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Ferguson Prepares For 'Weekend of Resistance' as Protests Erupt Once Again

This weekend, the protests will be back once again in full swing, as 10,000 people are expected to descend on St. Louis for a weekend of action and resistance dubbed "Ferguson October."
Photo by Claire Ward/VICE News

It's been exactly two months since 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, and the protests and anger over his death have not stopped.

They grew larger at first, then smaller, more tense or more festive depending on the police response. They paused for a few days, but never entirely went silent, carrying on over social media and in the conversations of residents.

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They have protested on the streets but also in the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra's hall and outside the St. Louis Cardinals' stadium.

Demonstrations flared up again on a number of occasions — early on after police released a video implicating Brown in a robbery, then weeks later, when a memorial built in his tribute was mysteriously burnt to the ground. Then again last night, when an off-duty police officer in a different part of St. Louis shot and killed another 18-year-old black man, Vonderrit Myers.

On Thursday night, tensions ran high once again, with disillusioned protesters burning an American flag and some throwing bricks at police — to which officers responded with pepper spray. Two protesters were arrested, police said.

Another flag burns. — deray mckesson (@deray)October 10, 2014

Did you see this from last night? Did you see the police interact with her? Just. So. Crazy. — deray mckesson (@deray)October 10, 2014

This weekend, the protests will be back once again in full swing, as up to 10,000 people, according to organizers, are expected to descend on Ferguson.

The Ferguson movement grew spontaneously, in response to Brown's death at first, then to the harsh police response to protesters. But as the days went by, and the tear gas and arrests continued, they grew organized.

Over the last few weeks, several groups born in the wake of the August's protests began to organize and coordinate with each other, and in solidarity with social justice groups across the country.

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Death of St. Louis teen shot at 17 times by off-duty cop sparks new protests. Read more here.

And this weekend, the protests will be back once again in full swing, as up to 10,000 people, according to organizers, are expected to descend on Ferguson for a weekend of action and resistance dubbed "Ferguson October."

"Droves of people, many of them young and black, took to the streets to demand justice for Mike Brown," the main organizers — Hands Up United, Organization for Black Struggle, Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment — wrote on the event's website. "Millions stood in solidarity as protestors were met by a brutal and militarized response by local police departments. Our country can no longer deny the epidemic of police violence facing black and brown communities."

'We will have up to 200 officers on standby should they be needed.'

Five fatal police shootings that occurred this year in St. Louis alone are under investigation.

"There's a huge national activation taking place this weekend in Ferguson and St Louis," Beko Baker, executive director of the League of Young Voters in St Louis, said in a conference call today. Baker's organization joined the initiative, "to bring justice for young people of color who are increasingly being killed at the hand of police just for being young and black."

Can't be in — Ferguson October (@fergusonoctober)October 10, 2014

A spokesman for St. Louis County Police — which was once again put in charge of the Ferguson protests earlier this month, taking over from the Ferguson police department — told VICE News that the department has moved to 12-hour shifts in anticipation of the weekend and that it will "increase manpower" in the areas it controls.

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"We will have up to 200 officers on standby should they be needed," he said. "They will use normal police equipment."

The spokesman also said that the department will be in charge of protests in Ferguson and St. Louis county, but that St. Louis City police will be in charge of events planned downtown. Yet several local municipalities will also assist, as well as the Missouri State Highway Patrol, which was put in charge of policing the protests for much of August.

Watch VICE News' dispatches from Ferguson here.

Since taking over, the St. Louis County police department has been regularly briefing reporters on developments, including arrests carried out during protests.

Earlier this week, following a motion by the ACLU of Missouri, a judge ruled that the so-called "five-second rule" which police used in Ferguson to arrest protesters that refused to disperse was unconstitutional and violated the First Amendment.

"We were not going to use it regardless," the St. Louis County spokesman told VICE News. "Our hopes are to not have to use some of the tactics displayed in August. Our primary goal, as it has always been, is the preservation of life."

