US activists start seven-day march for Michael Brown

US activists start seven-day march for Michael Brown

ST. LOUIS - US civil rights activists embarked Saturday on a seven-day march to demand sweeping police reforms and denounce a grand jury's decision not to indict a white officer who shot dead an unarmed black teenager.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) organised the 120-mile (192-kilometer) "Journey for Justice," heading from the St Louis suburb of Ferguson, where Michael Brown was killed, to Missouri state capital Jefferson City.

A core group of around 100 marchers, many from other states, hope to attract thousands in their demands for the sacking of the Ferguson police chief, nationwide police reforms and an end to racial profiling.

"We will fight until hell freezes over, and then we will fight on the ice," NAACP president Cornell William Brooks told supporters at Washington Metropolitan A.M.E. Zion Church before setting out.

It is the latest in a series of protests that erupted across the United States after a grand jury on Monday decided not to indict white police officer Darren Wilson for killing Brown in Ferguson on August 9.

The decision revived long-standing questions about how police, especially white officers, interact with African Americans - questions raised again after last week's shooting in Cleveland of 12-year-old Tamir Rice.

"What we're endeavouring to do here is seek justice for a grieving family as well as systemic, fundamental reform in terms of policing for an outraged community," Brooks told reporters.

"When you have a 12-year-old child who is killed with a toy gun in his hand, there is something fundamentally wrong," Brooks said.

But when the group of older activists arrived at the memorial of flowers and soft toys where Brown was killed, some protesters who have been out since August wondered why they had shown up only now.

Fight from the beginning

"I've been out here fighting the fight from the beginning," said Markese Mull, celebrating his 40th birthday and a member of the local Peacekeepers group pushing for a better future and working to stop violence at demonstrations.

"If the NAACP is out here with us 24-seven, then I'll be waiting on the NAACP," he said, but "basically they do what they do, and we are a community that fight everyday." Eugene Gillis, a trumpeter who plays at nightly protests, said young protesters feel alienated and reject the older generation of leaders molded by Martin Luther King.

"Most of these young people say these people are out here for photo ops and that's what aggravates the issue," he told AFP.

"We reject them too much. And so you have this movement that started now, they're operating on the fly. Lets lay in the street, lets do this and it's a band aid over cancer," he said.

Brooks, dressed in neat jeans and a sweater, prayed and fell to his knees at Brown's memorial in reflection while surrounded by a media scrum.

Mobbed by TV cameras, he then led the march in one direction before turning around and heading back the opposite way, marching into West Florissant Avenue where some of the worst looting took place.

The more than 100 marchers, which included young children, were tailed by two buses for when they get tired, and a convoy of cars. The group told AFP they would march around 10 miles (16 kilometers) on Saturday, before returning to the church to sleep.

15 arrests in Ferguson

The peaceful march came after 15 protesters were arrested late Friday outside the Ferguson police department and after demonstrators shut down a shopping mall in St Louis, demanding a boycott of post-Thanksgiving shopping.

Monday's announcement that Wilson will not face charges sparked looting, arson and gunfire in parts of Ferguson.

The NAACP's demands include requiring police to use body cameras, reforming the system of equipping police with military hardware, promoting diversity on the force and ending the use of major force in cases involving minor offences.

Adrian West, a technology trainer, waited nearly two hours for the marchers to show up late, potentially missing a memorial service for a friend killed in a fight.

But he still expressed support, hopeful that nationwide protests would yet bring change.

"I think this is enough to get the federal government's attention, strong enough to make them listen, and it's quite possible Darren Wilson could end up getting indicted by the federal government."

 

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