Meet the Locals Trying to Keep the Peace in Ferguson

“It’s the difference love brings to a situation.”

Paul Muhammad, an organizer of the Peacekeepers.<a href="https://twitter.com/RobertKlemko/status/501934861134086144/photo/1">Robert Klemko</a>/Twitter


Peace prevailed last night in Ferguson, Missouri—for the most part. There were a few bottles hurled at the cops, and dozens of arrests, but no gunshots, looting, tear gas plumes, or fusillades of rubber bullets. Largely to thank for this turn of events are the Peacekeepers, a group comprised of mostly of Ferguson and St. Louis locals who’ve been physically inserting themselves between police and rowdy protesters over the past few days in an effort to diffuse tensions.

The Peacekeepers’ unofficial leader is Paul Muhammad, a linebacker-sized guy from St. Louis who favors fatigues but reportedly speaks in the soft tones of a therapist. Little is known about Muhammad, who did not immediately return a call from Mother Jones. “If you are going to be out here all night, I will be out here all night. Let’s just go home,” he told a teenager with a red bandanna over his face last night, according to Newsweek‘s Robert Klemko. A few minutes later, someone from a fringe group of onlookers hurled a water bottle and police moved in to disperse the crowd.

Members of the Peacekeepers have been active during the late-night protests since at least Wednesday, when Renita Lamkin, an African Methodist Episcopal Church pastor, was shot with a rubber bullet while attempting to mediate between police and protesters:

Over the next few days, Lamkin helped form the ad-hoc Peacekeepers group. Many volunteers turned out in response to a call during an August 12 church service by Rev. Al Sharpton for 100 men to step forward to be “Disciples of Justice” to keep the peace in the area.

The idea to make “Peacekeepers” shirts to help differentiate the group from other protestors was Muhammad’s, Lamkin told me. He posted a request on his Facebook page and the next day the shirts arrived. They’re now worn by about 10 to 12 people who conduct the nightly patrols. Here’s Lamkin in hers last night:

Pastor Renita Lamkin

Lamkin sees the Peacekeepers as a critical way to protect both police and protesters. “We don’t want police officers injured and we don’t want our young people’s lives altered,” she told me. “I often tell young people: “Don’t make permanent decisions in a temporary place. In this one moment, don’t do something that is going to result in a permanent decision for your life.”

The Peacekeepers have learned a few important lessons since last week. Since Sunday night, when Lamkin got pushed into side streets by police and cut off from her car, the group now keeps someone “on the outside” who can pick up people who’ve been cordoned off from the action. On Tuesday night, she ferried several loads of people back to their own cars.

When people ask Lamkin whose side she’s on, she replies that she’s “on the side of life.” Her goal, she clarifies, is “preserving life” so that “everybody goes home.”

“The people trust us and they know that we care about them,” she says. “So there’s the difference: It’s the difference love brings to a situation.”

“I ain’t expecting the police to love on folks; they’re there to do a job,” she adds. “Our job is to bring the love.”

FACT:

Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2019 demands.

We Recommend

Latest

Give a Year of the Truth

at our special holiday rate

just $12

Order Now

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.