'THIS IS OUR TIME'
Ferguson activists vow to continue fighting for justice and equality.
FERGUSON, Mo. - The protesters who spent eight months pressing for changes in Ferguson's police practices after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown take credit for this week's resignations of the city manager and the police chief.
And they insist they still have unfinished business, with many planning to stay in the streets until the mayor of the St. Louis suburb is forced out and the entire police force dissolved.
"We will protest until we see everything in our favor. This movement has legs," Derrick Robinson, a protest organizer, declared Friday. "We're out here fighting for justice and equality, and that's what we'll continue to fight for."
Part of the movement has also been channeled into pressing for legislative change. On Wednesday, about two dozen people from the Don't Shoot Coalition and the American Civil Liberties Union traveled to the Missouri Capitol in support of the "Fair and Impartial Policing Act," a measure that would strengthen state laws about racial profiling by police and require law officers to undergo "anti-bias" training.
The Justice Department fueled the sense of achievement among activists, announcing in a scathing report last week that its probe of Ferguson's justice system in the wake of Brown's death found racial bias in the city's policing and in a municipal court system driven by profit extracted from mostly black and low-income residents.
That same report also cleared former Ferguson officer Darren Wilson in the Aug. 9 death of Brown, the unarmed 18-year-old who for protesters became a symbol of unjustified use of force and unfair treatment of minorities by police.
The Justice Department's conclusions drew a muted response among activists. Only a few dozen protesters gathered that night outside Ferguson's police station - the nexus of many demonstrations. That was in sharp contrast to the throngs that turned out there and across the nation in the days after Brown's death and in November, when a Missouri grand jury declined to indict Wilson.
The comparatively sparse turnout by protesters raised questions about whether the movement had lost momentum. Organizers said the federal government's conclusions had been expected after some of the findings were leaked in the weeks before the formal announcements.
Rasheen Aldridge, a 20-year-old regular at the protests, considers Ferguson his generation's civil rights movement. That idea, he said, seemed to grow more relevant after the recent killing of an unarmed biracial man by a white officer in Madison, Wisc., and the suspension of a University of Oklahoma fraternity chapter that was caught on video singing a racist chant.
Aldridge, head of Young Activists United St. Louis, said he did not expect the protest movement "to grow into the energy that it has, empowering young people not to be silent anymore and to take action and fix it."
"This is the new time to make changes," added Aldridge, also a member of the Ferguson Commission, a group tasked by Missouri's governor to address underlying social and economic problems. "This is our time."
Some demonstrations in the months after Brown's death were marred by looting and arson fires that targeted businesses. Organizers blamed those incidents on outside agitators.
That was the case again Thursday, when two police officers helping monitor protests outside the police department were shot in an attack that was still under investigation. The officers were later released from the hospital, and no arrests have been made.
The gunfire drew instant, broad condemnation from activists. Dozens of protesters gathered again Thursday night in Ferguson, expressing sympathy for the wounded officers and praying for peace during a candlelight vigil.
"Even last night as we protested, police were very gracious to us," St. Louis activist John Gaskin III said Friday. "That shows a lot of trust to us."
Gaskin said protesters should take stock in the Ferguson house cleaning they helped achieve.
"Although the work is not nearly done," he said, "this is a time for practitioners of democracy to pat themselves on the back for significant change."