by Kenya Vaughn
Special to the NNPA from the St. Louis American
“This memorial has put up to remember Mike Brown and all the people who have been killed because of police violence and racism,” said Elizabeth Vega. “This is a sacred space and beyond the yelling, we want people to get quiet and centered about what this is really about – a family is in mourning and a community is grieving.”
About a 150 protests listened intently as Vega handed out candles and gave instruction as protesters prepared to make the walk from West Florissant – near “ground zero” – and head to Ferguson police headquarters Friday night.
“It is a silent march,” Vega said. “We want people to be solemn and silent because that has its own power.”
On the damp and cold evening, these protesters had gathered from around the nation as part of the “Week of Resistance” also known as “Ferguson October.”
This march was actually more of a funeral procession as a mirrored casket emerged from a vehicle and young men (two black and two white) dressed in black slacks, black ties and white shirsts carried to an altar created in Michael Brown’s honor.
As they waited for others to arrive, Michael Brown was eulogized through song and poetry. Vega, a performance artist known as Basmin and young man named Darius Simpson yielded to the urge to step forward and contribute their talents to the moment.
“The time has come and we are here to make a change. It starts with you and me,” Basmin said before commencing into an original song.
“What’s wrong is no longer right,” Basmin sang. “We can heal with love and light. We are all the same, cultural differences shouldn’t make us estranged…”
Simpson recited a spoken word piece that paid tribute to some of the more sensationalized untimely deaths of black men – starting with Emmitt Till nearly 70 years ago, and ending with Michael Brown.
With the exception of Till, all of the lives lost included in his piece were at the hands of law enforcement.
“Emmitt Till was not a victim he was a magician,” Simpson said. “He changed to course of the Civil Rights movement with a snap…of his neck.”
Simpson went on to weave together the tragic deaths of Sean Bell, Oscar Grant Jr., Amadu Diallo, Victor Steen and most recently VonDerritt Myers Jr.
“August 5, 2014, Beaver Creek, Ohio – a toy soldier by the name of John Crawford was relieved from duty in the action figure section of Walmart,” Simpson said. “He was not a victim, he was a war hero.”
He spoke the names, dates and locations of young black men whose lives had come to an end due to police violence – prior to and since the death of Michael Brown August 9 in Ferguson.
“I apologize if I have trouble pledging allegiance to a flag that is determined to leave our black bodies dangling at the altar,” Simpson said. “With liberty and justice for all.”
Taking advantage of the crowd’s undivided attention, Lost Voices member Brandy Shields thanked the crowd of mostly white non-residents for coming to honor the life of Michael Brown.
“You could have spent your weekend out partying, at home or doing anything but you came to stand with us,” Shields said. “I know y’all came from all over and we appreciate that and we thank you. I’ve been out here every night and I’m glad that you came too.”
As the somber protesters paid tribute to Michael Brown and conjured up the spirit of Civil Rights Movement era with songs like “We Shall Overcome,” and prepared for the death march down W. Florissant to Ferguson Police Headquarters, there was a totally different energy at their destination.
Hundreds gathered and were revved up for justice’s sake.
The only poetry heard was Chuck D of Public Enemy as “Fight the Power” blasted through the speakers of a portable sound system.
“Racist cops, you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide,” a young woman yelled through a bullhorn.
The energy of the crowd was electric. The term “righteous anger” had been a popular catch phrase during the initial Ferguson protests – and it was being personified on S. Florissant Road.
“[expletive] the police,” some of the crowd chanted as they listened to a mixtape of selections from popular rap music that expressed as much.
A banner that read “Stolen Lives” included the names of African Americans who had died at the hand of law enforcement was in the mix of protest signs. It would take four people to hold and stretch out so that all the names were visible.
In the midst of the gathering, word came that the funeral procession protesters were coming towards the Ferguson police station.
A vast majority of the crowd headed to meet them halfway.
Pallbearers placed the casket in front of the station and stood it up so the police officer’s reflections bounced from the mirrors. They let it sit momentarily before carrying it off to their vehicle.
“No Justice, no peace,” was one of the many chants underway as the young men silently headed towards their makeshift hearse.
As they silently completed their mission, the somber protesters joined the spirited bunch and the regulars welcomed them with – as they did the overwhelming majority of the others whose first destination was the Ferguson Police department.
“I met people from all over – New York, D.C. and even Oakland California,” a middle-aged woman protester said to another. “I got you beat, I met somebody from Hawaii,” the other woman responded.
“They spent their own money and came all this way to help us fight for Mike Mike.”
The group then left Ferguson and headed to South City to protest the death of Vonderrit Myers. According to a statement from St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, there was no damage reported and no arrests made.