A day of civil disobedience that saw several arrests in Ferguson ended Monday with some protesters throwing rocks and bottles at police.
The St. Louis County police said frozen water bottles were thrown at officers, prompting them to order the crowd to disperse or face arrest.
“Safety, our top priority, is now compromised. This is no longer a peaceful protest. Participants are now unlawfully assembled,” the department tweeted. About 23 arrests were made late Monday and early Tuesday, police said.
Police Chief Jon Belmar tried to de-escalate the tension by speaking with some demonstrators, who then moved from the street to the sidewalks.
However, others seethed as word spread that police had arrested a 12-year-old girl. Police contended she was 18, citing her ID.
More controversy arose as well over a pair of arrests made last year in the wake of protests over Michael Brown’s shooting death: those of The Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery and The Huffington’s Post Ryan Reilly, who were briefly detained after being told they were trespassing as they worked in a McDonald’s along the protest route.
St. Louis County on Monday, 363 days after their arrests and two days shy of the statute of limitations, charged the reporters with trespassing and interfering with a police officer.
Both news outlets cast the arrests as gross First Amendment violations at the time, and they maintained that theme in Tuesday’s responses. Marty Baron, executive editor of The Washington Post, called the charges “outrageous,” while HuffPo’s Washington bureau chief Ryan Grim said it was police who committed crimes by assaulting reporters during “violent arrests.” The National Association of Black Journalists called the charges “a direct assault on the free exercise of the First Amendment.”
Video posted on social media showed Reilly having another run-in with police early Tuesday. In it, Reilly and an officer are seen tussling — Reilly tweeted that the officer “tried to grab me and snatched my press badge” — before Reilly pulls away, putting his hands behind his back and saying, “I’m media. I’m media. I’m media.”
Reilly was covering demonstrators who took to the streets in spite of a heavy police presence, scurried away, regrouped and returned.
Among the crowd were a handful of heavily armed members of an organization called the Oath Keepers. A man out on patrol described the group as constitutionalists who were hired to protect reporters for InfoWars.com, a website run by radio host Alex Jones, who has questioned everything from the moon landing to 9/11.
State of emergency
Earlier, a top St. Louis County official declared a state of emergency, saying violence had marred demonstrations marking the one-year anniversary of Brown’s death.
“The recent acts of violence will not be tolerated in a community that has worked so tirelessly over the last year to rebuild and become stronger,” St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger said in a statement.
The executive order put Belmar in charge of police operations in Ferguson and the surrounding areas.
On Monday, roughly 200 demonstrators marched from Christ Church Cathedral to the Thomas F. Eagleton U.S. Courthouse in St. Louis. The protesters carried signs, chanted and prayed, demanding that the U.S. Justice Department take action.
At the Old Courthouse in downtown St. Louis, protesters hung a banner from two balloons. It read, “Racism still lives here #fightback.”
Police arrested 56 people at the courthouse demonstration, St. Louis police spokeswoman Schron Jackson told CNN.
Video posted to social media showed officers arresting several prominent protesters, including activist and intellectual Cornel West, who was also arrested during an October protest at the Ferguson Police Department.
One of the protesters, Johnetta Elzie, who has been a mainstay of the demonstrations and goes by Netta, tweeted minutes before her arrest, “If I’m arrested today please know I’m not suicidal. I have plenty to live for. I did not resist, I’m just black.” She tweeted Monday evening that she’d been released.
Later Monday, another group blocked part of Interstate 70 in Earth City, Missouri. Some held yellow signs that said, “Ferguson is everywhere.”
Protesters held hands and formed a line across the highway. About 20 minutes later, troopers cleared the roadway, walking with protesters toward the shoulder and apparently arresting some in a nearby parking lot.
Shooting suspect charged
Monday’s acts of civil disobedience came after a night of violence that left Ferguson on edge.
Peaceful marches in the St. Louis suburb planned by day on Sunday were shattered that same night when gunfire broke out, sending protesters and police scattering to safety.
Just before the shots rang out, St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Paul Hampel was capturing images of looters when assailants hit him in the face and head, stole his wallet and phone and kicked him in the back of the head as he was on the ground, the newspaper reported, adding that he was released Monday.
“I got swarmed, beaten down really bad,” Hampel told the paper.
Ferguson Mayor James Knowles and the City Council issued a statement saying they were disappointed in the behavior on display, calling it “counterproductive” and vowing it wouldn’t be tolerated. They also applauded law enforcement officers, who they said “exemplified respect, community engagement and professionalism under extremely difficult circumstances.”
An accused gunman, 18-year-old Tyrone Harris of St. Louis, was hospitalized in critical condition and in police custody. St. Louis County police said officers shot the teenager after he unleashed a “remarkable amount of gunfire” at them — a characterization the man’s aunt contends is not true.
Prosecutors charged Harris with four counts of first-degree assault on law enforcement, five counts of armed criminal action and one count of discharging a firearm at a motor vehicle, St. Louis County police spokesman Sgt. Brian Schellman said.
Belmar, the chief, said earlier that Harris used a stolen handgun to fire at officers.
Harris is being held on a $250,000 bond, Schellman said.
His aunt, Karen Harris, said the teen attended the protests because he was friends with Brown. Recounting what other family members who were with him described, she said her nephew wasn’t carrying a gun and never fired at police.
He was “running for his life” just like everyone else, she said, when gunshots rang out.