Ferguson Streets Calm Until Bottles Fly
Police chased young men down Ferguson’s streets and made arrests, after a water bottle flew again shortly before midnight. During the chase, more water bottles filled the air.
The police presence multiplied, as did tensions. Officers brought out police dogs.
Protesters locked hand in front of a police line, while some urged the crowd to remain peaceful.
Police announced via loudspeaker that credentialed journalists should move to designated areas, as officers in riot gear and with batons. They moved into a parking lot and detained another man.
Before confrontation broke out, police had put on helmets and shields, lined up in front of businesses and demanded a crowd leave the parking lot.
Started out peaceful
Until then, the streets had been calm, as a much smaller crowd milled about, holding signs and chanting.
A few hundred people had walked up and down a small area past journalists’ cameras. And as hours passed, the crowd thinned down to a few dozen.
“Hands up! Don’t shoot” was their mantra, as it has been every night. But many of the demonstrators added a second chant: “We protesters, we don’t loot.”
Jameila White from St. Louis County walked a mile to hand out free water to protesters.
“We pooled together as a community to bring this,” she said, pointing to three Styrofoam coolers of bottles water on ice. “So, we can stay energized and keep walking because they’re saying if we stand still we’re going to get locked up.”
White, who once lived in Ferguson, also poured out several bottles of water and filled them with milk, to help wash tear gas out of people’s eyes.
Police cars with flashing lights stood by every block of so apart.
Officers in body armor congregated at a car wash alongside an armored vehicle.
Even the police seemed surprised. Said one state trooper. “Can we be peaceful? That’s all I’m saying.”
Things must change
Community leaders in Ferguson have grown tired of violence smudging their peaceful protests and insisted earlier Tuesday that things must change.
Authorities requested there be one night of peace, and some residents seemed to grant the request.
Some who had been on the streets during the day cleared out by nightfall, saying they, too, were tired of what went on after dark, including the militaristic police response.
Others from the community donned T-shirts printed with the word “peacekeeper,” and got in between budding tensions to defuse them.
Ferguson leaders vowed to rebuild the city’s business district, where looting and rock and bottle throwing has damaged stores.
And they promised to recruit more African-Americans to join the police in their largely African-American community, a relevant point since the Ferguson police department is overwhelmingly white.
Demand for cameras
And they signaled their intention to raise money so that all officers and police cars would be outfitted with vest and dash cams.
Such cameras could have helped clear up many questions surrounding Michael Brown’s death.
Was Brown executed by a police officer while holding his hands in the air, as some activists claim? Or was Brown shot after rushing at Officer Darren Wilson, who fired fearing for his own life, as detailed in an account on a radio show?
But there has been no video so far. And both sides remain dug in.
Wilson’s supporters held a rally in St. Louis this week. And nearly 900 people have donated more than $33,000 to an online fund for him, according to a GoFundMe page.
From Monday into Tuesday, at least 74 people were arrested for failure to disperse. Two others were arrested on weapons charges and another person for interfering with an officer.
In addition to this, two people were shot — not by police, authorities said. Four officers were injured.
Police and protesters blamed agitators — including many from outside Ferguson — for the shots and violence. According to the jail records, many of those arrested were local residents. Others came from New York, California, Texas and Alabama.
“What we are dealing with right now are two groups of people,” Missouri state Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal said. “One, protesters who are peacefully demonstrating, expressing their First Amendment rights. And then we have a smaller group of people who have been infiltrating themselves in the crowds and creating all of this unrest.”
But many have criticized the police response.
Gen. Russel Honore, who handled crowd control in the chaos that ensued after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005, joined them late Tuesday.
“You’re there to protect people,” he told CNN’s Don Lemon. “They need to sense that from you.” Looking at crowd members through the scope of a gun sends the wrong message, he said.
CNN law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes agreed on that point.
“The overall presence was too aggressive,” he said.
But he agreed with the use of tear gas and rubber bullets.
Looters and hooligans caused trouble that called for the response, he said. They used protesters “as human shields.”
Demands for prosecution
Many civic leaders worry the unrest is taking away from the main message of the protests: accountability for the officer who shot the 18-year-old Brown.
Brown’s parents believe the only real way out of this situation is for Wilson to be charged.
“Justice,” the late teen’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, told NBC’s “Today” show. “Justice will bring peace, I believe.”
A grand jury could begin to hear testimony from witnesses and deciding whether to return an indictment in the case as early as Wednesday. That’s the same day that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is expected to visit Ferguson to check in on the Justice Department’s civil rights investigation into Brown’s death.
“At a time when so much may seem uncertain, the people of Ferguson can have confidence that the Justice Department intends to learn — in a fair and thorough manner — exactly what happened,” Holder said in a commentary for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Legal expert Fuentes warned not to expect quick results. Much of the evidence has not yet been processed by crime labs, he said.
Controversy has also embroiled St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch. Some residents and community leaders contend that he has deep ties to the police and has favored law enforcement in criminal cases.
Brown, meanwhile, will be eulogized by civil rights leader Al Sharpton at a public funeral Monday morning.