Ferguson protesters follow path of 1960s activists

The response to the police shooting of a young black man in Ferguson, Mo., is beginning to follow the path of civil rights and anti-war movements in the 1960s, including long marches, campus teach-ins, and nonviolent civil disobedience.

Laura A. Oda/The Tribune/AP
Protesters chant "Black lives matter" at a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) train station after 14 protesters were arrested when they formed a human chain on a platform to stop trains from moving in Oakland, Calif., Friday.

Back in the 1960s, civil rights and anti-Vietnam War activists regularly used several tactics to make their point: Long marches sometimes stretching over days, campus teach-ins, sit-ins and other nonviolent civil disobedience activities. Sometimes things turned violent – caused either by agitators among the protesters, police officers over-reacting, or some combination of the two.

Five days after a grand jury essentially exonerated white police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of black teenager Michael Brown, the same pattern is emerging in Ferguson, Mo., and around the United States.

On Saturday, the NAACP and other civil rights groups began a 120-mile march from Ferguson to the Governor's Mansion in Jefferson City, which is expected to take a week. “We will demand new leadership of the Ferguson Police Department, and wholesale changes to police and criminal justice processes and procedures to end racial profiling and police brutality,” the NAACP declared on its website.

Public rallies and teach-ins have been scheduled for each evening of the march.

“Our ‘Journey for Justice: Ferguson to Jefferson City’ march is the first of many demonstrations to show both the country and the world that the NAACP and our allies will not stand down until systemic change, accountability and justice in cases of police misconduct are served for Michael Brown and the countless other men and women who lost their lives to such police misconduct,” NAACP President and CEO Cornell William Brooks said in a statement.

Following what was widely seen as a bumbling, passive response to the grand jury verdict in Ferguson, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has begun taking the first steps toward addressing the initially violent protests there.

He said Friday he will call a special session of the State Assembly to fund ongoing operations of the National Guard and State Highway Patrol. The state of emergency remains in place.

But this is a long way from the “systemic change, accountability and justice in cases of police misconduct” Mr. Brooks and many other advocates – white and black – are calling for.

The US Justice Department and some law enforcement agencies around the country are studying – and in some places instituting – policies and procedures to deescalate potentially violent confrontations involving police.

In practice, de-escalation can take many forms, said Seattle police spokesman Sean Whitcomb. Sometimes it means that multiple officers respond rather than one, because the larger presence can make excitable subjects realize they're outnumbered.

But for an officer, it can also mean calmly introducing yourself, listening to what someone is saying and simply relating to the person. The use of body-worn cameras can also help, experts say, because both officers and civilians tend to behave better when they know they're being recorded.

"If we can use language and presence to get people to comply with lawful orders, we can consider that a win," Sgt. Whitcomb said.

But for now, the protests regarding the deadly Wilson-Brown encounter continue around the country – less destructive than earlier in Ferguson, but leading to some arrests, mostly for obstructing public space and failure to disperse. Much of the Thanksgiving weekend protesting focused on Black Friday shopping venues.

“Hands up, don’t shoot!” became “Hands up, don’t shop!” in several locations around the country. Police report five people arrested in Seattle, where protesters chained doors shut at a mall. On Friday, three St. Louis-area malls were briefly shut down due to demonstrations. Police arrested at least five people outside Macy’s in New York City after some of the 150 protesters blocked traffic

"This is 2014, and we are still confronting the problems that our mothers and fathers confronted back in the civil rights era," Cat Daniels, who is in her 50s, told USA Today. "My generation came along, and we fed off what they did. We didn't fight and keep the fight going. Now, because we didn't keep the fight, our children have to fight."

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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