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More than 300 turn out for peaceful NAACP march in Ferguson

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FERGUSON • Between 300 and 400 people marched up and down West Florissant Avenue on Saturday afternoon in a peaceful show of support for Michael Brown, 18, shot and killed by a police officer two weeks earlier.

The procession began about 2 p.m., heading back and forth several times between Buzz Westfall Plaza and Canfield Drive, about a half-mile north.

The event was organized by the NAACP’s St. Louis County chapter. Kenneth Murdock, a NAACP spokesman, said one goal was to channel the anger over Brown’s death into positive action such as getting people to register to vote and to obtain college grants.

“We have to kind of refocus from anger into activism” through groups such as the NAACP, Murdock said.

Joining march leaders up front were Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ronald S. Johnson, St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson and St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar.

“This sets the tone,” Belmar said afterward. “If people can see the police chiefs and the leaders of the NAACP together, that’s the message we have to get out there. In the future, when we have acute incidents, we have to be able to trust each other from the beginning.”

Johnson said their participation was part of an effort to put law enforcement in touch with and reflective of the community. “And that’s my dream for this whole country,” he said.

The peaceful theme continued into the evening. Protesters stayed consistent, in number and tone, through about 11 p.m., and police generally remained in their cars.

Johnson said that as of 11 p.m., there was only one arrest in the protest area, someone who punched or kicked a McDonald’s drive-through sign, and then tried to run away.

Around midnight, police confirmed two more arrests after protesters marched down West Florissant.

Dotson said a man was shot in St. Louis earlier in the day. He said the shooting was not fatal, and “completely unrelated” to Ferguson.

In the afternoon march, participants walked the first lap to Canfield in silence. They chanted slogans during much of the rest of the march. “Ain’t no power like the people’s power. Because the people’s power will vote,” some participants chanted.

Although billed as a youth march, many adults joined. Most were black, but there was a smattering of whites.

Soon after the event ended about 2:45, Gov. Jay Nixon arrived and spoke with several marchers. He declined to answer a reporter’s questions.

Another march went down West Florissant later in the afternoon, said Allyson Mace, a co-organizer.

One of those in the NAACP march, Ann Hamilton, 53, said she took part because “we just want justice, nothing more, nothing less.”

Hamilton, a retired teacher who lives in the Central West End, said, “We want to be treated like everyone else. We are not satisfied with what has happened.”

Yusuf Muhammad, 21, a Tennessee State University nursing student from St. Louis, said, “We want the truth, that’s all.”

Langston Hunter, 16, a CBC high school student from University City, came with his mother. He said the march was aimed at spreading “our message through peace” — not looting.

Christan Shelton, 34, a teacher at a nearby middle school, said Saturday’s march was in the spirit of peaceful protests held previously.

“But with anything in life, a few bad seeds come in and they ruin it for everyone, and often the focus is on that instead of the positive things going on,” said Shelton, of St. Louis.

Heather Jones, 23, a Lindenwood University student from Maryland Heights, said, “This is an issue of how law enforcement treats African-Americans across the nation. It should be justice for all no matter what the ethnicity.”

Jones and her aunt, Lisa Jones, 48, of St. Louis, said they appreciated the involvement of the three officials.

Dotson, the St. Louis chief, said, “We’re two weeks out, the healing has to start, and I think this was a great first step.”

He said now the people of Ferguson and the entire St. Louis area need to come together to talk about and “fix the problems.”

Kim Bell of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.


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