OSAGE COUNTY — Thursday's march through central Missouri was much calmer — albeit with mixed reactions from spectators — than the racial slurs, Confederate flag waving and gunshot that Journey for Justice marchers faced the day before as they walked through the village of Rosebud. (Read our previous coverage of that counterprotest here.)
The NAACP sponsored 135-mile march from Ferguson to the Governor's Mansion in Jefferson City began Saturday in response to a grand jury's decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of black teenager Michael Brown last week.
When the marchers walked through Linn on Thursday, they occasionally passed people holding cardboard signs in support of Wilson.
But a few miles later on U.S. 50, the reactions of motorists were more mixed as they honked their car horns while passing the marchers.
One driver leaned out of his window and snapped pictures as he shouted, "I admire you!"
Another man yelled, "Support Darren Wilson!" as he drove by.
The marchers Thursday said the journey has come to represent much more than one shooting. The systemic problems concerning race and the American justice system have only been amplified by the recent attention given to police shootings of black men, they said.
“It's larger than Ferguson, it's a nationwide issue,” said the Rev. W.T. Edmonson, a Jefferson City pastor who was marching Thursday. “There are systemic issues regarding this policing ... You have police killing young black men all over the country. But these marches are not against the police ... There is a need for discipline and good policing and accountability. That's what we're calling for!”
The most recent case to ignite tensions is that of Eric Garner, a Staten Island man confronted on suspicion of selling single cigarettes who died after a New York police officer put him in a chokehold in July. On Wednesday night, a grand jury acquitted the police officer even though the incident was recorded on camera. Protests broke out in the city after the decision was released.
President Obama is asking Congress for millions of dollars to equip police officers with body cameras in an effort to increase accountability. But following the Garner case, some people who have advocated for systemic change in law enforcement are now questioning the effectiveness of body cameras.
“The body cameras wouldn't be bad,” said Mustafaa Rose, a Lincoln University student. “But from what is clearly been shown, it wouldn't make a difference because (police are) still getting away with it.”
Despite the overcast skies, aching feet and sporadic hostile signs and shouts, spirits remained high among the marchers Thursday.
Phill Dage, a busker from Detroit, looked over the frozen Missouri fields adorned by the silhouettes of bare trees.
“Beautiful country here,” he said.
Dage spent much of the march singing protest songs and playing his bongo drum alongside his friend Randy Chabot, also from Detroit, as well as another marcher who played maraca and tambourine, Alexander Ross from Fayetteville, Arkansas.
“In protests, I think music is a very powerful form of resistance,” Dage said. “Music has that mysterious way of bringing us together. And if we can sing together, it's going to be very hard to argue and to look at the other person in a negative way.”
Rasheed Ali also traveled far to join the march. Wearing a bright orange vest and responding only to “Ali!,” he sprinted up and down the line of marchers with a video camera, determined to record each participant.
Back home in South Carolina, Ali flips houses —“maybe two a year”— and sells books at Christian conferences in order to fund his trips to various protests across the nation.
When he saw people with anti-Michael Brown signs in Linn, he hugged them.
“It blew a lot of people’s minds,” Ali said. “I love being the one to break down barriers, because they want to talk, and I want to hear what they have to say. That don't mean people can't disagree and get along.”
Other marchers claimed a closer home.
About half-dozen student leaders from Lincoln University joined the march Thursday.
Kendall Wright, a leader of Lincoln University's LGBT group and a political science major, said he decided to change his career path from foreign policy to law or national politics after hearing about the recent national events concerning police violence.
“It makes me want to be more involved with politics here in this nation because I want to know the laws more in depth and enforce those laws,” Wright said. “I want to be able to tell individuals, ‘Hey, we have certain rights.’”
At around 3:15 p.m. Thursday, protesters stopped marching and loaded the bus that had been following them down the highway. They headed to Quinn Chapel in Jefferson City, where they ate dinner, chatted and stayed the night in sleeping bags.
On Friday morning, marchers will pick up where they left off on Highway 50. They expect to reach the Governor's Mansion in Jefferson City by 1 p.m.
Supervising editor is Bailey Otto.