ROCK ISLAND – The 2 1/2-year old girl walked beside her mom Monday evening, trailing behind a group of 75 or so marchers who turned out for a rally dedicated to the late Michael Brown.
Some 270 miles south and a four-hour drive away, ongoing chaos disrupts Ferguson, Mo., a result of the death of the unarmed 18-year-old, fatally shot by police.
In Rock Island, the group marched from the Martin Luther King Jr. Park at 901 9th St. to Schwiebert Riverfront Park on 17th Street, a 1.5-mile walk.
Gloria Bommon, of Rock Island, walked behind the group with her daughter, Nyasia. The line of humanity in front of her shouted, “Hands up, don’t shoot!”
The little girl walked silently alongside her mom, past new homes nearby on 10th street, past older buildings and homes, past a dirt field where a new $17.5 million police station will be located near 12th and 13th streets that city officials hope will help rejuvenate the city’s west end.
Ms. Bommon just got off work to make the rally. She said Rock Island has been a good home.
“I feel it’s important,” she said. “I have two other children up ahead. My son is 6 and my daughter, she’s 9. It was very important for me to come out here, because it could have been one of mine, you know?
“I’m originally from Chicago, and you know how it is there. It’s horrible there. I’m afraid for my kids. For years, I tell them the police is on our side. They’re there to protect you. If mommy isn’t around, you go to the police.”
Ms. Bommon stops to give her little girl some water.
“But, what do I say now?”
The same questions being raised across the country were being asked by those walking to Schwiebert Park.
“The entire incident with Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, really resonates with myself as well as every other black man I’m close to,” said Augustana College associate professor Christopher Whitt.
“It makes me think about the concerns of value that is not placed, in many cases, on the lives of black people in the United States. Historically, particularly, the lives of young black men. That’s my personal motivation for being here.”
Mr. Whitt said, as a young man growing up in Baltimore, Md., he encountered a similar situation where a gun was pointed at him by a police officer.
“It’s very, very believable to people who have lived it that something like this could have happened,” the professor said.
The Rev. Dwight Ford, executive director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, 630 9th St., said he came to stand in solidarity with the Brown family.
“Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, there are issues that need attention,” Rev. Ford said. “This is a teachable moment. Dr. King said a riot is a language of the unheard.
“And, if we never try to seek understanding why tensions are so high, why individuals are filled with frustrations and anger, that feel dispossessed, that feel they have no stake in their own community, this tragedy brought that out.
“Anytime you have a chance for dialogue, it’s always the first step.”
Ms. Bommon picked up her daughter, who was starting to get tired on the walk.
“Come on, we’ll get you some ice cream up here. Okay?” she said. “Look at that face. You want some water?”
They walked closer to the downtown and to the park.
“I grew up there near Ferguson. I played Little League baseball in Ferguson. It’s my home right now. My home is in shambles!” shouted Xavier Keen, now of Davenport.
Mr. Keen spoke to the crowd before the walk, expressing frustration, saying his parents and siblings still live in or near Ferguson. He held court with strangers and friends, such as fellow organizer and Rock Island native Kayla Patrick, their hearts coming out to those who listened.
“What am I supposed to do? I’m angry,” Mr. Keen said. “I said, ‘God, I’ve got to do something. Help me.’
“Because of him, all of you are standing here.’”
The crowd eventually made it to the park, gathering as Mr. Whitt, Rev. Ford and the Rev. Corey Parker, of Quad Cities Family Life Church, in Davenport, took turns speaking.
“Too many times, we lack empathy,” Mr. Whitt said. “We lack the feeling to think that could be us, our brother, our neighbor, our neighborhood with tanks rolling down the street.
“Everybody needs to take that time and close their eyes and think about it. Could that be your community?”
As the professor spoke, Ms. Bommon and Nyasia listened. They held hands at the end, saying a prayer to stop the violence, whatever form violence takes.
“There are good police officers across this country,” Rev. Parker said to the gathering. “Violence happens more than just with the police. We have to look at our own communities. We cannot sit idly by anymore and accept violence in any form.”
Photo by Vey Rodriguez