Rick Wilking / Reuters

Thousands join Hands Up Walk Out to demand justice for Michael Brown

Activists left classes, jobs at time of Brown’s death as Obama hosted meeting aimed at restoring trust in justice system

Thousands of people took part in Hands Up Walk Out actions on Monday, during which participants left their jobs and classes to protest last week’s grand jury decision not to indict the white police officer who killed unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

The protest took place at 12:01 p.m. Central time — the time Brown was killed on Aug. 9 — with events planned in more than 30 cities in the U.S. and abroad, activists said.

“From the #ShutItDown actions that have blocked major highways and intersections to the #BlackOutBlackFriday protests, the message is clear: No more business as usual,” Ferguson Action, an organization formed after Brown’s death to demand justice, wrote on its website.

“We can no longer do what we have always done and cooperate with a system that does not respect black lives,” the organization wrote. “We will only get the change we want if we disrupt the daily order and insist that black lives matter. If that means shutting down the entire country, that’s what we’ll do.”

High school students from Ferguson to Los Angeles participated in the actions, with some holding signs reading ‘No more killer cops!’ and ‘I wish I lived in a country where Tamir Rice could have turned turned 13.’ Rice was shot and killed by a police officer in Cleveland Nov. 22 after the officer mistook Rice’s toy gun for a real weapon.

Students from colleges and universities — including Emory, Stanford and Yale — also participated in the actions. Protests were similarly staged in British Columbia and Toyko, said Ferguson Action.

Workers from the National Domestic Workers Alliance of Atlanta; post office employees in Beacon, New York; and members of the Gathering, a United Methodist Church in Clayton, Missouri, were among those who walked out of their jobs on Monday afternoon. 

Brown’s shooting death has galvanized critics of the way law enforcement and the criminal justice system treat African-Americans and other minorities in the United States. Protests erupted across the country after the grand jury’s Nov. 24 decision not to charge Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for Brown’s death, with demonstrators in over 100 cities taking over public roadways and shopping malls to demand justice.

On Sunday protesters shut down a busy highway that runs through Washington, D.C., police said. People formed a human chain, stopping traffic in both directions for up to an hour. Also Sunday, players from the NFL’s St. Louis Rams showed solidarity with Ferguson protesters when several team members entered the stadium with their hands raised over their heads. Some witnesses said Brown had his hands up when Wilson killed him.

In an effort to address the lack of trust in the justice system, President Barack Obama on Monday asked federal agencies on Monday for concrete recommendations to ensure the U.S. isn't building a "militarized culture" within police departments, as he promoted the use of body cameras by police. The heavily militarized response of Ferguson police to protests in the wake of Brown’s death was highly criticized as being too harsh and sparked a national discussion.

He met with youth and civil rights leaders, elected officials and members of law enforcement at the White House in an effort to address mistrust between minority communities and police. Activists said the issue could be successfully addressed only when the entire country acknowledges the problem, which stems from racial bias and the criminalization of black men.

“A black man is killed every 28 hours. This is not an isolated incident. The first thing that has to happen in order to rebuild trust is that we have to acknowledge that there is a problem,” Opal Tometi, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter, told Al Jazeera. “Our community is being hyperpoliced, black people are being profiled racially, and our community members are being shot down at the hands of law enforcement, security guards and vigilantes.” 

Obama spoke to reporters at the end of a White House meeting with police, civil rights activists and local leaders and acknowledged the participants told him that there have been task forces in the past and "nothing happens."

"Part of the reason this time will be different is because the president of the United States is deeply invested in making sure that this time is different," Obama said.

Obama said he was upset to hear the young people in the meeting describe their experiences with police. "It violates my belief in what America can be to hear young people feeling marginalized and distrustful even after they've done everything right."

Ferguson’s mostly white police force has come under criticism since Brown’s death, with some critics arguing that the department should better reflect the demographics of the mostly black community it serves. Ferguson Mayor James Knowles addressed those critics on Sunday, outlining ways that the police department would bring more African-Americans into the force.

He also said Sunday that Wilson, who resigned Saturday, citing safety concerns, would not receive severance pay. “There will be no severance or extension benefits for Darren Wilson following his resignation,” Knowles said at a news conference. Critics have called for Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson to resign, but Jackson said he had no plans to do so, which the mayor confirmed Sunday. 

Brown’s family said it would continue to pursue legal actions against Wilson. The family will also work toward state and federal reforms requiring “every police officer” to wear a body camera, The Los Angeles Times reported.

A wrongful death lawsuit could be filed against Wilson in the near future, Benjamin Crump, a Brown family attorney, told CBS’ “Face the Nation.” Meanwhile, the Department of Justice is conducting a criminal investigation of Wilson, but analysts said a federal indictment is unlikely because it would require proof that Wilson purposely violated Brown’s civil rights.

With wire services

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