FERGUSON, Missouri — Protests in Ferguson died down Wednesday night as snow fell and Thanksgiving approached, but one group used the evening to take their message across town to an upscale mall on the other side of St. Louis.
The protest began as a procession of cars — what one participant described as a "car march" — wound through the St. Louis metro area with hazard lights flashing and horns blaring. It was a curious form of protest: Unless someone explained what was happening it was hard to tell what it meant. However, it enabled the protesters to cover a significant distances and kept people warm on a particularly cold and wet night.
The procession visited the sites where three young black men have been killed by police since August. They were Vonderrit Myers, who was killed on Oct. 8; Kajieme Powell, who was killed on Aug. 19; and Michael Brown, who was killed on Aug. 9. When the group reached the site of Brown's death, participants gathered in a circle while organizers delivered speeches in the falling snow.
The theme that emerged from the gathering was "peaceful disruption," which organizers explained as bringing grievances to members of the St. Louis community who might otherwise be isolated from them.
Then the group put that principle into practice at the St. Louis Galleria.
After several minutes of speeches, the protesters got back in their cars and drove across town to the upscale shopping center. Half an hour before the mall closed, about 30 people gathered near a three-story Christmas tree and suddenly began shouting: "We are Mike Brown."
The effect was startling; the cavernous halls and hard surfaces amplified the sound, drawing onlookers on several levels of the mall. Three clerks at a nearby Verizon kiosk stared and smiled as they took pictures with their cameras.
The group eventually marched up and down the length of the mall, still chanting. A couple of mall security guards trailed them, but the response was mostly positive. An employee at a Clarks shoe store saluted with a fist from behind a glass door as the group passed. Upstairs, Trevion Ellis — who was shopping at the Champs sporting goods store when he heard the shouting — called the protest "inspiring" and said he agreed with the message.
The demonstration ended around 9 p.m., when the mall closed and the protesters returned to their cars as peacefully as they had come. Outside, two lines of Missouri Highway Patrol troopers stood alongside a National Guard Humvee, but most never went inside.
The protest offered a number of surprising juxtapositions — people chanting that "killer cops have to go" in front of The Gap — but the location wasn't an accident. Paul Muhammad, one of the organizers of the event, told BuzzFeed News that the idea was to peacefully disrupt an economic center.
"The government, the taxpayers, they respond to economics," Muhammad said.
For Muhammad, the racial and class problems in Ferguson have economic roots. The black community in Ferguson lacks economic resources, he said, but some people in other St. Louis communities — for example those who might be shopping at the Galleria — haven't been directly confronted with that issue. Hence the choice to bring the protest to them.
"We don't keep our money in the black community," he said. "So I think it's important to affect the economics."