UPDATE: In light of the recent violence, a state of emergency has been declared by the St. Louis County Executive. The St. Louis County Police Chief will be tasked with maintaining order (via St. Louis Post-Dispatch):
St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger has declared a state of emergency and turned oversight of the Ferguson situation over to County Police Chief Jon Belmar.
"Chief Belmar shall exercise all powers and duties necessary to preserve order, prevent crimes, and protect the life and property of our citizens,” Stenger said in a statement issued early Monday afternoon.
The county executive decried the gunfire that marred an otherwise peaceful weekend of protesting around the first anniversary of the 2014 shooting of African American teen Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer.
"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," Stenger said. "The time and investment in Ferguson and Dellwood will not be destroyed by a few that wish to violate the rights of others."
Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Then-Officer Darren Wilson reported that he shot Brown in self-defense, which was later confirmed by the Justice Department. It was a justified shooting. Nevertheless, Brown’s death brought forward the patently false “hands up, don’t shoot” narrative regarding the events. Moreover, it placed law enforcement under the microscope regarding use of lethal force. Additionally, the issue about the militarization of police was also brought into the national conversation, with Sen. Claire McCaskill holding a hearing on the Capitol Hill about this trend in law enforcement.
Regardless, while holding police accountable and keeping an eye on what kinds of equipment is being obtained by law enforcement through the Department of Defense is rendered moot when people begin to loot and shoot at police. And that’s exactly what happened in Ferguson last night. Around 11:15 p.m., Fox 2 St. Louis reported that at least 30 shots rang out, with people in the nearby area taking cover behind cars (via NYT):
A day of peaceful protest commemorating the killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old, by a white police officer one year ago ended in gunfire late Sunday as multiple shots rang out on West Florissant Avenue, the commercial district hit by rioting last summer.
A St. Louis County police officer was involved in the shooting, which occurred at about 11:15 p.m., after coming under heavy gunfire, the department said in a post on Twitter. Another department post said, “At least 2 unmarked cars took shots.”
About 100 people who had been milling about in the street scattered, seeking cover behind cars. Police officers sought protection behind their riot shields and drew their weapons. The streets cleared as an eerie silence took hold, the only sound coming from a helicopter overhead. There was no immediate word from the police on injuries.
St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar held a press conference at 2:30 a.m. this morning to give an update on the situation. The police shot one person, Tyrone Harris, after he opened fire on law enforcement (via Politico):
The man who was shot, Tyrone Harris Jr., was identified by his father Tyrone Harris, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He is in “critical, unstable” condition, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar told reporters.
Harris said that Brown and his son graduated from the same high school in nearby Wellston, Missouri, telling the Post-Dispatch that “[w]e think there’s a lot more to this than what’s being said.” He told the paper that his son had just gotten out of surgery shortly after 3 a.m.
Belmar said that at the same time of this shooting, two other groups exchanged fire for nearly one minute. At a 2:30 a.m. local press conference, Belmar dismissed the notion that those doing the shooting could be called protesters.
“It’s a tragedy for the family of this man and certainly for the officers involved, and it is truly a tragedy,” Belmar told reporters.
CNN reports that Harris is being charged with four counts of first-degree assault on law enforcement, five counts of armed criminal action, and once count of discharging a firearm at a motor vehicle. He’s also being held on $250,000 bond. Harris used a stolen handgun in the attack.
As Ferguson braces for another round of protests, the New York Times added today that the officers that were fired upon by Harris were detectives with 6-12 years experience on the force. Additionally, the publication noted that two other people were injured in the attack; a 17-year old and a 19-year old both received gunshot wounds to the chest. Some protestors–unsurprisingly–blamed the police for being in plainclothes:
The Ferguson Action Council, a coalition of local protest organizations, said on Monday that the police should not have sent plainclothes officers without body cameras to an area where protests were being held.
“After a year of protest and conversation around police accountability, having plainclothes officers without body cameras and proper identification in the protest setting leaves us with only the officer’s account of the incident, which is clearly problematic,” Kayla Reed, a field organizer with the Organization for Black Struggle, said in a statement.
As night came and it began to rain, a large crowd gathered on West Florissant Avenue, and a group of people broke into a beauty supply store and stole a cash register.
With police officers in pursuit, the men dropped the machine and ran away.
The authorities then sent a group of officers to stand in front of stores that had been burglarized. Later, when the police sought to secure a nearby strip of stores, their cars were pelted with objects, Chief Belmar said, so they pulled out.
Demonstrators then blocked the road, and the police donned riot gear and used a megaphone to order them to move on.
“This is the Ferguson Police Department,” Sgt. Harry Dilworth, one of the department’s few black officers, said into a megaphone. “You must leave the roadway immediately and remain on the sidewalk or be subject to arrest.”
But after the demonstrators had largely moved out of the street, a number of police cars with their sirens on sped down West Florissant Avenue, as dozens of officers in riot gear formed a skirmish line. Protesters returned to the street, some moving toward the officers, while chanting slogans.
Amy Hunter, the director of racial justice for the YWCA, stood to the side and shook her head. She said she believed that the police had provoked the protesters.
“We learned the last time we did it this way, there was more violence,” she said.
St. Louis Post-Disptach reporter, Paul Hampel, "was beaten, bloodied and robbed by a group of attackers" covering the protests last night as well. Not a very good evening for a city that's been the epicenter for America's renewed national dialogue about race relations and law enforcement.
Violence obscures any message of peaceful protest and places the community, as well as the officers who seek to protect it, in harm’s way.— AG Loretta Lynch (@LorettaLynch) August 10, 2015