FERGUSON, MISSOURI – Police arrested five people overnight after they tried to block a street in a protest calling for a grand jury to charge a white police officer in the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teen in August.
A few dozen demonstrators, some chanting “Indict that cop,” gathered outside the city police station late on Wednesday in subfreezing temperatures.
They were faced by officers in riot gear and the arrests were the first in about a week.
One of those detained was David Rodriguez, 26, a former cable company worker from Chicago who said he came to Ferguson three days ago to show solidarity with the protesters.
“They (the police) were going around pretty much looking for anyone they could grab. … They really weren’t looking for violent guys,” Rodriguez said after being released from jail.
The protesters included people from “Washington, New York, all over,” he said. “We all came here just to show solidarity. … I’m not going home until this is over with.”
The grand jury has been meeting for three months to determine whether police officer Darren Wilson broke the law when he shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown in an incident that exposed long-simmering racial tensions in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri.
Weeks of sometimes violent protests followed, and local businesses and schools were braced for more unrest, particularly if the grand jury does not charge Wilson. Its decision is expected by month’s end.
St. Louis County police said the demonstrators refused to disperse and that some then lay down in the road. It said five people were arrested, including Rodriguez, three people from Missouri, and one from Wisconsin.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has declared a state of emergency and called in the National Guard to back up local police, a move some activists criticized as heavy-handed. The Ferguson area has seen few protests over the past week, and all have been peaceful.
Police in the St. Louis area have been through conflict de-escalation training since August, and activist leaders have been training people in non-violent civil disobedience techniques.
Activists across the United States planned to stage their own rallies at federal courthouses from New York to Los Angeles.
The National Action Network, a group founded by Al Sharpton, a longtime New York civil rights activist, said demonstrations would occur regardless of the grand jury’s decision, with protesters calling for federal charges against Wilson if he does not face state charges.
There are differing accounts of what happened when Wilson shot Brown on Aug. 9. Some witnesses said Brown had his hands up in surrender, while others described a violent scuffle between the two.
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