Across America, silent vigils mark teen's death

(USA TODAY) - Across America, in cities large and small, people came together to silently remember Michael Brown, a teen none knew in life but whose death Saturday sparked a wave of unrest in his Missouri hometown and raised questions about racial profiling.

Attendees wore red ribbons to honor Brown, 18, at rallies from Maine to Michigan, Florida to New York, Vermont and California. Many came to share their stories of alleged police brutality, and call for a new compact between officers and civilians.

Brown, who was black, was shot dead by a white police officer Saturday night in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. While local police have released few details about the circumstances of Brown's death, his body lay in the street for hours. His death has drawn increasing national attention, first from civil unrest by furious residents, and then an increasingly heavy-handed police presence fueled by heavy social media attention.

Kenny Wiley, a youth minister who helped organize Denver's vigil, said Brown's death is the most recent demonstration of what he called the "systemic inequality" facing young black men in America. Wiley, who is black, said the system feels stacked against some people who pay the price with their lives.

"It wasn't in our city, but this is our country, our world," said Wiley, 26. "We want to stand up and say enough is enough, and to mourn those who have lost their lives."

In Greenville, S.C., about 200 people, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, gathered on a plaza in front of the Peace Center for the Performing Arts to observe the moment of silence, to pray and to rally against police brutality.

"This struggle has depth and breadth and history," Jackson, a native of Greenville, told the crowd. "And if the impact of his death wakes you up, he's made a contribution."

Jackson recalled as a child the lynching of a black mentally retarded man in 1947 in nearby Pickens County and called the shooting death of Michael Brown "a state execution."

"If it's done by an official with a badge on and a gun, it is a state execution," he said.

Jackson said he was in town to visit his mother when he heard about the rally, organized by two young black men.

"This is a wake-up call," he said. "I find a certain fascination with watching these young men and women be born again.

"This is the day of your birth," he told Ricky Pulley, one of the organizers. "You were just now born again."

A large crowd listens during a vigil at Hart Plaza in downtown Detroit on Thursday Aug. 14, 2014 for Michael Brown who was shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo.(Photo: Ryan Garza, Detroit Free Press)

Eric Wood, a white 51-year-old business owner from Greenville, held up a sign that said "Remember!" and "Protect & Serve. No one is above the law."

"I'm a law-and-order guy," he said. "I believe in the police, but there are bad cops."

Ryan Thomas, a 31-year-old auto technician from Greenville, said he felt that if he didn't take a stand here, far from Ferguson, Mo., that something like what happened to Brown could happen in Greenville.

"It's a problem everywhere," he said. "It's not just one city, one state."

The crowd at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., was diverse — black, white, student-aged and infants.

Joann Mitchell, a 53-year-old mother of a young boy, was on the verge of tears imploring the crowd to do more than get angry.

All this here, is because we didn't do nothing. You've got to stop. You've got to hold on to each other.

Joann Mitchell, Greenville, S.C.

"All this here," she said, gesturing to poster boards with the faces of some police shooting victims, "is because we didn't do nothing. You've got to stop. You've got to hold on to each other."

She went on, "Vote. Stop letting them do it to is. Go to school, get your education and stop this, because no one else can stop it."

While vigils went on around the nation, in Ferguson hundreds marched peacefully near the site of the shooting. Missouri State Police troopers and St. Louis County Police officers walked alongside demonstrators. Several marchers stopped to shake hands with officers.

One woman hugged Capt. Ron Johnson, who is now overseeing security. Johnson, who was born and raised near the city of about 21,000, was put in charge Thursday afternoon by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon.

"We all want justice," Johnson said. "We all want answers."

 


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