FERGUSON • They sat under a shade tree, putting marker to poster board in the parking lot of a strip mall.
As the Rev. Al Sharpton held the media’s attention in downtown St. Louis on Tuesday, an Illinois pastor and a Missouri state senator were across the street from the Ferguson Fire Station organizing their own rally to protest Saturday’s police shooting of Michael Brown.
“The young people aren’t going to listen to Al Sharpton,” said Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City “They do not listen to older people. They do not listen to pretentious people.”
So instead, she and the Rev. Derrick Robinson, who pastors a church in East St. Louis, organized a rally hoping to attract anyone — young people especially — who wanted to join them, as long as it was in peace.
“It’s our generation that’s being affected,” said Jerika Tyler, 21, a student at Harris-Stowe State University. “I have a 15-year-old brother. He could have been Michael Brown.”
Small rallies and vigils like this one have popped up daily since Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer on a street outside Canfield Apartments.
But they have been overshadowed by what’s taken place after sunset, when crowds have become violent, and police have deployed tear gas, rubber bullets and riot gear. Their prayer vigils, they feel, have gone unnoticed.
The looting, Stefan Hornaday, 21, said, “sickens me.” But so does police brutality, he said.
For hours protesters came and went, standing along the strip of grass separating the parking lot from the curb. Some drove in from St. Louis. Many lived in Ferguson. The conversations they held tapped into the undercurrent of the fear and frustration they’ve felt for years with police in and around this north St. Louis County community.
Tamika McClain, of Breckenridge, said she’s been pulled over numerous times, ticketed for such things as having a nonworking taillight or a broken blinker — allegations she said were false. Anthony Walsh said he isn’t sure how to tell his children how to avoid being arrested. It’s one thing to understand not to break the law, he said. “But how to tell him how to deal with an ignorant cop?”
In many ways, the death of 18-year-old Brown ignited anger that had been building for some time.
Poverty in the area is rising, with the highest concentrations in African-American neighborhoods. In several school districts, the quality of education is declining. A disproportionate number of foreclosures has taken its toll, and property values haven’t recovered.
But the anger on Tuesday concerned the police — and skepticism that the investigation into what led to the shooting will bring justice.
“We’re fed up,” McClain said. “We’re tired. We want answers.”
She stood beside a friend who choked back emotion as she thought of her own children. “They walk up and down that street all the time,” Nicole Chissem said.
Her family lives near Canfield Avenue, the street on which Brown was shot. “That could have been me on TV saying how I need justice for my child.”
For the next several hours, protesters of various ages and races came and went from the rally, stopping by during lunch breaks. They denounced the looting and the violence.
“If you’re out here fighting for something and the other messes up what you’re fighting for, you don’t get anywhere,” said Dante Taylor, 22, of St. Louis.
He held the marker and white poster board, trying to figure out what his sign should say.