KIRKWOOD — A rally Saturday in Kirkwood to condemn racial inequality and the recent deaths of African Americans at the hands of police was planned as a sidewalk march but throngs of people poured into the streets leading from North Kirkwood Middle School to Kirkwood High.
The march, organized by Kirkwood School District teachers who call themselves the "Kirkwood Teachers of Color," drew well over 1,000 people for a one-mile march to promote unity and fight against police brutality and systemic racism.
"The purpose today is to walk peacefully," said Roberta McWoods, an organizer of the march who's a retired North Glendale Elementary School teacher and Kirkwood High School's head track coach. "Protests come in different ways, but as teachers ... we want to be models for our students on the form of protest that we would like them to see so that everyone can hear us. Today is about getting that message out and uniting with the world that we're all one."
The walk began with some remaining silent for eight minutes and 46 seconds, the amount of time a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into the neck of George Floyd, 46, on May 25. Floyd died while in police custody and authorities in Minnesota have said the cause of death was "cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint and neck compression."
Protests have swept the nation since Floyd was killed. Four police officers have been charged in connection with his death.
Police on Saturday blocked off traffic as marchers packed the roads and chanted declarations born of the Ferguson protests in 2014 and that have become familiar rallying cries at demonstrations against racial injustice. People repeated Floyd's name throughout the event as well that of Breonna Taylor, who was killed in March by Lousiville police officers executing a search warrant.
The majority of those in Saturday's walk were white, an observation not lost on some who recalled fewer whites joining protests in the aftermath of Michael Brown's death in Ferguson.
Ryleigh Palmer, 17, who is white and lives in Kirkwood, said she became emotional by the sight of so many white participants in Saturday's march as she watched with a friend along Geyer Road.
"I almost started to cry," said Palmer, who has joined recent protests in Ferguson.
The marches across the country are more widespread and more diverse, Palmer believes, because so many have seen the graphic video of Floyd struggling beneath the Minneapolis officer's knee.
"Now it's completely different," she said. "We watched this man get murdered by a man who was supposed to protect us."
Sisters Amelia Smith, 16, and Angela Smith, 17, are Kirkwood residents who marched together Saturday. Amelia Smith said even though Kirkwood is a "tight" and "welcoming" community, she and her sister as African Americans still face discrimination regularly. Her cardboard sign said, "If only our pain bothered you as much as our protest."
"We need it known that black people have been facing oppression for many, many years," she said. "Me and my sister can't go through a store without getting followed. We can't go outside to a park without being questioned by the police. We just want it known that we need to fight for justice and what's really right."
Grace Malley, a teacher at the majority black Kipp St. Louis High School, marched with her husband to show support for her students. She carried a sign that read, "I am a teacher. I teach students of color. I can't remain silent. Black lives matter."
"I'm here because the voices of my students and their families have not been heard for generations," Malley said.
Armeake Estes, 41, of Des Peres, walked with his 7-year-old son Braylon, the boy's first large march. Estes is a Kirkwood High School counselor at the school's restorative center and said the support he saw Saturday is "huge."
"Everybody out here is out here for a reason," he said. "We all want to see change. That's the biggest goal right now. We know there are things going on in the world that we don't want to see, and we just want to see some change."
Renee Werner, 48, of Kirkwood, walked with her 13-year-old son Keiler Roberts "to show support for our community."
"We have all been profoundly affected by recent videos coming out and we just want to make sure that we bring awareness to it," Werner said. "It is not just an urban problem. It is an everywhere problem."
Rich McClure of Kirkwood served as co-chair of the Ferguson Commission in the aftermath of Brown’s death.
“When Michael Brown was killed, our region was shaken, and the glaring racial inequities and systemic racism that is prevalent in so many of our systems was laid bare by Ferguson," he said, later adding, "And because Ferguson happened here, we have a particular obligation to speak up and to call out racism when we see it and to speak to the massive changes that need to take place in order to address the racial inequity that exist in our region.”
The march ended at Kirkwood High with more chants and final words from organizers urging people to continue fighting injustice by protesting, speaking out against racism within their own families or on social media, donating to social justice causes and supporting black-owned businesses.
Photos: Kirkwood School District Teachers of Color organize peace walk
Hundreds gathered at North Kirkwood Middle School in Kirkwood to march to Kirkwood High School on Saturday morning. The peace walk was organized by the Kirkwood School District Teachers of Color to support Black Lives Matter.
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