FERGUSON, Mo. - The tall black man walked up and down West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson, Missouri, working a bullhorn, imploring protesters to behave themselves.
"All right, y'all doing good!" Malik Zulu Shabazz told one group of young men. "Just keep it peaceful. Keep it peaceful, black man!"
Shabazz isn't a police officer. He is president of Black Lawyers for Justice and former chairman of the New Black Panther Party. Those organizations and others, made up mostly of black volunteers, have taken it upon themselves to help ease tensions in Ferguson, confident the protesters are more likely to listen to them than police.
In many cases, they're right. Shabazz was gentle with some, firm with others on a recent night as he urged them to get off the streets at night, and to stay away from looting. One young man wearing a bandanna around his neck seemed primed for trouble standing near a closed restaurant until Shabazz put a hand on his shoulder and had a quiet talk. Soon, the young man nodded and walked away.
The shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a white police officer on Aug. 9 has created a volatile situation in the St. Louis suburb. Officer Darren Wilson is on paid administrative leave pending an investigation.