Activist and television show host Rev. Al Sharpton speaks at Greater Grace Church in Florissant on Sunday (Aug. 17), during a rally for justice for an unarmed teen shot by Darren Wilson, a Ferguson police officer. Protests and anger have broken out in the Ferguson Community since Michael Brown, an unarmed teen, was shot by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson last Saturday. Photo by Christian Gooden, courtesy of St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Activist and television show host Rev. Al Sharpton speaks at Greater Grace Church in Florissant on Sunday (Aug. 17), during a rally for justice for an unarmed teen shot by Darren Wilson, a Ferguson police officer. Protests and anger have broken out in the Ferguson Community since Michael Brown, an unarmed teen, was shot by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson last Saturday. Photo by Christian Gooden, courtesy of St. Louis Post-Dispatch


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FERGUSON, Mo. (RNS)  Civil rights leader the Rev. Al Sharpton told a packed church on Sunday (Aug. 17) that the Michael Brown case would mark a defining moment in civil rights history and fundamentally change the way police engage with the African-American community.

“Michael Brown is going to change this town,” Sharpton said to a massive, boisterous crowd that clapped and shouted in response.

Hundreds filled the pews of Greater Grace Church. More crowded into the foyer, and hundreds remained on the parking lot unable to enter, all in a show of support for the African-American teenager who was shot by a police officer on Aug. 9.

Sharpton announced a future march in Washington on policing. He criticized the militarization of police, saying they act as if they are “at war with … citizens.” Sharpton urged the crowd to start showing up at the polls to vote and make a difference in the lives of African-Americans.

“Nobody can go to the White House unless they stop by our house,” Sharpton said. “We’ll be here until justice is achieved.”

In addition to Sharpton, Capt. Ronald S. Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol, who took over the police security patrol in Ferguson last week, was on hand to offer support to Brown’s family, as was U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis.

“I want you to know these parents are not going to cry alone, they’re not going to stand alone,” Sharpton said, referring to Brown’s parents, who were also at the church. “We’ve had enough.”

Benjamin Crump, the Brown family’s lawyer, also took the stage.

“We’re here to talk about justice,” said Crump. “We’re here to stand up for our children, because if we don’t stand up for our children, nobody will stand up for our children. They just want what anyone else would want if their child was shot in broad daylight,” he said.

When Johnson of the Highway Patrol spoke he compared Brown to his own son.

“When this is over I’m going to go into my son’s room, my black son, who wears his pants sagging, wears his hat cocked to the side, got tattoos on his arms. But that’s my baby,” Johnson said. “Michael is going to make it better for our sons, so they can be better men.”

Crump told supporters not to lose focus amid news that Brown is alleged to have robbed a convenience store just before the shooting. He called the allegations an attempt to assassinate Brown’s character.

Sharpton first took the stage with the Brown family receiving a standing ovation. Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, overwhelmed by the response, bowed her head, breaking down in tears.

As at previous forums, Sharpton urged demonstrators protesting Brown’s death to do so in a peaceful manner.

He also said Ferguson residents would take to the streets with bright yellow T-shirts, calling themselves “Disciples of Justice,” or DJs, to help contain any violence on the streets.

Sharpton announced a class-action lawsuit for demonstrators who had been victims of tear gas and other injuries at the hands of police, though he gave few specifics.

People turned out with families, babies in strollers and children on shoulders.

Laronda Hodges, 46, a counselor for St. Louis Public Schools, was outside the church with her husband and 13-year-old daughter. “I just want to be a part of making a difference,” Hodges said. Nothing seems to change, she added, pointing to discrepancies in pay, in positions, in elected offices.

One pocket of people huddled around a radio station van broadcasting what was being said inside the church.

But not everyone was happy with Sharpton’s speech.

“He always wants to hush us without handling the whole situation,” said Zsazzi Powell, 27, a stay-at-home mother in Ferguson. “We’re tired of all the pacifying.”

Alicia Berry, 38, a teacher, said Sharpton should pressure the media to not always emphasize the negative. She said the media had paid too much attention to the looting that happened last week, rather than shining a light on those who had worked hard to keep the rallies safe.

“Every race has its handful of fools,” she said.

Berry called Sharpton’s speech “powerful” but said she wanted to know — “What’s going to happen after this?”

(Lilly Fowler is the religion reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reach her on Twitter.)

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15 Comments

  1. ,,,And not one word of sympathy, nor apology,nor justice, for what happened to that innocent Asian store clerk who was terrorized, assaulted, bullied, and robbed by “Big Mike” and looters.

    No hand-clappin’ church rallies for that little Asian clerk. No black preachers supporting him. No black politicians meeting with him. No black Highway Patrol captains apologizing to him. No fiery black tweets for him. No hands up for him. At all.

    “Greater Grace” my butt.

    • White Racist III

      Ummmm, you are really ignorant. Your comments make me wonder what happened to you as a child. Where is your empathy for the victim here. A child lost his life and a family lost their son. Have you no empathy? Do you not see the humanity in Mike Brown and his family? The cop was wrong. He murdered an unarmed child. Cowardly act at best. If that was your son or daughter I imagine that you would take a different approach. You need help.

  2. Sharpton has a durable grift, if nothing else. Since Crump’s a lawyer and not a carnival barker, he’s not direct competition, so welcome on the state. What the state police captain was doing there he’ll have to explain to his superiors.

  3. “Rev. Sharpton urged the crowd to start showing up at the polls to vote and make a difference in the lives of African-Americans.”

    I do not like the idea of a Reverend bringing politics into a church even if I agree with the politics.
    For some reason it is allowed in many black churches. But it shouldn’t be.
    Don’t black communities deserve use of the town hall or something?
    Why are the churches the only place for black folks to talk politics?

    If this were a white Republican church and the pastor was preaching for people to vote a certain way I would be just as bothered.

    • A MAX

      I Think at one time in history,, the church was the only place black people could legal gather and feel relatively safe ,, and this is why they are accustomed
      to talking about most every subject in their church’s that trouble them .
      their church’s were often used also for food storage and for sick houses where
      their was blankets and wood stove with wood for warm … oppression was
      very real in the history of many black people and the church was truly a place of refuge in more ways than one..

      • rob,

        but the USA is behind the times.
        And people are not demanding jobs loud enough – when they should.
        They are not demanding education loud enough – when they should.

        If the US government can afford to >>>> GIVE a $3 Million TANK <<<<
        away to the police in Ferguson
        for $200 <<< :-O
        They . can . damn . sure . put . more . money . into . some . JOBS . and . schools !!!

  4. one can just see the pictures of the family and see how badly they are hurting .

    sure the policemen was afraid for his life ..a white policemen policing a all black neighborhood.. would be much more afraid than if a black policemen encountered the same situation im sure fear had a great deal to do with it …. and if what was said was true the policemen’s foul language
    also only escalated the situation..
    black neighbor hood policed by the white race that some black folks see as formally slave owners and whip ” crackers”.. of black shirtless backs

    who’s dumb idea was that?

    why is the police force just about all white? when the community is black..?

    and all the military tanks and weapons aimed at moms and dads who are legally protesting.

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