WASHINGTON: Five NFL players for the St Louis Rams entered the field Sunday with their arms raised in the “hands up, don’t shoot” gesture of protesters demanding justice for black teenager Michael Brown.
The pose has been the signature of demonstrators in the St Louis suburb of Ferguson, where a white policeman shot Brown dead in August, and by protesters who hit the streets in major US cities in recent days after a grand jury decided not to indict officer Darren Wilson for the killing.
A spokesman for the St Louis Rams told US media that the team had been unaware of the players’ plan, which was quickly condemned by the St Louis Police Officers Association, saying it was “profoundly disappointed.”
Jared Cook, one of the players, said: “We kind of came collectively together and decided we wanted to do something.”
“We haven’t been able to go down to Ferguson to do anything because we have been busy. Secondly, it’s kind of dangerous down there and none of us want to get caught up in anything,” ESPN quoted him as saying.
“So we wanted to come out and show our respect to the protests and the people who have been doing a heck of a job around the world.”
The other players were Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, Kenny Britt and Chris Givens.
After the Rams scored a touchdown in the 52-0 home thumping of Oakland, Britt and another player, Tre Mason, again raised their arms in apparent solidarity with protesters who are demanding justice for Brown, 18, and reform of police forces in the US.
Tensions were also high in the streets of St Louis, where dozens of demonstrators protested outside the Edward Jones Dome, home of the Rams.
There were sporadic clashes between the protesters and riot police, with some football fans also getting involved.
The jury decision last week has revived long-standing questions about how police, especially white officers, interact with African Americans — questions raised again after the recent fatal shooting in Cleveland of 12-year-old Tamir Rice.
Looting erupted and businesses were set ablaze in Ferguson, a predominantly black St Louis suburb policed by a mostly white force, after the grand jury decision on November 24.
Ferguson Mayor James Knowles pledged Sunday to get the troubled area back on its feet.
“We are recommitted to rebuilding the city and to once again becoming a thriving community for economic development and residential stability,” he told a news conference.
“We are working hard with local and regional partners to reestablish resources available.”
Protesters in Ferguson have shot at police, robbed locally owned stores and set cars and buildings ablaze. A church attended by Brown’s family — who had appealed for calm — was burned down.
There were also demonstrations — some violent — in the weeks after Wilson shot Brown dead.
Protests have been dying down in Ferguson and elsewhere in the United States.
However in Washington, DC, demonstrators briefly shut down a downtown highway Sunday, local media reported, with pictures showing protesters holding hands blocking several lanes of traffic.
On Saturday, Wilson, who has been in hiding since the fatal shooting, resigned from the Ferguson police department, citing fears for the safety of local residents and fellow police officers.
He will not get any severance pay, said the mayor, who also unveiled plans and incentives to increase the racial mix of the Ferguson police department.
Despite that and Wilson’s decision to quit with immediate effect, some Ferguson protesters also want the local police chief Thomas Jackson to step down.
“It’s impossible for this community to move forward with him still in that role,” local St Louis politician Antonio French told ABC News.
In a brief statement, Jackson again reiterated that he had no intention of resigning.