Webster University student and Ferguson resident Steward Stiles smelled the tear gas as it seeped into his home a block from where Michael Brown was shot to death. As gas cleared protestors from the two blocks of West Florissant, it carried through the air, irritating Stiles and other residents lungs, eyes and noses.
“I live in Ferguson, just a block away from what’s going on,” Stiles said. “We can hear the car horns, we can smell the tear gas when they started shooting it.”
The Association of African American Collegians (AAAC) of Webster University hosted a protest on the corner of Big Bend Blvd. and Edgar Road in response to Michael Brown’s shooting in Feguson. Stiles was among the student protesters at Webster on Tuesday, Aug. 19.
More than 60 Webster Groves community members, university students, staff and faculty came together to protest the killing of Brown. University President Elizabeth Stroble and Provost Julian Schuster showed students their support by attending the rally.
“I’m proud of our students. I’m proud that people felt the need to peacefully assemble and express a point-of-view,” Stroble said. “I live in the neighborhood and of course I’d want to be here,” Stroble said.
Protesters in Webster chanted pleas for justice and equality, sang songs and displayed signs to cars passing by. One sign read “First question. Why did Michael die?” Another read, “Demilitarize the police. This is not a war.” Six Webster Groves police department and several university Public Safety officers watched on from in front of Marlettos and the surrounding areas, but did not intervene as the night went on.
Webster student and protest organizer Paige Hegwood said she and other AAAC members requested Webster Groves Police Department and Webster University Public Safety presence to keep the protest safe. She said because of the violence at other protests, police involvement was a good idea.
“They’re not just here to make sure we’re in line. They’re also here to make sure our rights are protected,” Hegwood said. “They’re doing what they were sworn to do.”
Webster student Henry Coleman helped plan the rally and has attended several protests in Ferguson. He said anyone can spread a positive message in any community.
“You don’t have to spread love and awareness of the issue there; you don’t have to go to Ferguson. It doesn’t start or stop in Ferguson,” Coleman said. “This has been going on for years, and it doesn’t just have to deal with police brutality.”
Coleman said he tries to bring more skeptics every time he makes a trip to show people there is love in Ferguson.
Coleman smiled as he surveyed the crowd. He said he felt overwhelmed by the port from students, faculty, staff and Webster Grove residents.
“This is basically showing as much support as we can to the Mike Brown family, to Ferguson, even to Darren Wilson,” Coleman said. “Nothing but love out here; and thats one of our main goals.”
On Aug. 9 Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson shot unarmed teenager Michael Brown, killing him. Since the shooting, Ferguson has become the scene of protests, rioting and looting. On several nights since the shooting, police have intervened in protests with arrests, tear gas and riot diffusal tools.
Stiles said the shooting hit close to his heart because he could have been Michael Brown. He said while he has had positive experiences with the Ferguson Police Department and city officials, he still feels there is racial profiling in the city.
“They [people] say racism is gone, but it’s really not. Often times we just want to shun it and say that the subject is not a relevant issue, but it really is,” Stiles said. “We have to address it. It isn’t a local thing. There have been communities just like Ferguson.”
As the night went on and the protester numbers dwindled. Some students holding out until the set 9 p.m. dispersal time broke into song, more chants and discussion.