AP Photo/seattlepi.com, Joshua Trujillo
Zenobia Taylor, 17, becomes emotional during a National Moment of Silence gathering Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014, in Seattle. People in more than 90 cities observed Thursday's National Moment of Silence. The vigils come in the wake of the shooting death of an 18-year-old man by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, and the death of a New York City man caused by a police officer's chokehold. (AP Photo/seattlepi.com, Joshua Trujillo) Joshua Trujillo/seattlepi.com/Associated Press
Thousands of people across the country on Thursday attended protest vigils for an unarmed black Missouri teenager fatally shot by a white police officer and other victims who organizers say died as a result of police brutality.
The vigils, observed in more than 90 cities as part of a National Moment of Silence, came days after the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown and the death of a New York man caused by a police officer's chokehold.
In downtown St. Louis, in a tiny park near the Gateway Arch, several hundred people, seemingly an equal number whites and blacks, gathered in Brown's memory.
The site is a short drive from suburban Ferguson, where Brown was killed, stoking racial unrest. In Ferguson, two-thirds of the 21,000 residents are black and all but three of the 53 police officers are white.
The St. Louis gathering was peaceful in contrast with a night of looting and clashes between demonstrators and police in Ferguson earlier in the week.
The attendees included Brown's mother, Lesley McSpadden, who didn't address the crowd but waved, drawing applause as she wiped away tears.
The observance was among many staged nationwide, each with a minute of silence for Brown and others who died at the hands of police.
'Tears in every city'
Bishop Elliott Coleman, of St. Louis' El Bethel Temple Church, said in opening the observance there that people were coming together "for this reason of healing."
"Realize there are tears in every city, tears in homes, tears in the eyes of young people, tears in the eyes of old people," Coleman said. "The tears need to be wiped away, and the hearts need to be healed."
In New York, thousands of people peacefully gathered in Manhattan's Times Square and Union Square, invoking the rallying cries "hands up, don't shoot" and "I can't breathe," alluding to the death of 43-year-old Eric Garner, who was arrested on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes and was placed in an officer's chokehold.
Garner, who had asthma, can be heard on tape shouting "I can't breathe!" and died a short time later.
The police commissioner in New York has said officers will be retrained on the use of force. Police in Ferguson have said Brown was shot after an officer encountered him and another man on the street and one of the men pushed the officer into his squad car and physically assaulted him.
'No Justice, No Peace'
Antonia Moe, who attended the Union Square vigil with her 12-year-old son, said incidents like Brown's death have changed the way she talks to her son about being black.
"When things like this happen you kind of have to remember to remind him that some of the rules that apply to others don't necessary apply to you," she said.
In Orlando, Florida, about 15 miles outside the Sanford suburb where unarmed black teen Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by neighbourhood watch leader George Zimmerman in 2012, a multicultural crowd of about 100 people gathered in front of a park amphitheatre.
One woman carried a sign that read: "No Justice, No Peace. We Stand With Ferguson." Another man's sign said: "Hands up. Don't Shoot! RIP Mike Brown."
In Nevada, about 40 people gathered outside the federal courthouse in Reno, and dozens gathered in Seattle, holding up signs that read "Unite Against Racism" and "Solidarity With Ferguson."
Bill to ban police militarization
A Democratic congressman plans to introduce a bill to restrict a U.S. Defense Department program that provides machine guns and other surplus military equipment for free to local law enforcement agencies across the country.
Democratic Rep. Hank Johnson said Thursday that Brown's death highlights the need for the legislation, which has been in the works for months. The bill comes as members of Congress have called for the Justice Department to investigate the shooting.
A spokesman for the Defense Logistics Agency, the government's combat logistics support agency, said the Ferguson Police Department has been part of the surplus equipment program. It received two tactical vehicles — both Humvees — as well as a generator and a trailer and may have received other equipment, DLA spokesman Joe Yoswa said.
Johnson said city streets should be a place for businesses and families, "not tanks and M16s." He said a Pentagon program that transfers surplus military equipment to state and local law enforcement has led to police agencies resembling paramilitary forces.
"Militarizing America's main streets won't make us any safer, just more fearful and more reticent," Johnson said Thursday. He said his bill would limit the type of military equipment that can be transferred to law enforcement, and require states to certify they can account for all equipment received.
The bill, to be introduced in September, targets a 24-year-old military surplus program that transfers equipment from blankets to bayonets and tanks to police and sheriff's departments across the country. An Associated Press investigation last year of the Defense Department program found that a large share of the $4.2 billion in surplus military gear distributed since 1990 went to police and sheriff's departments in rural areas with few officers and little crime.
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