Accessibility/Mobile Features
Skip Navigation
Skip to Content
Editorial News
Classified Sites

The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Volunteers trying to help ease tensions, urging protesters to keep it peaceful

Protesters march Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014, for Michael Brown, who was killed by police Aug. 9 in Ferguson, Mo. Ferguson's leaders urged residents Tuesday to stay home after dark to

Enlarge Image

Protesters march Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014, for Michael Brown, who was killed by police Aug. 9 in Ferguson, Mo. Ferguson's leaders urged residents Tuesday to stay home after dark to "allow peace to settle in" and pledged several actions to reconnect with the predominantly black community in the St. Louis suburb where the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown has sparked nightly clashes between protesters and police. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

FERGUSON, Mo. - The tall black man walked up and down West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson, Missouri, working a bullhorn, imploring protesters to behave themselves.

"All right, y'all doing good!" Malik Zulu Shabazz told one group of young men. "Just keep it peaceful. Keep it peaceful, black man!"

Shabazz isn't a police officer. He is president of Black Lawyers for Justice and former chairman of the New Black Panther Party. Those organizations and others, made up mostly of black volunteers, have taken it upon themselves to help ease tensions in Ferguson, confident the protesters are more likely to listen to them than police.

In many cases, they're right. Shabazz was gentle with some, firm with others on a recent night as he urged them to get off the streets at night, and to stay away from looting. One young man wearing a bandanna around his neck seemed primed for trouble standing near a closed restaurant until Shabazz put a hand on his shoulder and had a quiet talk. Soon, the young man nodded and walked away.

The shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a white police officer on Aug. 9 has created a volatile situation in the St. Louis suburb. Officer Darren Wilson is on paid administrative leave pending an investigation. It could be weeks before a decision is made on whether the officer will face charges.

In the meantime, protesters gather every night along a few blocks of West Florissant, not far from where Brown died. Most are peaceful, but police have used tear gas and rubber bullets to control the rowdy ones, who have pelted officers with Molotov cocktails and bricks. Gunfire is common at night.

It's an odd situation for some of the volunteers, many of whom have spent their lives railing against police brutality. It's not that they're siding with police. But there is a sense that the real message of the protests — that Brown's death deserves justice — is being overshadowed by the looting and unrest.

So groups of activists, clergy, even a motorcycle gang, are pitching in, hoping the message will resonate more clearly coming from black men and women who aren't wearing badges.

It isn't easy. Shabazz admitted that keeping the peace is often a challenge as he deals with what he called "infiltrators and provocateurs" seeking to cause trouble.

"This is extremely tenuous," he said. "I risk my life out there running between that (police) line and all of those men. I don't know what's in those guns they got."

Paul Muhammad, 36, of St. Louis, a barrel-chested man in a black T-shirt and camouflage pants, said his group, the Peacekeepers, was serving as a buffer between protesters and police.

"Let's go black people!" Muhammad yelled at young people loitering in front of a store. "Off the lot!"

Muhammad was among several men wearing "Peacekeepers" T-shirts around Ferguson. At least 200 had volunteered through the group Disciples of Justice. Shabazz said up to 150 men were helping through an affiliation with the New Black Panther Party, the Nation of Islam, the National Action Network and Black Lawyers for Justice.

Akbar Muhammad of the Nation of Islam said he and other older activists are as worried about the protesters as police. "We do not want our young people getting hurt," he said.

Many of the volunteers say they're just as put off by the heavy police presence and the use of National Guard as the protesters. They also understand the frustrations of the protesters.

Terrance Ivy, 28, of Disciples of Justice, said the unrest "is their way of expressing themselves. It's their voice. We feel like a lot of people say they hear us, but they don't. They don't listen to us. The cops who do things like this aren't facing time (in prison) like we would."

Muhammad said, "The injustice has not been corrected yet. But we're taking a stand for our people. Who better to police family than family?"

___

AP reporters David A. Lieb and Alan Scher Zagier and video journalist Priya Sridhar in Ferguson contributed to this report.

  • Rate this Rate This Star Icon
  • This article has not yet been rated.
  • We want you to tell us what you think of our articles. If the story moves you, compels you to act or tells you something you didn’t know, mark it high. If you thought it was well written, do the same. If it doesn’t meet your standards, mark it accordingly.

    You can also register and/or login to the site and join the conversation by leaving a comment.

    Rate it yourself by rolling over the stars and clicking when you reach your desired rating. We want you to tell us what you think of our articles. If the story moves you, compels you to act or tells you something you didn’t know, mark it high.

Sort by: Newest to Oldest | Oldest to Newest | Most Popular 0 Commentscomment icon

You can comment on most stories on brandonsun.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is register and/or login and you can join the conversation and give your feedback.

There are no comments at the moment. Be the first to post a comment below.

Post Your Commentcomment icon

Comment
  • You have characters left

The Brandon Sun does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. Comments are moderated before publication. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

Brandon Sun Business Directory
The First World War at 100
Why Not Minot?
Welcome to Winnipeg

Social Media