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ST. LOUIS — Thousands of protesters flooded the streets peacefully Saturday during a second day of marches and rallies marking two months since the fatal police shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown sparked turmoil in nearby Ferguson, Missouri.
The “Justice for All” march in the city’s downtown culminated in a rally — both aimed at protesting Brown’s death by a white officer and other acts of police brutality in the St. Louis region and across the country.
“I think it's important to show the world that we are all appalled at what’s going on in St. Louis,” said Mette Nicols, 35. Protester Gary Somah, 39, called for Darren Wilson, the officer who shot Brown, to be indicted.
Others came from farther away to call for broader change.
“I want to march against these grave injustices that have been occurring in the United States for years at the hands of law enforcement people that are supposed to protect and serve,” said Pamela Germany, 27, who traveled from Los Angeles for the march.
“This is something that is happening across America,” added Hakim Sha’ir, 32, from Cincinnati. “We deserve to have a lifestyle without being fearful when we walk outside of being killed or stereotyped or criminalized just because the color of our skin.”
Police could not immediately say how many people were in the crowd Saturday, but observers and organizers believe about 2,000 to 3,000 were in attendance. The marchers, of varying races and ages, remained peaceful during the three-hour march to the Gateway Arch in St. Louis — a stark contrast to the days of violent riots that broke out in Ferguson following Brown’s death on Aug. 9.
“My hope is that everything is peaceful, everybody gets to express their First Amendment rights in a peaceful manner,” Missouri Highway Patrol Officer Ron Johnson told NBC News on Saturday. Brown’s parents also called Friday for demonstrators to act “peacefully and lawfully.”
As recently as Thursday, police used pepper spray on crowds and arrested eight people who protested in St. Louis after a black 18-year-old, Vonderrit Myers, was shot dead by an off-duty officer on Wednesday. A spokesman for the Myers family, Pastor Willie E. Kilpatrick, spoke at the rally, saying police “have characterized our young brother in a way that is not truthful.” Authorities said Myers fired at police first.
Members of the clergy, students and representatives for civil rights organizations also spoke to the crowd of thousands, who only became vocal during chants. “Arrest him now. Arrest him now,” rung out at one speaker’s prompting.
Many held up signs condemning recent shootings by the police, while a sprinkling of people marched for other causes. “Black liberation in this county will lead to liberation for all,” Suhad Khatib, of the organization Palestinian Solidarity, said to the crowd.
Montague Simmons, an activist with the Organization for Black Struggle, pointed out that the rally was being held in the shadow of the Old Courthouse, where Dred Scott sued for his freedom from slavery. “They didn’t value black lives then, they don’t value black lives now,” Simmons said.
The rallies, which began Friday, are slated to last through Monday and include prayer meetings, lectures and dance performances, according to the website FergusonOctober.com.
Rick Brown reported from St. Louis. Elisha Fieldstadt reported from New York.