Violence flares again in Ferguson
By: Byron Tau
August 16, 2014 07:35 AM EDT
FERGUSON, Missouri — Looting and rioting flared up once again in the small town of Ferguson, Missouri, late Friday evening and into early Saturday morning.
Protesters waged a fierce battle among themselves to keep order in their own ranks and to safeguard property amid widespread chaos and property destruction aimed at businesses along the town’s main drag.
Several dozen of the hundreds gathered at the demonstrations turned to looting and destruction — causing a chaotic and confusing late night and early morning scene in a town that just on Thursday seemed more prepared for healing and community building than for violence and destruction. They were joined by others who took advantage of the chaos to clean out the inventory of a half-dozen local businesses.
Riot police and military-stye vehicles were once again called onto West Florissant Street after a calm, festive Thursday night. But unlike previous nights when police and demonstrators clashed, the police made no serious attempt to disperse the crowd using heavy handed crowd-control tactics.
The State Highway Patrol officer in charge of the scene told the Associated Press that tear gas was used to stop demonstrators who were throwing objects at police but the riot police largely kept back from direct engagement.
Protesters have taken to the streets for six consecutive nights in reaction to the shooting death of an unarmed 18-year-old man named Michael Brown. Brown was killed last Saturday in a confrontation with a Ferguson officer named Darren Wilson.
Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson said Friday the police had video surveillance and other evidence showing that Brown may have been involved in a robbery shortly before the confrontation and his shooting — a re-evaluation that prompted widespread condemnation within Ferguson as irrelevant to the investigation.
On Friday, protests began relatively peacefully — like the previous evening. But eventually, demonstrators grew rowdy and angry and police reinforcements were called in.
The riot police were strategically deployed to keep vandalism and mayhem largely confined to a mile-long stretch of roadway that featured several businesses that were looted and pillaged — including at least two liquor stores, two beauty stores, a convenience store and other shops.
Once the looting began, police declined to move in to stop any of the violence — restraining themselves from using the heavy-handed tactics that characterized previous demonstrations.
But it was protesters themselves that waged a valiant and sometimes futile fight to keep fellow demonstrators from looting — resulting in a furious tug-of-war between factions of demonstrators that was ultimately successful in preventing fires and the destruction of whole buildings.
Other demonstrators and community members played key roles in keeping angry crowds from advancing on the police, directing traffic through the riot zone and defusing situations as they arose on the ground.
Demonstrators first engaged in a direct showdown with a line of riot police as armed officers repeatedly ordered them out of the roadway. Eventually, demonstrators moved away from the line of police and began breaking windows.
Their first target was a beauty shop that shares a building with a Family Dollar. Protesters quickly moved onto targeting the convenience store that Brown allegedly robbed before his death. Both stores were ultimately protected for more than an hour by other demonstrators — who defused the situation and ordered protesters to move on.
One of the men guarding the store from vandalism said: “Ef the police … But still” — condemning the looting and destruction as inappropriate. He declined to give his name to reporters.
Demonstrators were unable to protect several other businesses from vandalism. Several liquor stores and other businesses experienced significant and prolonged looting of inventory.
Dozens of people carried out liquor, lottery tickets, and other merchandise from the shops. Reporters trying to document the events were repeatedly told to stop recording by masked protesters.
The protests fizzled as the evening went on — with Ferguson police leaving at 3:59 a.m. early Saturday morning.
Shortly after their departure, the remaining demonstrators packed up and left the scene.