Hundreds of demonstrators flooded downtown Atlanta chanting “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!” and “I am Mike Brown!” to protest the Ferguson, Missouri police shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
Brown, an African American, was reportedly shot six times on Aug. 9 during a confrontation withDarren Wilson, a white, six-year police officer with the Ferguson Police Department. The shooting, which sparked rioting in Ferguson, a small city of 21,000 near St. Louis, has spurred protests across the nation, including Atlanta where a rally and march were held on Aug. 18 by #ItsBiggerThanYou, a coalition of college students and young activists.
“The time has come for us to fight for our right to be human,” said Elle Lucier, a 19-year-old Georgia State University student helped lead the Atlanta rally. “How good must we look to be considered innocent?”
Lucier, a communications major, remembered not only Michael Brown, but Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African-American who was shot to death on Feb. 12, 2012 by George Zimmerman, a Sanford, FL neighborhood watch coordinator who said he thought the teen looked suspicious. Martin was leaving a convenience store after buying a pack of Skittles and iced tea when he was killed. He was unarmed. Zimmerman was tried and acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter in July 2013.
“Whether it’s Trayon being gunned down or Michael being executed in the streets, we have to take a stand for our young black men and take a stand against police brutality before more blood is shed in our communities,” said Lucier.
On the same day that protestors filled the streets of downtown Atlanta, more than 100 people, mostly white, came together in St. Louis to support Wilson. The 28-year-old officer has been on leave since the shooting
Meanwhile, with tensions high in Ferguson, President Barack Obama called for peace.
“The death of Michael Brown is heartbreaking. I know the events of the past few days have prompted strong passions, but as details unfold, I urge everyone in Ferguson, Missouri, and across the country, to remember this young man through reflection and understanding,” President Obama said in a press release. “We should comfort each other and talk with one another in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds. Along with our prayers, that’s what Michael and his family, and our broader American community, deserve.”
Community leaders in Atlanta such as U.S. Congressman John Lewis say a change must be made in the way police treat African Americans and other minorities.
“How many more young men of color will be killed before we realize that we have a problem in America? This is a good time to consider the words of Martin Luther King Jr., who said that peace is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice,” said Lewis, who marched in the Atlanta demonstration. “We are permitting the incarceration and shooting of thousands of black and brown boys in their formative years who might have become great artists, leaders, scientists, or lawyers, if we offered support instead of suspicion.”
Hip-hop artist “Stuey Rock,” better known as “J Nicks,” also attended the rally in Atlanta. Rock said that although the Michael Brown shooting is a tragedy, unfortunately, it is not a shock for people from St. Louis.
“This hits home for me because I’m originally from St. Louis. This is nothing new to us. Tragedies like this may not make the news but have been happening all along, even when I was growing up there,” said Rock, who is a 107.9 FM radio personality and rap artist. “Everybody is looking at the riots saying that the people there are crazy. We are not crazy. We’re just tired. Tired of going through the same thing over and over with nothing being done.”
Chad Edwards, a 22-year-old Clark Atlanta University political science major who attended the rally, agrees.
“There were small children leading in the chants out here. To say that their lives have no worth, that they can be gunned down in the streets without any consequences for those who have gunned them down is just deplorable,” said Edwards.
Attorney Mawuli Davis of the Davis|Bozeman Law Firm and DeKalb County Public Safety Director Cedric Alexander were among leaders who left Atlanta and headed for Ferguson, Missouri to offer help. Davis responded to a request by the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) to observe and ensure protesters’ constitutional rights were not being infringed on by law enforcement and the National Guard. Davis released an online video via YouTube, addressing police brutality and offering tips and strategies to help young people safely interact with police.
“Police should not be allowed to continue to militarize our communities with weapons, guns and tanks. Our communities are communities, not war zones,” said Davis. “Be non-confrontational. You have to stay calm. Don’t run or resist. Be aware of what you say. Keep a reasonable tone and make sure when you leave the house your phone is fully charged. Your cell phone video may be critical in getting rogue officers out of the police force.”
Alexander, who was recently elected as president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, told CNN that he was in Ferguson to encourage the Ferguson Police Department to be as transparent as possible with the community.
“Much of the problem here is that there is a great deal of distrust between police and this community. The community here just does not trust the police. Those bridges have to be worked on,” said Alexander. “Hopefully, we can ease the tensions with residents.”
While members of NAACP branches from across the country traveled to Ferguson to stand with protestors, members of the Atlanta and DeKalb NAACP branches held an Aug. 18 press conference in Atlanta to “condemn the tactics used by police officials in Ferguson.”
DeKalb NAACP President John Evans said police officers need racial and cultural sensitivity training to avoid incidents like the one in Ferguson.
“We can’t afford to have that kind of mess happen here in Georgia. We are calling for police departments across Georgia to require sensitivity training to get a better understanding of the differences, the cultures of various ethnic groups,” said Evans. “We also have to train our young African American men on the proper behavior with police. We have to train them how to stay alive when they are stopped by police.”
Michael Brown’s funeral will be held on Monday, Aug. 25.
To view Attorney Mawuli Davis’ online video in its entirety, visit http://davisbozeman.com. You can also follow the social media hash tags #ItsBiggerThanYou and #JusticeforMichaelBrown to stay up-to-date on events and conversations dealing with this issue.