#FergusonOctober: Clergy Go “Toe-to-Toe” with Police as Moral Mondays Arrive in Missouri

The weekend brought seekers of racial justice in Missouri to the police station, the university, and the local Wal-Mart—the scene of another recent police shooting of a young black man.

On the morning of Monday, October 13, protesters and clergy members gathered at Wellspring Church in Ferguson, Missouri, for a group prayer and brief training in civil disobedience. From there, the crowd walked to the parking lot of the Ferguson Police Department, where they were met with a line of police officers in riot gear.

"We’re taking our cue from the fearless activists in North Carolina."

According to the libertarian news organization Reason.com, clergy members walked right up to the line of officers, going “toe to toe” with them, and offered to take their confessions. Other protesters brought large mirrors and held them up, asking police officers to look at themselves. Several clergy members were reportedly arrested during Monday’s events, as well as the noted author and activist Cornel West.

More than two months after the police killing of unarmed black teen Mike Brown, protesters gathered in Ferguson once again for a planned weekend of resistance. This weekend’s events, which organizers called “Ferguson October,” were aimed at bringing Ferguson back into the national spotlight and continuing the discussion of police racism and violence, issues that were catapulted into the national news after Brown’s death back in August.

The scene at the Ferguson police department was part of Ferguson October’s Moral Monday, a strategically planned day of civil disobedience. Though the actions were rooted in Ferguson October’s cause, organizers borrowed the idea of Moral Monday from a growing movement based in North Carolina.

“On Monday, we’re taking our cue from the fearless activists in North Carolina who were inspired to fight back against right-wing attacks there and across the South,” wrote organizers on FergusonOctober.com.

Reverend William Barber, president of North Carolina’s branch of the NAACP and founder of the Moral Mondays movement, expressed his support for Ferguson and offered advice in a written statement.

The overarching message was a call for justice for Mike Brown and a call to end police prejudice and racialized bias.

“You have said that your actions today are modeled after the Moral Monday events in North Carolina,” Barber’s statement began. “Let me lift up just a few key elements that we have learned.”

Barber pointed to the diversity of those involved in the movement as a sign of its success. “When the moral voice and power of the clergy and the energy and imagination of youth are joined with the tears and authenticity of mothers and fathers, united with a diverse coalition of justice loving people, it is a force that is unstoppable,” he wrote.

The Moral Monday in Ferguson capped off a long list of events, marches, and protests that happened throughout the weekend in the St. Louis area. On Friday hundreds marched on the district attorney’s office to publicize a long list of demands that protesters, including the family of Mike Brown, have been fighting for since Brown’s death.

Those demands include the arrest of Darren Wilson, the officer who shot and killed Brown, and the firing of Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson. Protesters also demanded that St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch step down from the case and that a special prosecutor be assigned instead.

Linking up with North Carolina

On Saturday thousands of people marched through St. Louis. The diverse crowd represented many different movements. The overarching message was a call for justice for Mike Brown and a call to end police prejudice and racialized bias.

The weekend also included a variety of events beyond traditional marches. Saturday offered participants a community yoga class, a free concert from rapper Tef Poe, and a packed schedule of panel discussions covering everything from police militarization to LGBTQ rights. Each event was listed in a detailed schedule on FergusonOctober.com, so participants could be organized and efficient during the events. Ferguson’s Moral Monday was listed on the schedule as well, however specific events were not announce until the day of, sometimes just minutes before the planned actions were to take place.

Ferguson October reorganized and revitalized the movement for racial justice in policing.

The fast-growing tradition of Moral Monday got its start in North Carolina in 2013. After the election of North Carolina governor Pat McCrory, Republicans gained majorities in both the legislative and executive branches of the state’s government for the first time since 1870. This resulted in a spate of conservative legislation that many considered to be discriminatory being passed, including cuts to social security and unemployment benefits, anti-abortion regulations, increased requirements for voter registration, and reduced spending for public education.

Inspired by the now famous protests, sit-ins, and marches of the Civil Rights era, participants of Moral Mondays focus on peaceful demonstration to draw attention to their cause. Every Monday, protesters enter the state legislature building to protest North Carolina’s government. Last summer alone, 900 arrests were made during these peaceful protests. The arrests, protesters hope, not only draw more publicity to their cause, but also show that participants are serious and passionate about changing their state government.

One such highly publicized event occurred last summer, when more than 2,000 people marched to North Carolina’s capitol building to protest a proposed bill that would significantly cut the number of abortion clinics within the state. More than 60 peaceful protesters were arrested after refusing to leave the building, including Janet Colm, the president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina.

Revitalizing the movement

By adapting Moral Mondays for their own cause, Ferguson October organizers were not only able to borrow ideas and tactics from the movement but also build on its growing notoriety throughout the country. Many of Monday’s events in Ferguson were both meaningful and dramatic, and drew the attention of news outlets across the country.

Taking a cue from the Occupy movement, students set up a tent on campus, calling themselves “Occupy SLU.”

Monday’s events began in the morning and continued well into the night. Just a few blocks from the Wellspring Church where protesters gathered before marching to the Ferguson Police Department, labor activists and community members blocked the street in front of Emerson Electric, a Fortune 500 company based in St. Louis. Activists used the demonstration to draw attention to economic disparity within the community. According to figures quoted on Ferguson October’s website, Emerson Electric, a major employer in the community, had an annual revenue of $24.6 billion in 2013—a stark contrast to the average per capita income of $21,000 in the neighborhood where Mike Brown lived.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that nearly 200 people sat outside Emerson Electric’s headquarters. Police in riot gear arrived to the scene to break up the demonstration. Although protesters avoided private property, 13 people were arrested at the scene and charged with “refusal to disperse.”

Across town, students at St. Louis University staged a sit-in to protest what they see as unfair law enforcement tactics. Taking their cue from the Occupy movement, students set up a tent on campus, calling themselves “Occupy SLU.” By Monday, more than 1,000 people had gathered under the campus clock-tower, making it one of the largest events of the weekend. The father of Vonderitt Myers, another young black teenager who was gunned down by police on October 8, was among the participants.

Toward the end of the evening, several activists made their way to a local Wal-Mart to show solidarity for John Crawford, the unarmed black man who was killed by police inside an Ohio Wal-Mart store while holding a toy air rifle, just three days before Brown’s death. The Greene County jury ruled that the officers’ actions were justified. Protesters blocked the entrance to the store, forcing it to close for at least half an hour before police moved the demonstration to the parking lot.

With the variety of protests and events throughout the weekend, Ferguson October reorganized and revitalized the movement for racial justice in policing. In case you missed it, here are some more photos of this weekend’s happenings: