Hundreds have gathered in St. Louis for the annual Peace Festival, which this year took on a special theme following the slaying of 18-year-old Michael Brown by the police. The boy’s father used the opportunity to ask for peace at his funeral on Monday.
The aftermath of the black teen’s August 9 shooting has seen two weeks of sometimes violent protest by the African-American community against the brutality of the largely white police force in Ferguson, highlighting racial tensions that still permeate American society. The tactics used by the police, clad in riot gear, also drew much attention during the unrest.
Michael Brown Sr. marched on Sunday, together with the crowds, while the parents of the slain black Florida teenager, Trayvon Martin, were also present to draw attention to the issues and advocate for peace over violence.
“Tomorrow all I want is peace,” Brown Sr. told the gathering ahead of Monday’s funeral for his son. “That’s all I ask.”
More than a thousand people are expected to show up to mourn the young man.
Accompanied by Rev. Al Sharpton, Michael’s parents spoke of their gratitude to the public for the outpouring of heartfelt support they’ve received in the past two weeks.
“We don’t want anything tomorrow to happen that might defile the name of Michael Brown,” Sharpton told the crowds. “This is not about our rage tomorrow. It’s about the legacy and memory of his son.”
— stevegiegerich (@stevegiegerich) August 24, 2014
As Lesley McSpadden, Michal Brown’s grandmother, took the stage, she had to compose herself to keep from bursting into tears, as the crowd offered their encouragement, saying “We love you. We love you. We love you.”
The event was also visited by Trayvon Martin’s parents. Their son, also unarmed, was gunned down in 2012 by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch officer.
Like Darren Wilson, the policeman who shot Brown, Zimmerman also thought the unarmed teen posed a threat. He was finally acquitted after it was ruled that he’d acted in self-defense.
Martin’s parents used the event to ask those gathered to offer their support for the Brown family. They urged the people of St. Louis to channel their anger into peace, and to use their pain to strengthen their unity and promote a future in which young people are educated and stay out of trouble.
“We’re going to stand tall with you all,” Tracy Martin, Trayvon’s father, told the people in his address.
— #NYtoMO #Ferguson (@NY2MO) August 24, 2014
Meanwhile, Saturday saw a second gathering to raise support and funds for Wilson. The all-white crowd gathered at a local sports bar. The crowd-funding campaign has been under fire as it has raised more money to date than all of the campaigns for his victim combined.
Recent days have seen clashes abating between heavily-armed police and members of the African-American community in Ferguson. The on and off violence of the past week has gradually been replaced by sporadic visits by people to the scene of Brown’s shooting.
Sunday saw only a handful of people show up, with the watchful police force standing by without any incidents occurring. This followed a brief escalation in scuffles on Saturday, but the atmosphere soon returned to normal.
With this de-escalation, one festival attendee expressed hope for “a new start.” Niesha Thomas told journalists that “this should be a pivotal point where we move forward.”
Nonetheless, there are fears that a failure by the system to make the indictment against Wilson stick might lead to renewed violence, as evidence in the case is considered.
Brutal images of heavily armed police clashing with Ferguson’s protesters pushed US President Barack Obama to question the militarization of law enforcement, as he reportedly ordered a probe into police use of military gear against Americans.
A number of things about the way the overly militarized small-town police force has handled itself have led to increased debate, including the character of their equipment and the force’s failure to observe proper protocol.
Strategies introduced after the 9/11 attacks, which provide police with federal grants and surplus military equipment, including military-grade body armor, mine-resistant trucks, silencers and automatic rifles, will all be reviewed, senior officials told the New York Times.
The Ferguson confrontations have brought all this into sharpened focus. Watchdog groups, rights advocates and the nation at large were drawn into the public outcry over police tactics, which also included the harassment and detention of journalists.
All through the protests, tear gas, flash-bang grenades and riot gear were used.
People attend the Peace Fest music festival in Forest Park on August 24, 2014 in St. Louis, Missouri. (AFP Photo / Scott Olson)