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Clergy join peaceful but noisy protest in Ferguson

Clergy join peaceful but noisy protest in Ferguson

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Updated at 12:30 a.m., with arrest of one person and the arrival of Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson.

FERGUSON • Several members of the clergy joined about 100 protesters staging a noisy but peaceful protest across from the Ferguson police station Monday night.

Until late, noticeably absent from the demonstration on South Florissant Road that included chanting and beating drums was police officers.

Several officers arrived about 11 p.m. as some of the protesters moved into the street with their arms locked. Cars inched by during the protest, and at times clergy members helped direct traffic.

Officers formed a line facing the protest. Police used loud speakers to order the protesters to leave the street or face arrest.

At one point, the police line pulled back after gunfire was heard.

The members of the clergy prayed as the police and protesters faced off. About midnight, one clergyman, the Rev. Osagyefo Sekou, tweeted that he had been arrested.

Rabbi Randy Fleisher, of Central Reform Congregation in the Central West End, said Sekou was on the sidewalk among other protesters when he sat down. He was then taken into custody.

Sekou was released about 1 a.m., prompting cheers from the protesters. He was charged with failure to disperse.

Rabbi Susan Talve, also of Central Reform Congregation, said she and other religious leaders were in Ferguson "just to be here as a witness and as a presence, to support the actions of the protesters — not to negotiate, but to support."

"It's not about taking sides for or against the police," Talve said. "It's about everyone working together to reduce violence."

The Rev. Bill Perman, of First Presbyterian Church of St. Louis, said: "Christ calls us to be present in these places to work for justice and for peace."

Perman said he was on West Florissant Avenue during past marches when police fired tear gas to control protesters. He said thought that people might change their behavior or think twice if they saw a guy in a collar, as he was wearing tonight. 

About midnight, Capt. Ron Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol, came to the protest scene. He said he had been home when he learned about the night's confrontation and didn't like what he saw.

Johnson, who is in charge of the state and county police officers assigned to Ferguson, said he wanted protesters to be able to safely demonstrate.

"I want to listen," he told them. "I'm not here to tell you anything."

Johnson also said he was unaware of a so-called "five-second rule," a tactic some officers were alleged to be using to force protesters to keep moving or face arrest.

"Highway Patrol and county police will not enforce a five-second rule," he said.

An hour after Johnson's arrival, about 20 protesters remained in a line on the street.

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