Ferguson protesters met with racial slurs during march to Missouri capital

Protesters marching from Ferguson to the Missouri capital of Jefferson City encountered counterprotesters, some of whom shouted racial obscenities, at a time when people across the country are holding demonstrations.

Kile Brewer/The Jefferson City News-Tribune/AP
Members of the NAACP Journey for Justice week-long march from Ferguson to Jefferson City, Mo., make their way through Linn, Mo., on their way to the Capitol, Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014.

"Journey for Justice" protesters descended on the capital of Missouri Friday after marching 130 miles from the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson.

The week-long march was organized by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in response to the grand jury decision not to indict a white police officer for the shooting death of Michael Brown, a black 18-year-old, in Ferguson. 

Passing through the rural town of Rosebud on Wednesday, protesters encountered counterprotesters, some of whom yelled racial slurs at the other protesters. One man wore what appeared to be a Ku Klux Klan hood while standing next to a car with a Confederate flag mounted on it. 

"It was lined on both sides of the street with a lot of racial slurs and name-calling and ugliness," said Mary Ratliff, president of the Missouri chapter of the NAACP, according to the Columbia Daily Tribune

In a video on The Huffington Post, NAACP president and CEO Cornell William Brooks expressed his gratitude for the support he has seen throughout the days of the march but added that he was disappointed by those who resorted to shouting obscenities at peaceful protesters. 

"What we've seen is an extraordinary array of citizens of Missouri who've brought us coffee, hot chocolate, sandwiches, refreshments all along the way without being asked, people who have come and shed tears, prayed for us," he said. "And we've seen a few people who've used the N-word, who've asserted their First Amendment rights with obscenities." 

Though he said he supports the right of individuals to express how they feel, he urged people not to give in to their fears. 

"We support their right to protest. But we're simply posing this question: Why be afraid? You need not be afraid of an organization that's committed to nonviolence, that's committed to bettering this country," Mr. Brooks said. "Over the last 105 years, that's what we've done. And so the people in these communities, the few people who've called us the N-word or shouted obscenities at us, all we say to them is don't be afraid. Step up, step forward, and better your country. And one of the best ways to do that ... is to stand with law enforcement that believes that law enforcement can yet be better."

Clyde Zelch, former mayor of the city of Rosebud, said that while he recognizes the possible need to improve law enforcement, he supports the police, echoing the sentiment of protesters who held signs voicing support for former officer Darren Wilson, who shot Mr. Brown. 

"I support the police," he said in The Huffington Post video. "We may have a system that needs to be improved on. But it's a system our Founding Fathers gave us, and what the NAACP acts like is that we're supposed to throw out everything that's worked for 200 years, and the only version that they want is one in which they win every time. It should not be us against them. This is just simply criminals committing crimes and having to pay a price for that." 

Friday's protest in Jefferson City comes at a time of heated racial tensions between police and the black communities they patrol. A week after the grand jury announced no indictment in the Ferguson shooting, a grand jury in New York announced no indictment in the death of Eric Garner, a black man, at the hands of a white police officer in July.

On Thursday, the US Justice Department announced that an investigation into the Cleveland Police Department had found "a pattern or practice of unreasonable and unnecessary use of force." The investigation's findings included discussion of officers escalating encounters with citizens as opposed to defusing the situation and officers "using guns in a careless and dangerous manner."

And on Thursday night, a black man was shot dead by a white Phoenix police officer. The officer reportedly mistook a pill bottle for a gun on Rumain Brisbon. That shooting sparked about 150 protesters to march in the Arizona capital. 

Throughout the past two weeks, demonstrators have gathered in cities around the country to express grief for lives lost at the hands of police officers and to protest what they see as a pattern of injustice in handling such cases.

At a protest Thursday night in downtown Boston, Carolyn Little held a candle as she stood quietly off to the side of a large crowd. 

"This is a human problem, and my heart is broken and sick that this even has to take place," she said, referring to the scene around her. 

 Monitor staff writer David Unger and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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