Ferguson: Scenes of chaos on the streets as protests over Michael Brown shooting continue

It was clear that the police were again at a loss over how to deal with the unrest

Click to follow
The Independent US

An evening of mostly peaceful protest on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, dissolved once again into pandemonium in the early hours of today. Scores of heavily armed police in riot gear repeatedly gave chase to youths: some of whom attempted to escape the onslaught by mingling with journalists and camera crews.

What appeared to be an effort by the commanders to send small tactical groups into the crowd to pick out those identified as troublemakers resulted in scenes of chaos, not least because of the difficulty of getting around members of the media who themselves were ordered over and over either to move, stand still or go to different spot.

The night was arguably less ugly than several before it in part because no tear gas was fired. The police made multiple arrests, however.

But it was also clear that they were again at a loss over how to deal with the unrest now in its second week and triggered by the shooting of teenager Michael Brown on 9 August by a local police officer.

"You have got to help us," said Captain Ron Johnson, the State Trooper who took charge of security in Ferguson at the end of last week amid hopes he would restore calm.

To whom he was talking was not clear, but it was most likely to the media whose presence clearly complicated the landscape for the police. 

Video: The latest from Ferguson

Indeed, several members of the media covering Tuesday night’s demonstrations said that they had felt intimidated by some among the crowds, both youths and others who appeared to be self-appointed "peacekeepers" who yelled at them to leave and made other threats.

"All they want is a circus," one man scolded.  It meanwhile appeared that at least one of those arrested was a journalist, brought down hard by police officers immediately next to this reporter.

Even until midnight, it had seemed to many that the fever of the last several nights might have broken and the demonstrations might pass at last without incident or clashes. 

One trio of young men even joined the marchers aboard a Thomas the Tank Engine toy with "Peace Train" pasted to its back and blaring tracks from Marvin Gaye's "What’s Going On?" and "Makes me want to Holler": both originally Vietnam War protest tracks.

All it took, however, was one plastic water bottle, flung from the crowd into the police. Helicopters with lights on swooped down, SWAT trucks rolled in and suddenly a large phalanx of police plunged into a strip mall car park, intent on grabbing several young men in face masks. 

“Don’t let them shoot us,” one pleaded to scattering reporters. 

The fresh unrest came on the eve of a visit to Ferguson today by Eric Holder, the US Attorney General, who will meet with local law enforcement officers to discuss both the local and federal probes already under way into the shooting of the teen.

453806034.jpg Mr Holder is also believed to be opening a second, broader investigation into the tactics on this and other occasions of the Ferguson police department to see whether there is a more general issue with racial bias.

Today also is expected to see a first secret meeting of grand jury in St Louis to begin sifting through the evidence in the case, specifically to see whether any charges against the officer who fired the shots, Darren Wilson, 28, should be filed. 

Demands for the officer’s arrest have been made many of the protestors and the family of Mr Brown. However, the grand jury may take weeks to consider all the evidence and reach a decision.

Likely to hamper both the grand jury’s deliberations and the already ongoing federal investigation are sharply different versions of what happened when the boy was shot offered by different witnesses. 

Two autopsies have now shown that Mr Brown was struck by six bullets. But critical now is determining whether some of those were fired when he was in a posture of surrender to the officer, as some have claimed, or not.

Police said he reached for Wilson’s gun during an altercation inside a police car; witnesses insisted Mr Brown had his hands up when he was shot. A preliminary private autopsy was conducted on Sunday at the Brown family’s request by Dr Michael Baden, the former chief medical examiner for the City of New York.

Anthony Gray, a lawyer representing the family, said the trajectory of one of the two bullets that struck Mr Brown in the head was particularly noteworthy. “To have a shot that’s at a 90-degree angle from the top of his skull to the bottom of his chin, almost vertical, that sounds like an officer standing over him,” Gray said.

The Governor of Missouri, Jay Nixon, late Tuesday night issued a statement emphasising the need for findings to be reached as soon as possible so peace can be restored.

“The democratically elected St. Louis County prosecutor and the attorney general of the United States each have a job to do,” Mr. Nixon said. “Their obligation to achieve justice in the shooting death of Michael Brown must be carried out thoroughly, promptly and correctly, and I call upon them to meet those expectations.”