St. Louis County breathed a sigh of relief Tuesday after a night of protests in Ferguson remained relatively peaceful, despite an occasionally restive crowd and more than 140 arrests, largely for civil disobedience.
Police said frozen water bottles and rocks had been hurled at them, but there were no shots fired, looting or property damage. Twenty-two people were arrested during protests that stretched into early Tuesday morning before the crowd dispersed, police said.
About 63 more had arrested earlier Monday after activists blocked Interstate 70 at rush hour. Another 57 demonstrators were arrested earlier while blocking the doors of the federal courthouse in St. Louis.
About 11 p.m. on West Florissant Avenue, when activists refused to get out of the street, bottles flew and police declared the protest an unlawful assembly, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar sought “to deescalate the situation.” After he spoke with protest leaders, the protesters moved to the sidewalk, police said on Twitter.
Civilians from the Oath Keepers organization, armed with AR-15s, also came to the street. “We’re here to protect our brothers,” said one member, who refused to give his name. The organization includes current and former military, police and first responders.
The demonstrations began days ago to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Michael Brown’s death. Brown, 18, was fatally shot on Aug. 9, 2014, by Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson during a struggle. Wilson is white; Brown was black and unarmed. His death touched off weeks of rioting, fires and looting. The unrest recurred in November after a grand jury declined to indict Wilson in the shooting.
The U.S. Department of Justice also declined to indict Wilson, but condemned the Ferguson Police Department in a report. City officials remain locked in negotiations with DOJ officials in an effort to reach a consent decree to reform the Police Department.
The anniversary demonstrations had been peaceful until Sunday night, when 40 to 50 gunshots rang out during a confrontation between two groups, police said. Protesters ducked for cover and a young man opened fire at an unmarked police car, police said.
Officers returned fire and Tyrone Harris Jr., 18, was critically wounded. He has been charged with 10 felonies and remains hospitalized. He is being held in lieu of $250,000 cash-only bond.
Officials declared a state of emergency Monday, fearing that another spiral of violence could shatter the riot-scarred area’s fragile recovery.
As darkness fell Monday, about 200 people gathered on West Florissant Avenue, and about 30 police officers in riot gear stood across the street.
“Why are you in riot gear? I don’t see no riot here,” the protesters chanted.
The Rev. Rob White of Clergy United tried to calm an angry crowd that surrounded a man objecting to an upside-down American flag. White helped usher him away, saying the unidentified man was trying to incite a riot.
“If it had been a bunch of African American kids, the police would have been over here arresting them,” White said.
The return of protesters and riot police highlighted two paradoxes: Some peaceful protests here have brought violence in their wake, and some police efforts to restore order have heightened the unrest.
“People are starting to use the protests as a reason to shoot at one another over whatever their little beef is,” said Patricia Bynes, Democratic committeewoman for Ferguson township. She called Sunday’s violence “a kick in the gut.”
“How dare they use it as an opportunity to shoot at each other,” she said. “People all over this country and especially this community have been doing a lot of work, community work, outreach, development.... It’s beyond frustrating.”
Duara reported from Ferguson and Pearce from Los Angeles.