As the Citywalk Concert Plaza on Ferguson’s South Florissant Road is plunged into verbal war, a small country band patiently waits under a pavilion for its chance to continue performing.
As arguments between concert-goers and protesters intensify, police begin to separate the two parties, and it becomes evident to the band that its gig has come to an early end. The guitarist packs up his instrument with an expression of exasperated disappointment, but a glimmer of understanding shows on his face as the booming chants surrounding him continue to ring out: “Hands up, don’t shoot!”
Such words have been repeated across St. Louis and across the country the past week, as the “Black Lives Matter” movement has been reawakened by the police-involved shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, both caught to some extent on video.
Protests came to the St. Louis area on July 8, in a peaceful downtown march that later turned into a more confrontational rally in Ferguson.
“I don’t think police officers should have certain protections,” Johnathan McFarland said about the main point of the protests, which he organized through Facebook. “They are part of the citizenry too.”
Protesters gathered at 4:30 p.m. to march through the streets of downtown and eventually finish at City Hall with a moment of silence.
They reconvened at 8 p.m. across the street from the Ferguson Police Department on South Florissant, then began the night by marching down the street to interrupt the Citywalk Concert, where they chanted, demonstrated signs and got into altercations with several concert-goers.
Kip Loui, the guitarist for the band at the Citywalk Concert, is also a teacher at Webster Groves High School.
“Right message, perhaps the wrong target,” Loui said. “Shutting down a country band may not have been the best approach, but some messed up stuff happened this week, and you know, part of me understands it.”
The “messed up stuff” Loui spoke of was in reference to not only the Sterling and Castile shootings, but the mass shooting that killed five police officers at a rally in Dallas the night before. The Dallas shooting added to the tension between protesters and police at the rallies in St. Louis, but the police downtown and in Ferguson had different approaches to handling the protests.
Whereas the St. Louis PD monitored marchers but avoided conflict by allowing them to occupy the streets and interrupt rush hour traffic, the Ferguson PD issued early warnings that arrests would be made to those who strayed from the sidewalk.
“People want to be heard. We understand that, but moms and dads are trying to get home with their kids,” Lieutenant Harry Dilworth said. “You have to balance the two.”
Unfazed if not motivated by the warnings, protesters marched back down South Florissant toward the police department then turned and faced the police cars with their hands held up, refusing to leave the road. Hesitant onlooking protesters on the sidewalk began going onto the street to join in again when others lay down on their backs in the middle of the street, much like when they lay across the steps to City Hall in downtown earlier that evening.
After about 10 more minutes, protesters started to get back on their feet, and police immediately began to make arrests.
After an estimated six to eight people were arrested, including one photographer, officers and protesters alike walked to the front of the PD building to socialize while waiting for the releases of those detained. Relations between the two groups, previously tense and hostile, were now friendly and even joking.
“A lot of people respect us, but they don’t respect what we do for a living,” Dilworth said. “If I put on a hoodie and walk down the street, you can’t tell me from the next guy.”
“We’ve done every single computation of things you can do. It’s really a game of cat and mouse,”protester Tony Rice said. Rice has been a leader in the St. Louis area Black Lives Matter movement for two years, and he estimated he’s been a part of 200 protests during that time. “It’s been a learning experience for both sides,” he said.
Rice said about the purpose of consistently holding protests, “The only other way to invoke change is voting, and every two years, four years, that’s a long wait when you feel like you’re experiencing injustice.”
WGHS junior Danielle Daniels, who felt the same way as Rice, organized a “Protest with a Purpose” on Facebook for Webster students because she “thought it would make a change in our community.”
The rally was last Monday, July 11, at 1:30 p.m. About 40 students wearing black clothing met at the high school and marched to City Hall and back, setting down their signs to join hands in a circle in front of City Hall first.
“If someone gets pulled over, we don’t want them to be racially profiled,” Daniels said. “We just want the police to respect us as much as we respect them.”