ST. LOUIS • Activists supporting the Black Lives Matter movement temporarily blocked westbound traffic on Highway 40 (Interstate 64) downtown Saturday afternoon as part of a protest to raise the issue of racial inequality.
Earlier Saturday, several local groups, including the Organization for Black Struggle and the St. Louis chapter of Hands Up United, had organized a rally at the Old Courthouse.
The Old Courthouse, a powerful symbol for activists, is the site where the slave Dred Scott sued for his freedom in the landmark legal case that he eventually lost. Slave auctions also were held on the courthouse steps.
About 200 people participated in the protest that started building around 2 p.m., including those attending a downtown conference of Netroots Nation, a national organization of progressive activists.
Protesters, many of them from out of town, marched south on Broadway past Busch Stadium, and eventually went up the entrance ramp to westbound Highway 40, where they blocked traffic for about 15 minutes before leaving the upper deck of the highway.
“People have to stop killing us. I have a 9-year-old who I have to worry about,” said Aisha Hamilton, 37, of St. Louis County, who was participating in the protest. “My white colleagues at work don’t have the same feeling when they leave their home in the morning.”
Activists, holding a banner that said “White people, let’s talk about racism,” chanted: “Black lives matter, black lives matter.” Other banners said “Racism lives here” and “Silence is compliance.”
While on the highway, protesters held a moment of silence, which ended with the chant of “Our power to the people.”
Drivers patiently waited during the delay.
D.J. Breyer, 54, of Hazelwood, was among the motorists stuck on the upper deck of the highway during the protest.
“Good for them,” he said. “I’m just trying to get to my son’s baseball game.”
After leaving the highway, activists marched north up Fourth Street and then west on Washington Avenue as they returned to the America’s Center convention center, where the Netroots Nation conference was being held.
“It was an emotional and beautiful moment,” said Netroots interim executive director Eric Thut.
The protesters drew the attention of fans downtown for Saturday night’s baseball game between the St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins. Police scrambled to block off streets and crossings in the path of the protesters.
Chuck Bridges, 79, of Anaheim, Calif., a retired businessman and former Marine, was among the fans downtown recording the march with a cellphone.
He described himself as colorblind and the protest as anarchy, saying police should have stopped or prevented it.
“You probably won’t like what I’m going to say: Vote for Trump and keep the Second Amendment,” Bridges said.
Local rap artist Tef Poe, who has played a prominent role as an activist and protester since the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in August 2014, was one of several people who spoke during and after the event.
“We are standing up for St. Louis,” he said.