NAACP-Led Marchers Finish Trek To Jefferson City
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Hands up, don't shoot - the rallying cry when the journey for justice ended today at the Governor's Mansion in Jefferson City, Missouri. Marchers walked 134 miles from Ferguson to the capital. The march was organized by the NAACP after the grand jury voted not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of Michael Brown. On Monday, day three of the march, I spoke with the group's president, Cornell William Brooks. And earlier today, I talked with him again when they reached their destination. Mr. Brooks, welcome to Jefferson City. You've made it.
CORNELL WILLIAM BROOKS: We are exhausted but exhilarated, as well.
BLOCK: And when I talked to you on Monday, you said your boots were faring better than your feet. How about now? How are those feet?
BROOKS: Everything is sore. But there's just this wonderful sense of elation in having walked 134 miles with what now has become this multiethnic, multiracial, multigenerational family of marchers from across Missouri and the nation - all of whom are committed to seeking both justice for Michael Brown and reform on policing in this country. And that's extraordinarily heartening.
BLOCK: Now, since you and I talked on Monday, there was the decision by the New York grand jury not to indict a police officer in the chokehold death of Eric Garner. That happened as you were marching, and I wonder how that resonated, how that might have changed the tone of what you were doing.
BROOKS: People were, quite simply, outraged. It was as though some cosmic sign, if you will, that we were doing the right thing because we see these signs that say black lives matter, and we assert the moral proposition that all lives matter. And it cannot be that young people lose their lives in New York or in Ferguson, Missouri, or in Cleveland or in any city in the country at the hands of police officers when it can be avoided.
BLOCK: Mr. Brooks, on Wednesday, the scene got pretty ugly when you passed through an angry counter-protest in the town of Rosebud, Missouri. People were lining the street and holding posters and shouting at you. And I want to play a bit of audio that was recorded as you marched through Rosebud.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Thug and a thief.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Look at all these supporters.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: If he had just put his hands up.
BLOCK: And Mr. Brooks, we're hearing protesters there shouting all this for a thug and a thief, get a job. Later on, somebody shouts, no peace, no welfare check. What were you thinking as you passed right by those protesters?
BROOKS: Well, it was a civically surreal experience. I think people assert their First Amendment rights with the N-word and obscenities, using all manner of racial slander and threats. So it was a very disturbing experience. But what I want to emphasize here is that crowd of people in Rosebud represent a minority of the 6 million citizens of Missouri. The majority of people are fair-minded and are wrestling and want to come to a resolution of these challenges. Those folks who are so racist in this speech were, in fact, more fearful than hateful because they were under the impression that somehow we were going to bring rioting and looting to their communities. And what do they see? A group of nonviolent protesters marching through their town on the way to their capital. And we yet remain convinced that we can convince the majority of the citizens in this state and the country to bring about a change in policing in the country as well as justice for Michael Brown's family.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Well, Mr. Brooks, it's good to talk to you once again. Thanks so much.
BROOKS: Thank you.
CORNISH: Cornell William Brooks is the president and CEO of the NAACP. We talked with him at the end of their week-long march from Ferguson to Jefferson City, Missouri. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.