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Hundreds of protesters gathered in Ferguson on Saturday in memory of Michael Brown, a black teenager shot dead by a white police officer three weeks ago today — sparking a national conversation on race and police militarization.
Brown’s parents and relatives led a peaceful march down Canfield Drive in the St. Louis suburb to the memorial that marked the spot where Brown was killed on Aug. 9 by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson.
After visiting the memorial, around 500 people converged on the local Ferguson Police Department and blocked Florissant Road, a hotbed of the protest actions in past weeks.
“We got a lot of people here, hollering and screaming at the police,” Gregory Lewis, an activist at the protest, told Al Jazeera. “But this is just one of the many events happening today, there’s a BBQ going on down the street by some different organizations here.”
Lewis said the protesters were mainly local residents, and that some people, using speakers attached to the tops of cars to broadcast their message, had demanded justice and an end to police violence.
Wilson has still not been charged, and the police incident report about Brown’s death was found to be largely blank more than a week after the shooting. A St. Louis grand jury is currently considering evidence in the case, and a separate federal investigation is also underway to determine whether or not the killing constituted a civil rights violation.
Police actions in Ferguson over past weeks have been highly criticized. Early protests turned violent after a local police force clashed with largely peaceful demonstrators. Images of police dressed in camouflage uniforms carrying automatic weapons aimed at unarmed protesters shocked the nation and sparked debate about a trend of militarization among local police departments nationwide. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon temporarily handed oversight of the protests over to the Missouri State Highway Patrol amid criticism of the local forces.
Though there was a law enforcement presence at Saturday's protest that had set up a cordon around the department entrance, they appeared more restrained than in previous demonstrations. Each of the officers present at the demonstration was equipped with a chest camera, Lewis said, adding that in addition to local Ferguson police, state troopers and Calverton Park police were at the protest.
“The cops are so far restrained, and what’s interesting is that each and every one of them, the whole line, is wearing chest cameras,” Lewis said.