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Hundreds shake off withering heat to gather at St. Louis-area protests

Hundreds shake off withering heat to gather at St. Louis-area protests

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ST. CHARLES — Hundreds of protesters at several different rallies in the St. Louis region took to the streets under a searing sun Wednesday to condemn the Memorial Day death of a black man in Minneapolis while in police custody.

A crowd in St. Charles sat and knelt on busy Route 94 to disrupt traffic and chant “I can’t breathe!” and “Out of the car into the street!” Police said a second rally held later in the city drew more than 2,000 people, with four police officers at one point taking a knee with demonstrators.

A prone George Floyd, 46, was seen on a video recording saying “I can’t breathe” as a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for more than five minutes. An autopsy determined asphyxiation was a cause of his death.

The earlier St. Charles rally began near the Marcus St. Charles Cinema with about 500 people moving down First Capitol Drive. Drivers watched the protesters from their cars, with some stepping out to raise their fists in solidarity.

Nineteen-year-old Kendall Battle traveled from her home in St. Louis to attend.

“This movement means everything to me,” Battle said. “It feels like we’re actually making change.”

Zackari Mathews, 26, said, “I never thought this would happen during my life, honestly.” Another protester, Yasmine Williams, 21, said, “This movement has given people the right to speak up and to stand up.”

Temperatures in the 90s caused some people to stop their march and seek refuge from the sun.

The rally took place the day after a mostly quiet Tuesday when the only apparent protest consisted of about 50 people in Ferguson. But the number of demonstrators swelled Wednesday as rallies were held in St. Louis, Ballwin, Troy, Missouri, and elsewhere.

More than 100 people attended a St. Louis vigil in honor of black people who have died in encounters with police. The vigil was held in a parking lot near the Salvation Army in Midtown.

Some people stayed in their cars to social distance but most braved the heat to hear from organizer Michelle Higgins, the co-founder of Action St. Louis and the executive director of Faith for Justice.

“We will make noise for the people whose breath has been taken from us,” she said.

Speakers and the crowd invoked the names of Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Mike Brown Jr., Tamir Rice, Philando Castile and other African Americans who have died. The crowd lit candles for those lost, even as the sun beat down.

Kristian Blackmon, who identified herself as black and queer, spoke of Nina Pop, a transgender black woman who was murdered in Missouri, and Tony McDade, a transgender black man who was killed by police in Florida.

“If you’re not out here for all black lives, you’re not doing the liberation work for real,” Blackmon told the crowd.

Higgins called a curfew imposed by St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson “unjust” and a “dictatorship.”

Missouri Episcopal Bishop-elect Deon Johnson spoke at a service at St. John’s Episcopal Church-Tower Grove in St. Louis and denounced President Donald Trump’s appearance Monday before an Episcopal church in Washington, saying he used it as a photo prop. He said the move was a distraction and people must recognize that racism exists.

“George Floyd is me,” he said. “George Floyd is my son. George Floyd is my husband and my family and all those in the nation that look like me. And for too long, a knee has been on our neck. The time for good people of faith to stand up is now.”

Wednesday’s events came against the backdrop of violence late Monday and early Tuesday in St. Louis that startled public officials. Four officers were shot and some 70 businesses were damaged or burglarized. Police Chief John Hayden described that night as “mayhem.” The four officers were treated and released from a hospital but a retired St. Louis police captain, David Dorn, was fatally shot by looters early Tuesday as he tried to protect a friend’s pawn shop, authorities said.

Mayor Krewson said Wednesday that it was a “terrible night” that underscored the need for a curfew from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m.

“While of course we understand the anger and grief as a result of decades of difficulties, there is no justification for murdering David Dorn or for shooting our four police officers or for burning to the ground two businesses, a 7-Eleven and a Family Dollar and a half-dozen other fires that were set around the city,” Krewson said.

Eight were arrested for violating the St. Louis curfew Tuesday night, police said.

Places popular for nightlife or areas where nighttime protesters have previously gathered over the past week — the downtown and Central West End areas of St. Louis, Ferguson, Clayton and elsewhere — were largely quiet Wednesday evening.

A number of business and development groups, including the St. Louis Regional Chamber, AllianceSTL and Arch to Park, issued a statement Wednesday saying the region must be a place “where equity and economic growth go hand in hand.”

Floyd’s death “and the disproportionate deaths among African Americans from the current coronavirus pandemic are sources of pain and hardships in our communities,” the statement said. “These are two recent manifestations of long-standing inequities which continue to persist in our nation and in the St. Louis region.”

Valerie Schremp Hahn, Colter Peterson and David Carson of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report. 

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