Valerie Schremp, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 13, 2014
A group of organizers who have held trainings for least 600 potential protesters in the last week have a vision, and they say it’s a non-violent one.
“We as a community of people, we aren’t going to use violent power,” organizer Michael McPhearson told a group of about 100 who met in a hall on South Jefferson Avenue in St. Louis Thursday night. “We’re going to use people power, to change things.”
Included in their plan is one to convene on and “shut down” Clayton the morning of the first business day after the grand jury announcement in the Michael Brown case.
McPhearson, the co-chair of the Don’t Shoot Coalition, joined with Julia Ho, a community organizer with Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment, and others to give the crowd advice on how to protest peacefully and to keep themselves and others safe after the announcement. Another similar meeting was held at the same time at Greater St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church in Ferguson.
They expected four areas to emerge as protester “hot spots” after the announcement: the Ferguson police station, the stretch of West Florissant Avenue near the QuikTrip that burned the day after the killing, the business district in Clayton, and the Shaw Neigborhood, where VonDerrit Myers Jr. was killed by a St. Louis police officer last month after the officer said Myers fired at him.
Greater St. Mark and St. John’s Episcopal Church at 2664 Arsenal Street are expected to open their doors as “safe spaces” for protesters, where they said police will not be allowed to enter. They also planned to “shut down” in Clayton at 7 a.m. on the first business day after the announcement.
They provided people a list of things they might want to take in supply bags with them as they protest on the streets: paper maps, extra clothes, snacks and water, and plastic bags if there’s not a bathroom nearby. Goggles and gas masks were also useful to protect against pepperspray and teargas, they said, and they said people can go online to find instructions for how to make a makeshift gas mask out of a plastic, two-liter soda bottle.
One instructor, who did not want to give her name, gave physical and mental health tips to the group. “The number one weapon of the police is fear,” she said. She asked the crowd to repeat her sentence, and they did. She showed the crowd how to thump their own chests, echoing their own heartbeats, as a grounding tool. “That’s going to make you feel human. And that’s a dig at them, because they’re trying to make you feel less human.”
She used the acronym HALTS to help the potential protesters. H to remember to feed their physical hunger, A to help them remember to watch their anger, L to remember to go home or connect with others if they feel lonely, T for remembering to go home to rest if they’re tired, and S to remember to not take things so seriously. “It should be enjoyable, to tear down this system of oppression,” she said. “Somewhat enjoyable. Gratifying is a better word.”
[Editor’s Note: According to the 2010 Census, the city of Clayton is 78 percent white, 11 percent Asian, and 8 percent black.]