ST. LOUIS (AP) — Five NFL players entered the football field with their hands raised. A day later, Americans walked out of work or school showing the same gesture of solidarity with Ferguson protesters after a grand jury decided not to indict the white officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old.
The pose has come to symbolize a movement, even though witnesses offered conflicting accounts of whether Brown had his hands up in surrender when he was killed by Darren Wilson.
Protests turned violent last week in the St. Louis area after a grand jury decided not to indict Wilson for shooting Brown during an August confrontation that had inflamed racial tensions across America.
The power of the symbol was evident again Monday. Protesters across the U.S. walked off the job or away from class in support of the Ferguson protesters. Walkouts took place in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and elsewhere.
At the University of Missouri-St. Louis, not far from Ferguson, about 30 students chanted “Hands up. Don’t shoot!”
The exact circumstances surrounding Brown’s death will forever be in dispute.
Wilson told the grand jury that he shot Brown in self-defense. But several witnesses said Brown had his hands up in surrender. Within hours, “Hands Up. Don’t Shoot!” became the rallying cry for protesters.
Witness accounts contained in thousands of pages of grand jury documents reviewed by The Associated Press showed many variations about whether Brown’s hands were actually raised – and if so, how high.
Some people were offended by the hands-up gesture.
The St. Louis Police Officers Association said the display by St. Louis Rams football players Tavon Austin, Kenny Britt, Stedman Bailey, Jared Cook and Chris Givens was “tasteless, offensive and inflammatory.”
The episode recalled a famous one that occurred more than four decades ago at the Mexico City Summer Olympics in 1968, when the U.S. was roiled by racial turbulence.
African-American sprinters John Carlos and Tommie Smith gave the black power salute while on the medal stand.
“If they choose to come out and raise their hands in support of whatever their emotions are, they have the right to do that,” Carlos told The Associated Press. “I don’t think the whole story has been told about the Michael Brown tragedy, and the pros and cons on both sides. They can just go by their emotions. I don’t think anyone got injured or shot by expressing emotions.”
In Washington, the White House on Monday announced the conclusion of a three-month review of the Ferguson situation. President Barack Obama wants more officers to wear cameras to promote trust, but he is not seeking to reduce federal programs that provide the type of military-style equipment used to dispel the unrest in Ferguson and elsewhere.
The Ferguson Commission appointed by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon met Monday for the first time. The 16-person panel will study the underlying social and economic conditions from failing schools to high unemployment that have gained attention since Brown’s death.