ST. LOUIS (CN) — Joining millions of others across the country, thousands of protesters took to the streets of downtown St. Louis on Sunday afternoon to protest institutional racism and police brutality in honor of George Floyd.
A diverse group of at least 4,000 braved temperatures that were flirting with triple-digits and humidity to match in a march from city hall to the city’s police department.
Caleb Camp carried a sign that read, “I’m a college graduate, not a thug!” a reference to President Donald Trump’s controversial tweets regarding the protests that have swept through the country since video of Floyd’s killing on May 25 went viral.
Floyd, a black man, died in Minneapolis after since-fired police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for more than nine minutes. Chauvin has been charged with second degree murder.
“It just makes me feel like I’m not wanted here in this nation,” Camp said of Trump’s reaction to the protests. “I’m doing right, getting my education, and for somebody to say that just because of the color of my skin, I’m a thug, that makes me feel bad because I’ve done a lot of good and I have a lot going on for myself.
“So, when the President the United States would say that, that’s definitely something that somebody of his stature, or his level of power shouldn’t be saying, because all that does is down people of color,” Camp added.
Camp said the video of Floyd’s death “is heartbreaking” and brought back memories of Michael Brown, who was killed by a white police officer in nearby Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014.
Camp hopes the protests lead to an end of the systemic racism that African-Americans have endured for hundreds of years.
“Being out here with all these people, being united, it’s really refreshing,” Camp said. “It’s a breath of fresh air just to see how many people can come together for a cause like this.”
Malcolm Swift hopes the momentum of the protests carry into November at the ballot box.
“I just want to see, you know, more representation or voices in different places of power,” Swift said. “As much as we are against the system, it’s not going to change if we’re not in it. So, I feel like the best thing is for us to be able to infiltrate these systems and influence them just as much they influence us.”
For many protesters, the video of Floyd’s death stoked powerful emotions.
“Being a black person, you realize that could be my dad, my uncle, my brother,” Maria Vaughn said. “So, you just have to come out here and do what’s right, regardless.”
The demonstration began at 2 p.m. on the steps of city hall. The four organizers, who declined to be specifically named by media, addressed the crowd and listed their demands against police violence.
The group seeks reparations for the black community, the defunding of the militarization of the police and a redirection of those funds to bolster black communities, and wants black people to be tried in court by juries consisting of members from their respective black communities. The group also seeks an end to the privatization of education and the abolishment and reconstruction of the entire police system.
Several speakers addressed the crowd, including an area pastor and his 14-year-old daughter who read an emotional poem that she wrote about police brutality against black people. Other speakers included a community organizer and activist, an LGBTQ activist, a teacher and a congressional candidate.
After the speeches, the organizers preached peace and told demonstrators that water and snack stations were located along the march route. They also made medics available to those overcome by the unseasonably warm temperatures.
The demonstration then marched to the St. Louis Police Department. Marchers held signs and chanted familiar phrases including, “George Floyd! Brionna Taylor!” “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” and “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!”
The march passed by buildings boarded up after protests turned violent on June 1 when 55 structures were burned or damaged, four police officers were shot and suffered non-life-threatening injuries and a former police officer who was working security at a pawn shop was killed. The violent night prompted protest leaders to momentarily halt the demonstrations and for Mayor Lyda Krewson to issue a curfew.
Kristina and Ashley joined the crowd demanding justice. They said they are held to a code of ethics as social workers and that police should be held to the same.
They couldn’t help but think about St. Louis’ long history of racial injustice, including the Dred Scott trial, which occurred in the city’s now historic courthouse building and eventually was settled in the U.S. Supreme Court. In a 7-2 decision in that case, the nation’s high court ruled in 1853 that black people “are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word ‘citizens’ in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States.”
“Police accountability, police education, defunding the police in St. Louis, making reparations for communities that have been heard for hundreds of years,” Kristina said. “Like 163 years ago, Dred Scott walked these streets fighting the same fight, and it’s absurd that we’re here today still doing this.”