What started out Sunday night as a small group training for direct-action demonstrations in response to the Walter Scott shooting turned into a large gathering of people passionate about standing in solidarity and having their voices heard.
About an hour after 15 or so protesters, many with Black Lives Matter Charleston, a grassroots coalition of concerned citizens, huddled outside North Charleston City Hall, another group of people showed up, arm in arm, chanting loudly.
“We are Ferguson, black lives matter,” the group recited. “We are Ferguson, black lives matter.”
As they moved closer, everyone unlocked arms and began hugging and shaking hands, greeting one another as if they were all old friends.
The roughly 13-hour drive from Ferguson, Missouri, didn’t seem to slow anyone down.
“We came in on a high wind today,” said the Rev. Fer-Rell Malone, of Waycross, Georgia.
Derrick Robinson chimed in, “We’ve been fighting for 250-plus days in Ferguson and it must stop.”
“We’re here, we’re ready to turn up because black lives matter,” he said. “The system wasn’t built for us, but we’re taking back our country, we’re taking back our community, we’re taking back our black men and we’re taking back our black women because black lives matter.”
Ferguson was rocked by riots and violence last year following a white officer’s fatal shooting of Michael Brown, but individuals who drove to protest in Charleston said they were there to stand in support of the local protest community and were all about non-violent movements.
DeRay McKesson, who has been here since Tuesday from Ferguson, said he was asked to help Black Lives Matter Charleston behind the scenes with things like training and infrastructure.
“Protesters from around the country have come here to support a local protest community that is strong,” he said. “We are here to take the lead from local protest leaders. We’re proud to stand in solidarity with them.”
Denise Cromwell, a protester from North Charleston, said the demonstration training was for safety and security, but explained that everything would be peaceful this week.
She added that just because the Ferguson protesters were there didn’t mean things would get out of control.
“They know before they come here that we are about peace,” she said. “People can expect the power of prayer to be in action (tomorrow).”
Muhiyidin D’Baha, a member of the local organization, said he believes demonstrations this week with Ferguson protesters will be spirituous occasions.
“We also expect there to be a lot of sharing of community and building of community,” he said.
Before Ferguson protesters arrived, the smaller group shared stories about their previous experiences with direct-action demonstrations and they practiced locking arms and remaining calm in the face of confrontation.
Robert Leeper, a retired Charleston pastor, talked to the group about when he participated in direct-action demonstrations in Washington, D.C., with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“It’s not a bad idea,” he said later of the training. “It’s good to know how to react.”
D’Baha explained that come Monday, protesters would be representing Scott, who was shot and killed by North Charleston Patrolman 1st Class Michael T. Slager as he fled during a traffic stop. He encouraged a peaceful energy.
The gathering Sunday ended with plans to visit the place where Scott was killed, near Remount and Craig roads.
“Turn up, we all we got, we’re doing this for Walter Scott,” everyone chanted before heading out into the night.
Reach Melissa Boughton at 937-5594 or at Twitter.com/mboughton.