FERGUSON, Mo. — Even though rain was falling on a gray Sunday here, the choir opening services at the Greater St. Mark Family Church repeated the reprise, “the sun is gonna shine” — as other residents outside spent the morning cleaning up debris after another night of unrest following the police-shooting death of Michael Brown more than a week before.
One person was shot and seven were arrested overnight, police said, after a midnight curfew that was imposed to tamp nights of looting and rioting in the Missouri town. But the bullets and tear gas of the overnight hours were replaced by brooms and Bibles on Sunday morning, as many from the community and others who had been watching the turmoil from far away called for peace.
National Action Network youth director, Mary-Pat Hector, just 16, traveled from Atlanta to address congregants of Greater St. Mark. Hector said the outbreak of violence was “taking away from the justice of Michael Brown,” the 18-year-old shot and killed by a police officer on August 9. “I’m asking you to go to your communities, to go to your neighborhoods and say ‘this is not the way to go.’ We need to work together,” she said.
On the streets of Ferguson, residents spent another day trying to communicate that the violence, which has often broken out at nightfall during the past week, does not represent what Ferguson stands for.
The rioters “are only a small section of our community,” Ferguson Mayor James Knowles told NBC News, while cleaning up outside of a barbecue restaurant that was the scene of Saturday night’s shooting. “The rest of the community is trying to operate normally.”
“It’s one thing for people to protest. It’s another thing to destroy the neighborhood,” said Ferguson resident Toneta Smith, while discarding tattered reminders of Saturday night’s chaos into a trash bag.
Others helping outside of the restaurant had traveled up to 30 miles to show their support for Ferguson.
“I’m just trying to help out. I just feel if it’s clean, if it’s orderly, that helps,” said Justin Aisenstat, from Webster Groves, Missouri.
But Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said it would take more than tidy streets to quell the anger that has spilled over in Ferguson. Koster said an armored truck stationed on a main road in Ferguson served as a metaphor for the “wall of armor” that has grown between law enforcement and residents of the predominantly-black town.
“This problem existed long before any of us were here,” Koster said at Greater St. Mark’s morning service, “and I am sorry that I have not done more to break down that wall of anger.”
“The question is, what are we going to do when we are here and have a chance to change it,” Koster challenged.
Civil-rights activist and MSNBC host Rev. Al Sharpton followed Koster’s remarks at the church and agreed that Ferguson and the country were facing “a defining moment.” Sharpton said he and Michael Brown’s family “condemned” the looters.
“There’s a difference between an activist and a thug,” Sharpton said.
Sharpton asked that law enforcement officials similarly condemn the actions of “police that shoot and kill unarmed people.” A second injustice, he said, was local police releasing a video that purportedly showed Brown stealing from a convenience store.
“I have never in all of my years seen something as offensive and insulting as a police chief releasing a tape of a young man — trying to smear him before we even have his funeral or his burial,” Sharpton said.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon on Sunday also admonished the release of the tape and said the investigation into Brown’s death would be thorough, but added, “In order to get justice, we need peace.”
Rick Brown reported from Ferguson, Missouri. Elisha Fieldstadt reported from New York.