In an overwhelming display of solidarity and outpouring of grief, hundreds of students, activists, parents, allies, and members of the press gathered at the center of Malcolm X Park in Washington, DC as part of the National Moment of Silence (NMOS) for Michael Brown and all victims of police brutality that took place across the country last night.
NMOS14 was coordinated by online and community activist Feminista Jones in collaboration with individual community leaders following the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, Missouri. Last night’s gathering in the nation’s capital was organized by a small group of young activist leaders, including former Feminist Majority Foundation intern and current Spelman College Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance member Yemisi Miller-Tonnet.
“What side are we on, my people? What side are we on?” Jonathan Lykes, another leader of last night’s event, shouted to the crowd. The masses shouted back, “We’re on the freedom side!”
More than 2,300 people committed to attend the DC event alone. Seas of demonstrators wearing red ribbons and arm bands packed onto the main platform of the park, located just blocks from historic U Street. The location lent symbolic significance to the gathering. The U street corridor was one of the many predominantly African-American communities impacted by the loss of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the riots of 1968 that followed his assassination.
Miller-Tonnet called the names and details surrounding other deadly examples of police brutality. The leaders asked the crowd to call out the names of victims they personally knew, leading students from Howard University to begin chanting for Mya Aaten-White, a 2012 alum shot in the head amidst protests in Ferguson. Police told local news outlets the injuries were the result of a drive-by shooting, but students participating in NMOS14 told the Feminist Newswire the shooting was carried out by police, as supported by eyewitness accounts.
NMOS14 leaders reiterated that this was not “a day of rage,” but of mourning, prompting one man to shout out, “They’re killing our babies!” during the moment of silence, which took place in over 100 communities – including in New York City, Boston, and St. Louis - simultaneously at 7:20 PM EST.
As the event concluded, an impromptu march began down U Street. Local police immediately blocked off side streets to allow the crowd to proceed peacefully. Demonstrators chanted “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” as they marched through Shaw, and finally Chinatown in downtown Washington, D.C. Drivers honked their horns in support as the procession passed, and people in nearby residences took to their sidewalks, either holding their arms high in surrender as in images from Ferguson demonstrations, or raising fists in solidarity with the Ferguson community.
“This is just the first step,” leaders of the rally told the crowd.
Meanwhile, Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) is calling for a closer look at police conduct in Ferguson. McCaskill was in Ferguson on Thursday meeting with community leaders on the ground. “We need to demilitarize this situation – this kind of response by the police has become the problem instead of the solution,” Sen. McCaskill said. “I obviously respect law enforcement’s work to provide public safety, but my constituents are allowed to have peaceful protests, and the police need to respect that right and protect that right.”
Governor Jay Nixon, after receiving heavy criticism, also toured the area on Thursday. Nixon announced that the Missouri Highway Patrol would be taking over the responsibilities of the St Louis County Police in Ferguson. The decision was met with hostility by St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch who commented, “To denigrate the men and women of the county police department is shameful.”
Today, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley is seeking to replace McCulloch with a special prosecutor to handle the case against the officer – identified as Darren Wilson – who shot Brown. A spokeswoman for Dooley explained, “The county executive believes Bob McCulloch is biased and shouldn’t handle this case.”
Media Resources: St. Louis Post-Dispatch 8/15/14, 8/14/14;Washington Post 8/15/14; New York Times 8/15/14; NBC News 8/14/14, 8/12/14; Politico 8/14/14; Talking Points Memo 8/14/14; Feminist Newswire 8/13/14; Facebook; WAMU 88.5 American University Radio 11/8/13