An unidentified male was in critical condition in Ferguson, Mo., early Sunday after being shot during protests that broke out as police sought to enforce a curfew imposed to quell continuing unrest over the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
A police patrol car was also shot at when officers came to the aid of the gunshot victim, who was the target of an unknown gunman, Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ronald Johnson told reporters.
Seven people were arrested for failure to disperse during a night that saw police deploy smoke canisters and tear gas to hold back demonstrators who for the past week have been protesting Brown’s death.
Brown was shot Aug. 9 by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson after a confrontation that police said began in the officer’s car. Witnesses said Brown was holding his hands aloft in surrender when he was hit.
In contrast to the mayhem of earlier this week, there was no looting Saturday night, and a midnight curfew announced earlier in the day by Gov. Jay Nixon kept the streets largely empty except for sporadic incidents.
In part, that was because officers were deployed in front of businesses previously targeted by looters and were able to prevent any attacks, Johnson said, but he said several gunshots were heard during the night.
“I can tell you that I was disappointed in the actions of tonight,” Johnson said, but he said the police deployment appeared effective in protecting businesses.
“It was effective. We sustained the health of those businesses, and we also sustained the safety of the protesters that were out [and] around tonight,” he said.
Johnson said officials had received reports of armed subjects inside a barbecue restaurant where demonstrators had gathered. One person came into the street carrying a gun, and police deployed smoke canisters in an effort to push back the crowd, Johnson said.
Once police received a report that someone had been shot, they deployed tear gas in an attempt to reach the victim. The shooting victim was taken to the hospital in a private citizen’s car, he said.
“Also a police car at that location was shot at. We can’t confirm that it was hit, it was shot at,” he said.
The people inside the barbecue restaurant fled as police approached, Johnson said.
During the course of the night, “I did hear several gunshots fired into the air,” he added.
Antonio French, a St. Louis alderman who was trying to get the crowd of demonstrators in the street to disperse after curfew fell, told the Los Angeles Times that he heard gunshots come from a “hard-core” group that didn’t scatter when other demonstrators did.
The evening unfolded with police deploying several armored personnel carriers and vans filled with scores of riot police. Protesters had advanced toward a press cordon where dozens of journalists watched from a distance.
“This is the Police Department! You are violating the state-imposed curfew,” a voice called out on a bullhorn.
A protester replied, also via bullhorn: “We have the right to assemble peacefully. ... We are Mike Brown! We are Mike Brown! We are Mike Brown!”
Then a police leader, behind the lines, called out, “Gas, gas, gas!” and the police fired smoke-filled canisters, though it was unclear whether they contained tear gas. A police line inched ahead.
At a news conference earlier Saturday, Nixon urged residents to obey the curfew, as did Johnson, a Ferguson native the governor put in charge of the city’s security on Thursday.
Johnson had pledged that enforcement of the curfew would not be heavy-handed.
“This is not to silence the people of Ferguson,” Nixon said.
About half an hour before the curfew was to take effect, a few men stood guard in the rain at a makeshift memorial where Brown was shot at the Canfield Green Apartments. A few sounds rang out, possibly gunshots. But the back streets were mostly silent and empty.
“It’s peaceful over here,” said Canfield Green resident Phil Walker, 39, “and it’s going to stay that way.”