April V. Taylor
After giving a rousing address at Chaifez Arena, Dr. Cornel West joined Ferguson October protests that occurred late Sunday evening into Monday morning. After marching and organizing all weekend along with others, there were many who felt that the thousands of people who filled the arena to hear religious platitudes and take advantage of a free opportunity to hear Dr. West needed to do more than just cheer and clap in agreement with those speaking out against racism and oppression. At one point, young leaders took the stage in an unplanned intervention to call on the crowd to actually show up and stand beside us that night by showing up on Shaw Blvd, not far from the arena, to protest police killings and racism that occurs all over the country.
Not only did the people in Chaifez Arena answer the call, Dr. West and hundreds of others did as well. A crowd gathered and swelled around the memorial built for Vonderrit Myers, a teen killed by an off-duty St. Louis police officer less than a week ago. People took to Twitter urging others to come out an join them. STLPD had been using a helicopter, media reports, and people infiltrating protester groups to try to stop Ferguson October protests. However, organizers split protesters into two groups, marching different routes. As the first group took off, we got word that they had blocked an intersection, playing Twister and jump rope, while chanting the rallying cry, “They think it’s a game! They think it’s joke,” in reference to no one being indicted or held responsible for the deaths of those killed by cops and the rights violations that have occurred in the aftermath of Michael Brown’s death.
The group I marched with began marching down Shaw Blvd. with no indication of where we were headed. Unlike other nights, they asked us not to chant and to remain on the sidewalk so that police would have no reason to arrest for a noise disturbance or unlawful assembly. At one point, police had gathered blocking the street. Leaders decided to take the group through a field to reach the next street. As the group stopped to allow people to catch up, people just kept coming. For more than ten minutes, people appeared out of the foggy night to join in solidarity. Many had seen the huge throng of protesters and pulled over to park their cars and join in support.
When we reached the bridge on Grand Ave. just before St. Louis University, police officers had blocked the road as well as the side walk. They were dressed in riot gear and were tapping their batons in unison as an intimidation tactic.
The crowd remained calm as legal observers came to the front to advise officers that they were violating protesters right to use a public sidewalk. As cops were advised that legal observers were in the crowd, Dr. West emerged to also compel police to follow the law and allow protesters to pass. Eventually they did allow us to pass, and as the crowd approached St. Louis University, students began pouring out to join and to show their id’s to campus police, stating that the protesters were their guests and therefore allowed on campus. Vonderrit Myers father even pulled out his St. Louis University work id to show police.
The crowd began chanting emphatically, “Out of the dorms, into the streets,” as we poured through campus. The feeling of marching with so many who chose to stand up and say that Black lives matter was empowering, especially since the crowd was made up of young and old, rich and poor and a myriad of races, ethnicities and nationalities. Dr. West continued to march with us to the clock tower on campus where leaders addressed the crowd, advising that it was just before 2 am and that Moral Monday had officially begun with Columbus Day now becoming known as the day #OccupySLU was born.
Drumming and chanting ensued and pizza and tents were brought out as people set up to occupy the space until the list of demands regarding Michael Brown’s death and the violation of protesters rights are met. Although no one in the crowd knew at the beginning that this was what we were getting ready to be a part of, most felt excited and happy to be part of what they consider a historical and meaningful moment.
Here are some photos from the march that were posted on Twitter:
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