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Black men put on suits and ties to march against oppression in St. Louis, protests continue in Florissant

Black men put on suits and ties to march against oppression in St. Louis, protests continue in Florissant

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Updated at 10:30 p.m. Monday with more information from Florissant protest. 

ST. LOUIS — Nonprofit 100 Black Men of Metropolitan St. Louis, along with members of their program Collegiate 100, marched from the steps of the Old Courthouse to City Hall on Monday wearing suits, ties and dress shoes despite the heat.

“The vision is to display black men in a different light,” said Bryce Pettiford, co-founder of the Maryville chapter of the Collegiate 100 and one of the organizers of the event. Black men are often portrayed to be “thugs” and uneducated, he said.

“That image is used to justify the brutality and the killing (of black men). We want to make a push for change and end systemic oppression,” Pettiford, 21, said. “We want the next generation to come out as well.”

This march, as others around the world, was sparked by the death of George Floyd, who died in the custody of Minneapolis police two weeks ago. Pettiford said Floyd was “our brother” who died crying out for his mother and telling police he couldn’t breathe.

“We want to turn sadness into change for the positive,” Pettiford said. “Together we are powerful.”

About 100 people marched to City Hall, with black men in business attire leading the group and casually dressed protesters with signs at the back. The group chanted “I’m black and I’m proud.” 

President of the Board of Aldermen Lewis Reed marched with the group and talked with protesters on the steps of City Hall before they entered in hopes of meeting with Mayor Lyda Krewson.

“We’ve got to close the deal at the ballot,” Reed told the group. “We will have leaders that support our needs … this generation will not just pick up the mantle, but finish the job.”

Later, Keithen Stallings, president of the 100 Black Men of Metropolitan St. Louis, said the event went well. Krewson wasn't available, so the group talked with Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards, asking him about police recruitment and training practices. A few Collegiate 100 members voiced interest in becoming police officers and asked about ride-alongs, Stallings said.

“Sometimes there’s a culture gap,” Stallings said. “I think there just needs to be conversations about how to overcome some of those barriers with police officers so we can have the right ones in the street — ones that are going to do their job to the best of their ability without any type of bias. One of the reasons we have this situation right now is that some police have a military mindset like they’re going to war. That’s not how you should treat common everyday citizens. They have a mentality of 'seek and destroy.' That's not how it should be.”

Florissant

About 150 protesters gathered in Florissant Monday evening. Most marched to Mayor Tim Lowery's house, where they chanted, "No justice, no peace" from the road.

A spokesperson for Lowery declined to comment earlier Monday on black clergy members and the St. Louis County NAACP calling for the firing of a Florissant police detective who was seen on video striking a man with an unmarked police SUV before jumping on him, hitting him and handcuffing him. 

The officer has been suspended. 

Lowery served as Florissant chief of police from 2012 until April 2019, when he was elected mayor. 

One protester was Mazi Skrill, a father to daughters aged 7 and 9. Skrill lived in Ferguson when Michael Brown was killed, and he called the event "traumatizing."

"It's traumatizing to learn from history, from Emmett till to Harriet Tubman," Skrill said. "You almost don't want to bring more kids into the world."

The crowd also gathered later Monday evening to hug Harriet Evans, the mother of Jarvis Murphy, who was tased by police during a 2009 traffic stop. Murphy was struck by a car and suffered a traumatic brain injury during the incident, and he died two years later. 

"It's hard because it's like opening another wound," Evans said. "But I feel the need to fight for somebody else's child, because nobody fought for my son."

Police gave three orders for the crowd to disperse, starting at about 9:30 p.m. The final protesters left about an hour later. 

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