dispatch
FERGUSON, Mo. — A smaller, quieter protest formed in Ferguson on a sultry Wednesday night after other marches converged upon the St. Louis County Justice Center in Clayton, where a grand jury has begun examining the Michael Brown case.
In Ferguson, crowds of barely 200 protesters walked along West Florissant Avenue at Canfield Drive, which has been the scene of protests, frequent disruptions, and occasional looting for 11 consecutive nights. Violence erupted with the burning of a QuikTrip on Aug. 10, one day after Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Brown, 18, on a street in the nearby Canfield Green apartments.
Wednesday’s steamy heat, with a temperature of 76 and 82 percent humidity even at 11 p.m., appeared to have subdued the gathering, as did a cloudburst that hit shortly after 8 p.m. The crowd grew later, but nothing like previous nights.
Ministers, many wearing orange T-shirts marked with “Clergy United,” mingled through the crowd and stepped in when young protesters appeared to get rowdy.
“When things heat up we don’t mind jumping into the middle of the fuss because we know who watches us,” said Pastor Doug Hollis, of St. Louis, a member of Clergy United.
Police officers stood in clusters, not riot lines, and kept protesters moving. Wednesday night was quieter than Tuesday, which had been less rowdy than Monday night, when police fired tear gas. Police made numerous arrests both nights.
Tension flared briefly Wednesday night when a man and a woman who support Wilson showed up with signs. Many in the crowd shouted at them, and police quickly removed them by squad car. Fortunately, the rain then hit hard.
The first of two marches in Clayton was held in the morning as the grand jury commenced its work. But County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch warned that it wouldn’t finish its task any time soon, despite numerous calls by protesters and some public officials for speedy action.
“Our target date is, hopefully, by the middle of October,” McCulloch said. “I certainly understand the concern, but we won’t rush it through. In the long run people, at least a majority of people, will appreciate the thoroughness.”
Grand juries work in secret. The grand jury meets in McCulloch’s office behind secure doors in the County Justice Center, across South Central Avenue from the St. Louis County Courthouse. Reporters have no ability to see anyone entering or leaving the grand jury room, or how they get to McCulloch’s office from outside the building.
Handling the case before the grand jury are assistant prosecutors Sheila Whirley, who is black, and Kathi Alizadeh, who is white. Alizadeh, with 27 years’ experience, is the regular homicide prosecutor. Whirley has the grand jury assignment and 18 years’ experience.
McCulloch declined to discuss any evidence, but elaborated upon his decision not to rush the investigation.
“Some people say we are rushing to judgment, and others say we are dragging it out,” he said. “We will do this as expeditiously as possible, but certainly not in any haphazard manner.”
Outside the Justice Center, about 50 protesters marched and chanted in the 7800 block of Carondelet Avenue. One held a sign saying, “Recuse McCulloch.”
The only tense moment was when Pattie Canter of Clayton walked to the protest area carrying a sign saying, “My family and friends support Officer Wilson and the police.”
Chanting “What about police rights?” and “Police officers have rights, too,” Canter walked near the protesters, some of whom shouted, “Go home! Go home!”
Replied Canter, “I have constitutional rights. I’m not going anywhere.”
As the crowd became more agitated, police officers escorted her to a police vehicle. Canter told a reporter she was not under arrest. “Why would I be?” she said before being driven away.
On Wednesday evening, a second march of about 100 people returned to the Justice Center after walking eight blocks from Clayton High School. The clergy group that organized the march called for the replacement of McCulloch with a special prosecutor, “an expedited grand jury hearing to indict Officer Darren Wilson,” and an investigation into racial profiling.
Participants sang and carried signs saying “Black lives matter” and “Taser, then talk.” A few officers stood outside the Justice Center when the marchers arrived.
Also endorsing the call for a special prosecutor was Missouri House Speaker Tim Jones (R-Eureka), who visited on Wednesday the spot where Brown was killed and spoke to Ferguson residents and reporters. Jones backed the call for replacing McCulloch and criticized Gov. Jay Nixon for having been “all over the map” in the 11 days since Brown was killed.
“When you have that many people asking (for a special prosecutor), the best thing to me is to avoid the appearance of impropriety … and appoint a special prosecutor,” Jones told reporters.
A regular critic of Nixon in Jefferson City, Jones said the governor should have gotten involved in the case sooner than he did. “This is the first time an incident of this kind has occurred in this state,” Jones said. In the early days, Jones said, “He himself was not very engaged at all.”
Jones said he listened to residents’ concerns. “A lot of people still have a lot of raw emotions and are concerned,” he said. “They are concerned about justice being truly served.”
At 5 p.m. Wednesday, about 500 worshipers gathered at the St. Louis Cathedral Basilica on Lindell Boulevard to pray for Brown and his family. Archbishop Robert Carlson celebrated the Mass. Among those attending was Mayor Francis Slay.
Said Carlson, “We must examine the tragic events taking place in the St. Louis area, seek to understand ‘Why?’ and work toward dismantling systemic racism. Until the causes are addressed and rectified, there will be no change.”
Carlson said the archdiocese would re-establish a human rights commission and work to provide more school scholarships.
County police reported Wednesday that 51 people were arrested between 8 a.m. Tuesday and 8 a.m. Wednesday in the Ferguson protests. Only one of the suspects lives in Ferguson.
Nine of them were from other states, including people from Chicago; New York; Westport, Conn.; Austin, Texas; and Cincinnati. Fourteen suspects are from St. Louis city, three from places in Missouri outside St. Louis city-county, and the remaining 24 from St. Louis County.
Most of them were charged with refusal to disperse, but four were charged with unlawful use of a weapon and three were charged with possession of burglary tools.
Kim Bell, Lilly Fowler, Steve Giegerich, Valerie Schremp Hahn, Joe Holleman, Walker Moskop, Tim O’Neil, Robert Patrick, Nicholas J.C. Pistor, Chuck Raasch, and Leah Thorsen, all of the Post-Dispatch, contributed to this article.
AFP Photo/Joshua Lott
Interested in national news? Sign up for our daily email newsletter!