COLUMBIA — Gov. Jay Nixon’s mandated curfew in Ferguson began at midnight Sunday, but Jonathan Butler’s curiosity got the better of him. After midnight Sunday, he stood under pouring rain, about 30 feet behind a group of protestors jeering at the line of police tasked with enforcing the curfew.
At 12:50 a.m., Butler saw bright lights approaching from the end of the street, which he assumed were SWAT trucks. Law enforcement officers gave a last warning for the protestors to disperse, but they stood their ground. A few protestors even moved closer to the police line, Butler said.
A few minutes later, police began throwing tear gas cans at the crowd, and other officers fired rubber bullets.
"When they started popping the first tear gas, there was a taste I couldn’t get out of my mouth,” Butler said. “My nose started running. I just started itching. It was so overpowering that I started to get a headache."
Butler, an MU graduate student, arrived in Ferguson at about 10 a.m. Saturday to participate in peaceful protest following the fatal shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9. At 1:05 a.m. Sunday, he helped protestors and fellow onlookers find safety.
"I was trying to make sure people were OK,” Butler said. “And that's what kind of amazed me because even though it was a bad situation, you still saw the people come together as a community. Even in that frenzy, there was a real communal aspect of everyone in Ferguson looking out for each other, and that was a unanimous thing the whole day."
These feelings of support haven't been contained to Ferguson. Demonstrations using the mantra "Hands Up, Don’t Shoot" have spread throughout the country. The chant was inspired by Brown's reaction to Wilson's gunshots, according to eyewitness reports. After Butler returned to Columbia on Sunday, he hosted a #DontShoot photo challenge for MU at 1 p.m.
Several dozen students, staff and faculty as well as members of the community posed in front of the MU Columns. In one photo, they raised both of their hands in solidarity with Brown, and in another, they lifted their right fists. As the photos were taken, their unified chants of “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” echoed across Frances Quadrangle.
The #DontShoot photo challenge movement began at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Students raised their hands with the caption “Don’t shoot,” and the photo soon went viral on social media.
“The photo was very simple but very powerful,” Butler said. “It sent a big message that we’re in this together. We’re standing with you.”
MU senior DeShaunya Ware, another photo-challenge participant, shared Butler's sentiment.
“I’m just here today because black lives are important,” Ware said. “And we’ve had a lot of losses, and I like to refer to them as the black sacrifice. Nobody deserves to have their life taken away from them. I’m here to show my support because I am Mike Brown.”
Despite incidents of violence after dark, daytime protesting in Ferguson has been peaceful, Ebonie Young said. Young, who graduated from MU in 2012, was in Ferguson on Sunday. She began her day at the site of the Ferguson QuikTrip that was burned down during riots on Aug. 10, where protestors gathered with chants of “Hands up, don't shoot,” and “No justice, no peace.”
“It was such a welcoming atmosphere,” Young said. “There were people who were giving away chips, drinks and flowers. Every car that was passing was honking their horns. I felt like I stepped back in the 1960s for a second.”
To Butler, the chant harkens back to his experiences as a black man.
"I have been arrested and stopped by the police several times for what I would consider to be profiling," he said. "In those instances, you fear for your life. Putting your hands up ... it's like saying, I'm unarmed, I don't have anything against you, I'm a law-abiding citizen. Let’s look at the injustice in that system. Let’s change that."
Young already sees change due to the movement. As an example, she used a petition being circulated on Change.org to outfit police officers with body cameras in order to hold them accountable. She nicknamed the petition the "Michael Brown Law."
"Little old St. Louis made national coverage, and it’s opened up people’s eyes to a bigger movement,” Young said. “Change does not happen overnight. This is the beginning of something beautiful."
Supervising editor is Samuel Hardiman.