As tear gas canisters clanked around him, Bishop Edwin Bass of the Church of God in Christ shuttled between protesters and police, urging each side not to attack the other.
Bass was joined by other clergy and activists, people of different races, denominations and backgrounds, all trying to ratchet down protests in the wake of the Aug. 9 shooting death of Michael Brown here.
“We were one of many positive contributors,” he said. “It was about people who wanted to bring the heat down and change the trajectory of the protests.”
As people in Ferguson looked ahead to Brown’s funeral Monday, these peacemakers hoped that the calm of the past few days would continue.
Brown’s killing by police Officer Darren Wilson sparked protests in this St. Louis suburb that recalled race riots of the 1960s and ’70s. TV images and Web videos showed protesters dodging plumes of tear gas as armored police vehicles moved in.
There were no deaths or major injuries and only a handful of arrests for violent offenses. Of the 204 arrests logged by St. Louis County Police between Aug. 10 and Thursday, 124 were for “refusal to disperse” and only three were for assault on a police officer, according to St. Louis County Police statistics.
As police and community leaders brace for Brown’s funeral Monday and the possibility of further protests, they say they hope the general peace continues.
“There’s been more peace than violence,” said Rob White, pastor of Peace of Mind Church in St. Louis, who attended the protests. “Of course, violence is what makes the news.”
Malik Shabazz of Black Lawyers for Justice was involved in the early protests. He helped designate West Florissant Avenue as the main protest area and urged police not to overstep people’s rights to demonstrate. A handful of hard-core agitators infiltrated the crowd, trying to escalate the protests into violent clashes, he said.
But there were also groups of local young men resolved to stay and protest peacefully even through the tear-gas chaos. Over-aggression by police and their militarized gear, especially in the early protests, were the main cause of clashes, he said.
“The demonstrations were a lot less violent than was portrayed,” Shabazz said.
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