Arrests and Non-Violent Protests in Ferguson Mark 1st Anniversary of the Killing of Michael Brown
St Louis County has issued a state of emergency following Sunday night’s escalation in violence during a demonstration marking the first anniversary of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown.
“In light of last night’s violence and unrest in the city of Ferguson, and the potential for harm to persons and property, I am exercising my authority as county executive to issue a state of emergency, effective immediately,” St Louis County executive Steve Stenger said in a statement.
Stranger later told KMOX radio in an interview that a curfew banning Ferguson residents from the streets late at night may yet be implemented.
St Louis County police chief Jon Belmar will take over the operation of police emergency management in Ferguson and surrounding areas, Stenger said.
Meanwhile, peaceful protesters were arrested in St Louis on Monday as they continued demonstrating after the first anniversary of the death of Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson.
The philosopher Cornel West and the prominent young protest leaders DeRay McKesson and Johnetta Elzie were among a stream of demonstrators detained in plastic handcuffs and arrested by officers from the Department of Homeland Security and St Louis Metropolitan Police at the federal courthouse in the city’s downtown district.
A legal observer from the National Lawyers Guild and several members of the local clergy were also arrested as demonstrators walked through a temporary barrier and sat outside the courthouse building.
Reporters who attempted to monitor the arrests at close quarters were pushed back by officers and threatened with arrest for trespassing on federal property by Sam Dotson, the chief of St Louis MPD.
In a statement, US attorney Richard Callahan said 57 protesters were arrested for “obstructing normal use of the entrances” to the federal courthouse.
Those arrested were being processed by the US Marshal Service “as quickly as can administratively be” and would be released on summons, he said.
Callahan described the protest as “otherwise peaceful and nonviolent”.
“This is what democracy looks like,” protesters chanted, led in song by Alexis Templeton, another young demonstration leader, as their colleagues were arrested. “Black lives matter, black lives matter,” others shouted.
Clergy who remained behind the barrier with other protesters led renditions of Christian spirituals as Black Lives Matter organisers handed out fruit and water.
The protests followed a chaotic night in which demonstrations were followed by violence in the centre of Ferguson.A young black man was shot by policeon the edges of the Sunday night protests after allegedly opening fire on an unmarked police vehicle.
Tyrone Harris, 18, was shot by four plainclothes detectives on Sunday night after allegedly firing on their unmarked vehicle as he walked from a gunfight between several people late on Sunday night, according to the St Louis County police department.
On Monday, Harris was charged with four counts of first-degree assault on law enforcement, five counts of armed criminal action, and one count of shooting a firearm at a vehicle, a police department spokesman said on Monday, adding that Harris was being detained on a $250,000 cash-only bond.
Harris remains in critical condition in hospital after undergoing surgery, according to police.
Sunday night’s demonstrations were dispersed by police firing teargas. In the hours after the shooting, dozens of protesters were swept from a main street in the city by police who fired a barrage of gas and smoke grenades. Officers wearing body armour were backed by the military-style armoured vehicles seen after Brown’s death last August.
“We can’t afford to have this kind of violence,” police chief Jon Belmar said at a 2.30am (8.30am BST) press conference on Monday. “There is a small group of people who are intent on making sure we don’t have peace.”
Belmar stressed that the approximately six people involved in the exchange of fire that led to the shooting by police should not be associated with the demonstrations. “They weren’t protesters; they were criminals,” he said.
Police said five men, all from the St Louis area, had been arrested. Among them Trevion Hopson, 17, and Jeffrey Pruitt, 27, were charged with unlawful use of a weapon. Three others were charged with interfering. One police officer suffered a cut to the face after being hit by a rock and another two officers were “pepper-sprayed by protesters”, according to a police spokesman.
Harris’s father told the St Louis Post-Dispatch that his son was a graduate of Normandy high school, which Brown also attended, and that the pair had been close.
The police chief said the plainclothes detectives had been tracking Harris because they believed him to be armed. A young woman described by friends as the girlfriend of the injured man sat sobbing hysterically beside a row of shops opposite where he was shot. A large group of police in riot gear promptly marched towards the woman and her friends, driving them and protesters away from the scene as clergy peacekeepers pleaded with them to stand back from her.
The bursts of gunfire rang out at about 11.15pm near a block north of where protesters were squaring off with officers clad in riot gear for the first time during the largely peaceful anniversary weekend. Police, reporters and protesters gathered behind vehicles while others scattered. Dozens of shell casings were recovered by police.
The young man was seen by several reporters lying wounded and handcuffed on the ground beside officers. He was recorded on video by Tony Rice, a Ferguson-based protester and activist, who said he was arrested seconds after filming the scene for refusing to move back. A legal observer said Rice was released by police shortly after.
Belmar said a 9mm Sig Sauer pistol that was stolen in Missouri in 2014 was recovered from the man who was shot.
The armoured vehicles rolled back on to West Florissant Avenue minutes after the shooting. Officers from St Louis County, who had been policing the protest, were joined by troopers from the Missouri state highway patrol in riot helmets.
Two police vehicles were shot at in the confrontation, according to police. St Louis County vehicles do not carry the dashboard cameras used by some other agencies. Belmar said the officers were not wearing body cameras because they were plainclothes detectives.
Earlier in the day on Sunday, hundreds of people gathered at the site of Brown’s shooting for a memorial service and marched in silence to a nearby church.
Wilson was cleared of criminal wrongdoing in November by a state grand jury and the US Department of Justice declined to prosecute him for civil rights violations. Brown’s family is suing Wilson and the city, alleging they caused the wrongful death of their son.