Thirty rabbis from various denominations took part Monday in a civil disobedience protest opposite police headquarters in Ferguson, Missouri, to demonstrate against the killing of an unarmed 18-year-old who was shot to death by a police officer in the St. Louis suburb two months ago. The protesters stood in the location for four hours and thirty-two minutes, to mark the length of time Michael Brown’s body was left in the street after he was killed by Darren Wilson, who has not been detained or charged with any crime so far.
Hundreds of people, including nearly 200 clergymen and clergywomen, took part in the protests, which were scheduled to continue throughout the next few days as well. The members of clergy approached police officers at the scene, demanding that the public officials “repent” for Brown’s killing.
“Clergy were invited to go one on one to police officers and truthfully it was for me a very holy moment,” Rabbi Ari Kaiman, one of the Jewish clergy members to attend the protests, told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
“I’m praying for dialogue, for a conversation to happen,” he continued. “It saddens me that we live in a community where people don’t trust the police and police don’t trust the people. I don’t want to watch that happen, which is why I went to participate.”
During the protests, which were dubbed by their organizers as “Moral Monday,” a number of demonstrators held a rally inside St. Louis City Hall, disrupted business at a Ferguson shopping center, and tried to crash a private Democratic Party fundraiser for a St. Louis County executive candidate, the Associated Press reported.
Over 50 people, including professor and activist Cornell West, were arrested during the protests. None of the rabbis who participated in the demonstrations were detained by police, according to Haaretz.
The August 9 shooting death of Brown, a black teenager, by a white police officer has highlighted racial tensions in the predominantly black St. Louis suburb of Ferguson where just three blacks serve on a 53-officer force. Since Brown’s death, residents of Ferguson protested the military-style police response to the days of riots and demonstrations that erupted immediately after Brown’s shooting.
Since Brown’s death, three other fatal police shootings of black males have occurred in the St. Louis area. The most recent involved an off-duty St. Louis officer who was working for a private neighborhood security patrol when he shot and killed 18-year-old Vonderrit Myers Jr. on Wednesday night. Police said the white officer fired 17 rounds after Myers opened fire. Myers’s parents say he was unarmed.
The renewed protests in Ferguson began Friday with demonstrators urging police to bring charges against Wilson. A grand jury is reviewing the case, and the US Justice Department is conducting a civil rights investigation.
Adiv Sterman and AP contributed to this report.