Hundreds of people demonstrated in the pouring rain in the St. Louis area Monday, with many refusing to move from outside Ferguson police headquarters for a period of four hours — the same amount of time that 18-year-old Michael Brown’s body was left on the streets after being shot dead by an officer in August, sparking months of unrest.
The action was the latest in a “Weekend of Resistance” over the shooting of the Missouri teen. Activists have used demonstrations to renew calls for the prosecution of the white police officer who killed the black teenager. But protests have widened in their scope, taking how police departments across the country treat black Americans as a theme. Supporters of the Brown family have said race played a part in the teen's death — unarmed at the time, he reportedly had his hands in the air.
Numerous protests have been held in the two months since the Aug. 9 killing of Brown by officer Darren Wilson. But following weeks of relative calm, tensions escalated after another black teen, 18-year-old Vonderrit Myers Jr., was shot dead in the St Louis area last Wednesday by a white, off-duty — but still uniformed — police officer.
Over the weekend, more than 1,000 people shouted slogans at riot police during street rallies and sit-ins protesting the police shootings of Brown and Myers.
On Monday, protesters and activists participated in more acts of civil disobedience, but wet, windy weather dampened some of the gatherings. In contrast to events in August, when spontaneous outpourings of anger over Brown’s death were confronted by heavily armed local police, Monday’s demonstrations appeared to be more organized and led by more seasoned activists.
Religious leaders were among those present at the demonstration outside the Ferguson police station, where 49 people were arrested, according to the St. Louis County Police Department. Some of the arrests were for assault in the third degree on a law enforcement officer, disturbing the peace, and refusal to disperse.
Those arrested hail from across the country, with about half coming from the St. Louis area and others from Chicago, Louisville, Kentucky, Brooklyn, New York, Oakland, California, Boston, Flint, Michigan; and Washington, D.C.
"My faith compels me to be here," Bishop Wayne Smith of the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri said outside Ferguson police headquarters. "I want to show solidarity, and call attention to the structural racism of St. Louis."
Several clergy members approached individual officers and asked them to "repent" for Brown's killing and other acts of violence. Some officers engaged the protesters, while others ignored the efforts.
"My heart feels that this has been going on too long," Ferguson officer Ray Nabzdyk told the clergy. "We all stand in fault because we didn't address this."
Among those detained by police was Cornel West, a prominent African-American academic, author, social activist and commenter, the police said in a statement.
"Protestors told police officers on scene multiple times they wanted to get arrested," St. Louis County Police Spokesman Sgt. Brian Schellman said, adding: "Arrests were not made until protestors started bumping police officer’s shields and eventually forcing through the police skirmish line."
The St. Louis County Police Department also arrested six others for blocking traffic at an intersection close to where a police officer shot Brown.
The arrests came after the demonstrators squared off with law enforcement officers around noon and broke through their lines. Protesters had demanded to be allowed into the station to speak to the police chief. During the standoff, some protesters sang "We Shall Overcome," an anthem of the civil-rights movement. Others chanted: "No justice, no peace."
Throughout the day, other groups occupied St. Louis city hall, shut down two Walmart stores, chanted outside a fundraiser for a local politician, and unfurled banners reading "black lives matter" at a St. Louis Rams football game.
According to text messages distributed by organizers, the Walmart protests intended to highlight the death of an African-American man in Ohio shot this summer by over zealous police while he was holding an air-rifle inside one of the big box stores.
Several other events had been scheduled for the day, dubbed “Moral Monday” by organizers.
"This is a historic day," said Mervyn Marcano, spokesman for protest group Ferguson October.
"The weekend has been incredible to help re-energize those of us that are here," said Ferguson Democratic Committeewoman Patricia Bynes. "The message is getting out there."
Protesters want Wilson — who has been placed on administrative leave while a grand jury decides his fate — arrested immediately and have called for the appointment of a special prosecutor in the case. The U.S. Justice Department has launched a civil- rights investigation into Brown's death.
Al Jazeera and wire services