Michael Bernard is a senior at CHS. This is Bernard’s fourth year on the Globe staff. He is currently serving as the Editor-in-Chief, and in the past has served as Senior Managing...
Protesters Spread Their Message to the Streets of Clayton
September 20, 2017
Protesters took to the street Wednesday, Sept. 20, just six days after police officer Jason Stockley was acquitted of first-degree murder charges for killing Anthony Lamar Smith in 2011, to demonstrate against the verdict in downtown Clayton. Hundreds of protesters gathered in Shaw Park in the afternoon, and later joined hundreds more to form a much bigger group on South Brentwood Boulevard. The protest remained civil for its three hours.
“We pretty much let them do whatever. We won’t let them take highways. We will let the protesters do whatever until they become ignorant,” a St. Louis Metropolitan police officer on the scene said. “We are just keeping the people from blocking [traffic].”
The protestors marched down Brentwood Boulevard, inconveniencing local traffic. The street was eventually shut down by the police force, which included officers from police departments all throughout the St. Louis City and County. The police officers eventually deemed the gathering unlawful and threatened the protesters of potential arrests if they did not disperse immediately.
The protest contained different groups from all over the country, one being the Ferguson Pot-Bangers, led by an elderly activist who goes by the name “Mama Cat.”
“We bang revolutionary pots. We [were] in on the action. Where there’s a fight, I’m coming. [I am] gonna be in the mix. That’s who I am. You see people from every background and every sexual orientation,” Mama Cat said. “Together we can move mountains out of our way. There’s a mountain standing in front of us, between us and justice. No justice, no profits. If you don’t give justice to the people then you can’t continue to make money off of us.”
However, Mama Cat has not always been involved in political movements. She began her fight for freedom in August 2014.
“I came out of my house the day after Mike Brown was killed, and I haven’t been home since,” Mama Cat said. “We, African American people, have never been protected. When [the Constitution] was drafted, we were on plantations. We are still on plantations. Until we are all free, nobody’s free. We’ve got to get free together.”
Mama Cat does not just help the cause alongside other protesters. She also helps the protestors themselves on a more personal level.
“I’m a chef and I feed the protestors. I make sure they’re taken care of. It’s about strengthening. You can’t win a war if you’re weak. Nobody’s ever won a war weak. [The protesters] are my family. I’ve got family from every nation. We all come together when there is a threat to justice. I’m committed to this,” Mama Cat said. “If you feed the body, you feed the spirit, and you can feed the fight. It is important that you are nourished for the battle. I nourish the movement.” Before each protest, Mama Cat prepares a large quantity of food. Additionally, she brings enough bottles of water and Gatorade for every protestor fighting in the streets.
However, on Wednesday evening, the protesters were not just fighting for Lamar Smith. They met in the city of Clayton for a specific reason that is separate from the recent protests in Downtown St. Louis.
“The goal currently is an economic shutdown: an economic boycott. We believe that the only way to get the attention of primarily rich white folks that are backing this systematic, suppressive atmosphere that we have in this country is to affect their daily lives. Make it affect them,” one middle-aged, white male protester said. “Most people don’t understand us, or believe what we believe in because it doesn’t affect them. The only way we can bring it to them and make them see and listen to us is to affect them in some kind of way. This economic boycott will affect their whole community, [and] affect their neighbors. Our purpose isn’t to hurt the small business owner. They just happen to be collateral damage.”
According to the protestor, the poor and the disadvantaged are typically hurt through economic boycotts. However, the group of protesters hopes to affect the upper class without harming the lower class. Additionally, the protester claimed the economic boycotts are not over.
“This is day [one] of six days. We are going to keep moving around. We are going to affect every economic point that we can. We want to affect the most people. Our ultimate goal is that someday they are going to get tired with that and start listening for a change,” he said. “This will hopefully make them stop thinking about what their opinion is, and listen to a new vantage point.”
Although the street was filled with protesters protesting racial injustice, there were a few citizens on the sidelines objecting to the motives of the protestors.
“Although I completely understand that these protestors have a constitutional right to express their opinions, I think it is very disrespectful to burn the American flag, which some protesters have done. Soldiers are risking their lives fighting for our freedom while some protesters are burning our flag,” one counter-protester said. “It seems like these protestors are misplacing their anger. By shutting down roads and looting and vandalizing local businesses, how are these protesters achieving anything? Capitalism did not play a role whatsoever in this court case.”
Not everybody on the scene was actively participating in protesting. Instead, many men and women in bright green hats littered the sidewalks, supporting from afar. Their purpose for being there was slightly different than the protestors, and many of these men and women came from across the country to witness these events. King Downing, the Director of Mass Defense for the National Lawyers Guild based in New York City, was one of them.
“We are just legal observers, they are protesting. They’re the whole point of it, and we’re supporting them. The Mass Defense program is people around the country who are lawyers, law students or legal workers who support protestors by observing them in green hats,” Downing said. “Or by standing by the phone if they get calls because they’ve been arrested. We send community people to give bail. We also find lawyers to represent them if they get charged. “
Since the release of the verdict, over 123 protesters have been arrested. Downing and his organization have been busy protecting the rights of these protestors since they began protesting on Sept. 15.
“There are big things happening here so we came out here to support. Their relatives or their friends called into our hotline number to say someone’s been arrested. If they have any needs, a lawyer will go and visit them,” Downing said. “If there’s bail, and the community has a bail fund, our people will go down and post the bail. After that, we find lawyers for them. Some of these people will have bail hearings.”
Downing’s group will continue to aid the protesters and follow the upcoming protests in St. Louis.
“This,” Mama Cat said, “is truly what democracy looks like.”