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‘Peace Be Still’ march draws hundreds to face down gun violence

WELLS-GOODFELLOW – Hundreds of residents didn’t let the rain Monday evening stop them from marching for peace and against the violence that’s flooding St. Louis and East Louis streets.

In a simultaneous “Peace Be Still” march, residents on both sides of the Mississippi River – on their respective Martin Luther King Jr. namesake streets – gathered to channel the late great civil rights icon in celebration of Black History Month. 

The slogan for the march was “Celebrating the Past, Facing the Challenge.” 

So far this year St. Louis has experienced 21 murders, all but three black, and nearly 100 shootings. Children have been among the victims.

One of the youngsters, David Birchfield III, 6, was shot to death on Saturday, Feb. 22, while riding in a car near Euclid and Highland avenues in the Kingsway East neighborhood of north St. Louis. His sister, 9, who was also in the car, survived but was critically wounded.  

A 6-year-old girl was shot on the afternoon of Feb. 15 while she was inside a running car in south St. Louis, near Pennsylvania Avenue and Potomac Street in the Gravois Park neighborhood. The child was struck in the knee and suffered non-life-threatening injuries.

Gun violence was a target of the “Peace Be Still” march. (Photo by Bill Beene / NorthSider)
The “Peace Be Still” march brought hundreds of people together. (Photo by Bill Beene / NorthSider)
Speaking on a platform at the pre-march rally in Wells-Goodfellow, St. Louis police Chief John Hayden said he hoped the community and police department could come together to bring justice in not only those cases but in others going forward. 

“If we don’t come together, there’s nothing deterring this kind of brazen, bold behavior,” he said, speaking of the north city killing, which happened in broad daylight and included bullets flying into houses.

“If we don’t come together and say that won’t be tolerated in our neighborhoods, the shooters are emboldened to do that over and over again,” he said, adding that the “babies did nothing wrong.”

In his mind, Hayden said, the march was against the mentality that says, “I’ll do whatever, I want to”; and for the community to “hold people like that accountable.” 

On this chilly, rainy night, participants were slow in showing up; but seemingly all at once, a lot near the corner of MLK and Hamilton Avenue in the Wells-Goodfellow neighborhood was packed with about 300 people. 

“Peace Be Still” participants march on Monday, Feb. 24. (Photo by Robert C. Holt III / for MetroSTL.com)
They were young, old, black, white. There were sororities and fraternities, organizations, church groups, elected officials and law enforcement. 

“We understand that the weather is bad. Bullets can shoot through the rain, so in order to save a life, sometimes we’ve got to come out in the rain,” said co-organizer Mary Casey, an actress and activist – or, as she says, “actorvist.”  

Chiming in on the cold February drizzle, Farrakhan Shegog, president of Young Voices With Action, said: “If Dr. King and all of those brothers and sisters of the Civil Rights Movement can walk and get hosed down by the water hoses and get dogs sicced on them, then we can walk in this weather, because this is so much bigger than St. Louis.”  

Co-organizer and serial marcher James Clark of Better Family Life railed against violence and said the march for peace was meant to bring awareness to gun violence here.

“It’s not about thinking that it [the march] is going to stop the killing, but we’ve got to use the march just like Dr. King and the organizers used the march to bring attention to what was going on,” Clark said. He noted that marches during the Civil Rights Movement didn’t end racism, but brought attention to it.

Clark’s familiar cries for peace were punctuated by chants of “peace be still.”   

Drummers energized the crowd at the “Peace Be Still” march. (Photo by Robert C. Holt III / for MetroSTL.com)
Casey concurred that the march was multi-purposeful. 

“We needed it to be more than just a march, even more than just an opportunity to bring awareness. We need to collectively come together: all organizations, people, everybody matters and need to stand up, and that is the only way we’re going to turn this thing around,” Casey said.

Members of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity during the “Peace Be Still” march. (Photo by Robert C. Holt III / for MetroSTL.com)
Greg Squires, who is white and one of the organizers for Urban Reach STL, said he and some of his fellow members were attending to show human solidarity. 

“We’re all brothers and sisters,” Squires said. “There’s no difference between you and me, and I love you – it doesn’t matter what color you are. I live in truth, and the truth is that we were created in the image of God by the same God.”

The city’s first black mayor, Freeman Bosley Jr., answered a call from Clark to attend. 

“I’m invested here. I did a lot for this city, and I’m committed,” Bosley said. “I’m older now, so: ‘old men for counsel, young men for war.’ I’m here for advice and council whenever they need it.” 

As for there being yet another march against gun violence, Bosley responded with a question: “Did Dr. King get tired of marching, did Malcolm X get tired of marching?”

Bill Beene

bill.beene@thenorthsider.com Bill Beene was born and raised in north St. Louis. He has been a journalist for 12 years. He enjoys cooking and roller skating. He lives in the historic Ville neighborhood.

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