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Ferguson protests escalate despite holiday weekend

Contrary to some major news coverage, protesters around Ferguson, Mo., were far from quiet this past holiday weekend. Since late last Monday night, when a grand jury decided not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown, demonstrations have roared across the country. They’ve only escalated in the past few days, as organizers have called for a range of tactics to resist the continued criminalization of communities of color.

Many have pointed to the circumstances surrounding the case’s grand jury hearing as a cause for outrage. Rather than automatically press charges, as is customary in criminal proceedings, prosecutor Robert McCulloch presented a grand jury with all of the evidence — including thousands of pages of testimony — compiled for the case. The jury decided for themselves whether to pursue charges, though many have raised questions around McCulloch’s relationship to the case. Legal analyst Jeffery Toobin wrote in the New Yorker that going through a grand jury is “virtually without precedent in the law of Missouri or anywhere else.” The National Bar Association has also condemned McCulloch’s treatment of the case, even inviting protests: “the only way to foster systemic change is to organize, educate and mobilize.”

Activists’ concerns, however, run much deeper than legal disagreements. A ProPublica report found that young black men are nearly 21 times more likely to be killed by police than their white counterparts, though officers rarely face indictments; just three have faced charges nationwide since 2005. Protesters are pointing to Brown’s murder as just the latest in a long pattern of unequal justice in the United States’ criminal justice system.

Minutes after the decision was announced on Monday, marches kicked off in Ferguson, as well as Philadelphia, Atlanta, Oakland and dozens of cities around the country. In New York last Monday night, protests stretched some 30 blocks from Union Square to Times Square.

Actions continued through the week and into the weekend. On Thanksgiving Day, an estimated 100 demonstrators gathered in midtown Manhattan to interrupt the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, holding up signs with the words “Black Lives Matter,” while attempting to rush into the parade route. Seven were detained in what the New York Post called a “plot against Snoopy.”

The following day, many boycotted Black Friday sales, choosing instead to patronize only black-owned businesses and give “not one dime” to major corporations. Bay Area protesters shut down BART trains, linking together with shirts and lockboxes that read “Black Lives Matter.” Fourteen were arrested, as other die-ins were held at shopping centers nationwide. Various groups of protesters blocked major highways, like San Diego’s I-5 and I-35E in downtown Dallas. They acted alongside Walmart workers at 160 stores around the United States who were demanding a $15 minimum wage, and were joined by union members from Teamsters International and the American Federation of Teachers for what became the largest Walmart strike ever, organized principally by OUR Walmart.

Protesters shut down multiple St. Louis Walmart stores by marching through aisles, chanting “shut it down” and “hands up, don’t shoot.” In a further connection between the retail chain, John Crawford, an unarmed black man, was killed inside a Walmart in Beavercreek, Ohio, earlier this year by police officer Sean Williams, who was also not indicted.

On Saturday, it was reported that Wilson will resign from his position at the Ferguson Police Department, just as the Department of Justice is slated to begin an investigation into the city’s police department. Meanwhile, the NAACP began a weeklong, 120-mile march from Ferguson to Gov. Jay Nixon’s Jefferson City home, calling for 100 days of peaceful protests. Ferguson organizers have also called for a national “Hands Up! Walk Out” at schools around the country on Monday, as additional marches and actions are being planned locally for the next week.