Kyla Hawkins sat on the steps of St. Louis City Hall and tried to wipe the sweat off her face and the emotion off her mind.
She leaned her forehead against her cardboard sign and collected herself.
Hawkins, who goes by Sunshine, had just walked nearly two miles Sunday afternoon under a 93-degree June sun along with thousands of others who gathered in downtown St. Louis to protest police brutality toward minorities, sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Memorial Day.
“Collectively the support from around the world has been so encouraging,” the 24-year-old St. Louisan said, referencing the hundreds of protests over the past two weeks both around the country and in major European cities. “That’s why I don’t mind protesting every day. I don’t mind sweating; I don’t mind walking with blisters on my feet, because real change is occurring.”
Hawkins also protested in 2014 after Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson. She said in the nearly six years since, it does feel like progress has been made. But still, she fears the police.
“My sense of security as a black woman is nonexistent,” she said.
She’s drained; she’s exhausted from “having to prove you’re worth being a part of society, and then as well as just proving to the police that all of this training that you all go through goes out the window when you see my skin tone. It’s frustrating.”
Despite some progress and a growing level of attention, Hawkins and other protesters said they’re tired of needing to take to the streets repeatedly to take on a policing system they see as discriminatory and oppressive.
“These situations have never changed,” said Willie Boyd, 70, who came to the protest with his two great-granddaughters. “This [police] culture has never changed. It’s still a corrupt police department, and it needs changing.”
The frequency of these demonstrations is at a new level. Simultaneous demonstrations have taken place across the St. Louis region in the last week and a half, drawing thousands.
Other demonstration locations Sunday included Webster Groves, Ferguson and Florissant, but the downtown protest was the main event.
“The spark is lit, and we’re here to fan the flame,” said 40-year-old Andrew Jefferson. “It’s encouraging to see people from all different walks of life; that’s what it’s going to take to make change. This thing is so ingrained.”
As the crowd moved slowly through downtown, making a loop that stopped for a while at police headquarters before returning to City Hall, police presence was scant, save for squad cars blocking traffic.
Water bottles, snacks and other supplies were stacked in front of City Hall and handed out along the route. March leaders reminded people to drink water almost as often as they led chants that included, “I can’t breathe” and “Black lives matter.”
Organizers on Sunday called for the defunding and demilitarization of police departments and for the community to be put in control of the police. They said policing needs to be reconstructed.
To make systemic change, Jefferson said, “you have to go to the root of it, you have to dig really deep. There’s going to be pain getting there because these things have deep, deep roots, and to dig out roots you have to break things. And not necessarily meaning that in a violent way, but meaning that there has to be change in the social structure. Kids have to be brought up knowing this isn’t OK.”
Protests elsewhere Sunday
Following the protest in the city, protesters gathered in Florissant on Sunday evening and blocked traffic in both directions on Lindbergh Boulevard.
Protesters stood in front of the Florissant Police Department. “I can’t breathe” and “We do this for George Floyd” were just some of the chants recited by protesters. The protests follow a video shared this weekend by Real STL News that shows a Florissant Police Department officer hitting another man with a car.
Florissant Police Department Chief Timothy Fagan said in a press conference Saturday that the FBI will participate in the investigation. Fagan said the officer is now suspended.
“We are also concerned,” Fagan said. “We want the same answers that the public does; we will be extremely transparent throughout this.”
Protesters eventually marched and stood at the intersection of Lindbergh Boulevard and New Florissant Road around 9 p.m.
“Not only do we want the officer fired, we want the officer arrested,” said Cathy “Mama Cat” Daniels, who was protesting in Florissant. “If we don’t get no justice, then we don’t get no peace.”
After about 90 minutes of protesting outside the police station the demonstrators left around 11:30 p.m.
Also Sunday evening, about 300 protesters took to the streets in Rolla for a Black Lives Matter protest.
The group marched through downtown, stopped at the police station to take a knee and hold up fists in silence, and then on to the municipal bandshell to hear speeches.
“What we have done here today is disrupt the norm of this town, and really made everyone think and look at themselves deeply,” said Deanne Lyons, an organizer for the activist group Rolla for Progress, who was elected to the Rolla City Council on Tuesday.
Destiny Woods, leader of Rolla Black Lives Matter, addressed the crowd saying: “I have experienced racism in Rolla. I feel like Rolla really needed this. Can you believe that this many people are here? This is Rolla, y’all!”
Earlier on Sunday, a few hundred people gathered in Webster Groves to kick off the day’s protests.
In between speakers, some in the crowd chanted, “Black lives matter.” Many who addressed the protesters were recent graduates of Webster Groves schools. The youth-led event was designed to show solidarity to lives lost to police brutality around the country and to focus on racism in the community.
Two charged in retired officer’s death
A 24-year-old man has been charged with first-degree murder for the killing of retired St. Louis police captain David Dorn during looting last weekend.
Stephan Cannon of St. Louis County was also charged with first-degree burglary, armed criminal action and unlawful possession of a firearm. Police officials said no bond is allowed.
Jimmie Robinson, 27, of Florissant, was charged with first-degree burglary, armed criminal action and stealing.
Dorn was killed June 2 after responding to a burglary alarm at Lee’s Pawn and Jewelry on Dr. Martin Luther King Drive during looting and vandalism in the city. Dorn was found with a gunshot wound to the torso and pronounced dead at the scene.
St. Louis Public Radio’s Wayne Pratt, Jonathan Ahl and Kayla Drake contributed to this report.
Follow St. Louis Public Radio on Twitter: @stlpublicradio
Send questions and comments about this story to email@example.com