FERGUSON, Mo. A smaller, quieter protest formed in Ferguson on a sultry Wednesday night after other marches converged upon the St. Louis County Justice Center in Clayton, where a grand jury has begun examining the Michael Brown case.
In Ferguson, crowds of barely 200 protesters walked along West Florissant Avenue at Canfield Drive, which has been the scene of protests, frequent disruptions and occasional looting for 11 consecutive nights. Violence erupted with the burning of a QuikTrip on Aug. 10, one day after Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Brown, 18, on a street in the nearby Canfield Green apartments.
Ministers, many wearing orange T-shirts marked with "Clergy United," mingled through the crowd and stepped in when young protesters appeared to get rowdy.
"When things heat up we don't mind jumping into the middle of the fuss because we know who watches us," said Pastor Doug Hollis, of St. Louis, a member of Clergy United.
Police officers stood in clusters, not riot lines, and kept protesters moving. Wednesday night was quieter than Tuesday, which had been less rowdy than Monday night, when police fired tear gas. Police made numerous arrests both nights.
Tension flared briefly Wednesday night when a man and a woman who support Wilson showed up with signs. Many in the crowd shouted at them, and police quickly removed them by squad car. Fortunately, the rain then hit hard.
The first of two marches in Clayton was held in the morning as the grand jury commenced its work. But County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch warned that it wouldn't finish its task any time soon, despite numerous calls by protesters and some public officials for speedy action.
"Our target date is, hopefully, by the middle of October," McCulloch said. "I certainly understand the concern, but we won't rush it through. In the long run people, at least a majority of people, will appreciate the thoroughness."
Grand juries work in secret. The grand jury meets in McCulloch's office behind secure doors in the County Justice Center, across South Central Avenue from the St. Louis County Courthouse. Reporters have no ability to see anyone entering or leaving the grand jury room, or how they get to McCulloch's office from outside the building.
Handling the case before the grand jury are assistant prosecutors Sheila Whirley, who is black, and Kathi Alizadeh, who is white. Alizadeh, with 27 years' experience, is the regular homicide prosecutor. Whirley has the grand jury assignment and 18 years' experience.
McCulloch declined to discuss any evidence, but elaborated upon his decision not to rush the investigation.
"Some people say we are rushing to judgment, and others say we are dragging it out," he said. "We will do this as expeditiously as possible, but certainly not in any haphazard manner."
Outside the Justice Center, about 50 protesters marched and chanted in the 7800 block of Carondelet Avenue. One held a sign saying, "Recuse McCulloch."
The only tense moment was when Pattie Canter of Clayton walked to the protest area carrying a sign saying, "My family and friends support Officer Wilson and the police."
Chanting "What about police rights?" and "Police officers have rights, too," Canter walked near the protesters, some of whom shouted, "Go home! Go home!"
Replied Canter, "I have constitutional rights. I'm not going anywhere."
As the crowd became more agitated, police officers escorted her to a police vehicle. Canter told a reporter she was not under arrest. "Why would I be?" she said before being driven away.
On Wednesday evening, a second march of about 100 people returned to the Justice Center after walking eight blocks from Clayton High School. The clergy group that organized the march called for the replacement of McCulloch with a special prosecutor, "an expedited grand jury hearing to indict Officer Darren Wilson" and an investigation into racial profiling.