Protesters made a powerful statement Saturday night when they showed up at the St. Louis Symphony and sang what is being described as a ‘Requiem for Mike Brown’ at the end of an intermission. Michael Brown, an 18-year-old unarmed black male, was shot to death by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson on August 9th. Protests have continued in and around Ferguson in the aftermath of Brown’s death. Wilson remains a free man as charges have not been filed against him. A grand jury is still looking at evidence. However, there are now concerns that the jury has been compromised, and the process may need to be restarted completely.
Roughly 50 demonstrators were spread out through the auditorium. As the conductor stepped to the podium to begin the second part of the performance, a woman stood in the audience and began sang, “What side are you on friend, what side are you on?” This led to another woman standing up a few rows away and singing, “Justice for Mike Brown is justice for us all.” Afterwards, many other audience members stood up and joined in the singing. In the balcony, several banners were unfurled. One banner showed a picture of Brown. Another one said ‘Racism lives here’ and pointed to a picture of the St. Louis Arch. Other banners had sayings like ‘Requiem for Mike Brown’ and ‘Rise up and join the movement.’
Below is a cell phone video of the performance, courtesy of Rebecca Rivas of the St. Louis American:
The singing lasted for roughly two minutes. After the song had been sung, the demonstrators chanted ‘Black lives matter!’ before marching out of the auditorium. As they left, they received a loud round of applause from those in the audience as well as from the musicians on stage. Those who run the symphony did not want to comment on the protest.
Rivas was able to speak to the woman who organized the demonstration, Sarah Griesbach, a 42-year-old white woman who lives in an upscale neighborhood of St. Louis. She explained that the point of the protest was to help open the eyes of the white community to the injustices going on in Ferguson and around the country.
“It is my duty and desire to try to reach out and raise that awareness peacefully but also to disrupt the blind state of white St. Louis, particularly among the people who are secure in their blindness.”
She also pointed out to Rivas that she and another woman had attempted to make a similar statement at a St. Louis Cardinals game a couple of weeks prior. However, they were met with sneers and chants of ‘Hands up, don’t loot!’ She decided to try the symphony because she felt that an intellectual type of culture would be more open and receptive to a statement like that. Speaking from experience, I have heard extremely crass and racist statements made at recent Cardinals games regarding the Ferguson protests. It is not shocking to hear that she was met with derision from many fans at the game.
The protests continue. While this group made their statement at the symphony, a small but spirited group of protesters braved the cold night and gathered in front of the Ferguson police department to demonstrate. This will continue as long as Wilson is free and justice remains unserved. Next weekend, a number of planned marches, demonstrations and panels will take place in and around Ferguson. The weekend event is known as Ferguson October and organizers are calling on people from around the country to gather. Thousands of protesters are expected to show up on October 10th and stay through the 13th.