The groups planning the weekend of action have been preparing for weeks, including by recruiting legal observers to monitor the protests, writing and teaching songs inspired by the civil rights movement, and by involving clergy and civil rights advocates to train the public on "non-violent action."

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'Power concedes nothing without a demand.'

Planned events include a march to the office of Bob McCulloch, the prosecutor in Wilson's case, on Friday, a rally in downtown St. Louis on Saturday, and a "hip hop & hope" rally on Sunday, featuring appearances by public intellectual Cornel West and St. Louis rapper Tef Poe, among others.

On Monday, protesters promised a series of "civil disobedience" actions throughout Ferguson and St. Louis.

"Power concedes nothing without a demand," organizers wrote. "On Monday, we're taking our cue from the fearless activists in North Carolina who were inspired to fight back against right-wing attacks there and across the South. They kicked off the Moral Mondays movement for progressive change by engaging in civil disobedience every week, reminding all of us that these actions have been a part of every major movement for change."

"We're going to be stepping it up, we're not afraid to get in the streets, not afraid to get involved in civil disobedience," Baker said. "We're going to get loud."

A variety of civil rights, social justice, and faith-based groups from all over the country have pledged to join the Ferguson protests — and a network of volunteers has been working to arrange accommodation and travel for out-of-town guests. Those who won't be in Ferguson have been invited to join the action on social media, using the hashtag #IStandWithFerguson.

'What they don't understand is, this is St. Louis.'

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Ferguson police aren't telling you what happened to Mike Brown. Read more here.

"The courageous stance of black youth in Ferguson has challenged the church to stand with them against police brutality. They are the leaders we have been waiting for," the Rev. Osagyefo Sekou, a Boston-based pastor and social justice activist who ran some of the trainings, said in a statement announcing the participation of several religious leaders. "We are called to Ferguson to stand with the people because anything less is heresy."

Yet local protesters and residents are taking the lead of a movement that they themselves built. "We met each other when Mike Brown died, when we were marching, when there was teargas, when the police were rioting, they were rioting, we were peacefully protesting," said Cheyenne Green, a member of the Lost Voices — a group of local youth who organized in the wake of the Mike Brown rallies. "We just came together."

Protesters have laid out a number of demands — first among them the arrest of Officer Wilson, who has been on paid leave since the shooting and has not been charged with anything.

A grand jury reviewing evidence in the case has been tasked with the decision to indict him — and was then given an extension to do so until January 7, a decision that has angered many calling for justice for Mike Brown.

'If he can be on the frontlines in Afghanistan, he can be on the frontlines in Ferguson.'

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"See, here's the thinking in the city: they think that black folks won't come out in the middle of the cold to protest if they let him go," Aha Sen Piankhy, a member of the local New Black Panthers Party that was a regular presence at the protests in the summer and worked to keep the crowd under control, told VICE News about the delay. "Seriously, that's their thinking. January and February are our coldest months in St. Louis. They think nobody will come out, we won't have a reaction."

"What they don't understand is, this is St. Louis," he added. "Don't nobody care about cold weather when you want justice. People will come out. This ain't Florida. And that's the mentality that's running around: This ain't Florida, you won't get away with this."

But protesters have also been calling for McCulloch to step down from the case or be removed. They have also called for the resignations of Ferguson's mayor James Knowles III, and police chief Tom Jackson. And they called on Missouri's governor Jay Nixon to step in.

"Jay Nixon was the one who called in the National Guard, Jay Nixon was the one who pressed for the curfew," Baker said, calling on the governor to appoint a special prosecutor "right now." "We don't want to wait until the winter months… The grand jury is just a way to divert justice."

"We believe Jay Nixon can stop the madness in the streets right now," Baker added. Then, referring to the governor's recent trip to visit troops overseas: "If he can be on the frontlines in Afghanistan, he can be on the frontlines in Ferguson."

Anger grows again in Ferguson over burned memorial, delayed indictment. Read more here.

Follow Alice Speri on Twitter: @alicesperi