State of emergency in Ferguson as tensions rise

Anniversary of black teen's death sees more violence, youth arrested after shootout

St Louis County police yesterday faced off against demonstrators in Ferguson, Missouri, as violence erupted following the first anniversary of the fatal shooting of black teen Michael Brown by a white police officer.
St Louis County police yesterday faced off against demonstrators in Ferguson, Missouri, as violence erupted following the first anniversary of the fatal shooting of black teen Michael Brown by a white police officer.PHOTO: REUTERS

FERGUSON (Missouri) • The racial flashpoint city of Ferguson woke up to a state of emergency yesterday after a second night of clashes between police and protesters, a year after the fatal shooting of a black teen by a white officer.

In unrest that erupted on Monday evening and stretched into the early hours, angry demonstrators beat drums and chanted as they threw stones and bottles. Police used pepper spray as they arrested numerous demonstrators.

"Officers are being hit with rocks and bottles. We continue to support free speech, but agitators who ignore orders to disperse risk arrest," the St Louis County police department said in a tweet.

The protests came after unrest and a shootout in Ferguson on Sunday night, the first anniversary of the fatal shooting of the unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown by white police officer Darren Wilson, who was later cleared of any wrongdoing by a grand jury and the US Department of Justice.

The teenager's death sparked a wave of outrage and protests across the United States over police treatment of African Americans, especially over criteria for use of lethal force.

As this week's violence erupted, county officials declared a state of emergency on Monday afternoon, but stopped short of declaring a curfew. St Louis County executive Steve Stenger said county police officers will immediately take charge of "police emergency management" in Ferguson and the surrounding districts.

His statement came as a black teenager was charged in connection with the shootout on Sunday night following a day of mostly peaceful protests.

Eighteen-year-old Tyrone Harris is accused of first-degree assault on police officers, armed criminal action and shooting at a motor vehicle, police said.

He remained in hospital on Monday with critical wounds sustained in the shootout.

St Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said the shootout started when four plainclothes detectives in a van came under fire.

Footage showed a black man lying face down on the ground in handcuffs, bleeding profusely. Mr Belmar declined to comment on the race of the detectives.

In St Louis city centre, more than 50 protesters were arrested after climbing the barricade around a federal courthouse during a midday demonstration, local news media reported.

A crowd of about 100 protesters remained on the streets of Ferguson after midnight, sometimes squaring off with police. Hours later, the tension had subsided.

Sunday's day of remembrance for Mr Brown had been peaceful until a handful of protesters grew rowdy later in the evening.

Gunfire followed the looting of at least two businesses on a commercial strip around the corner from where Mr Brown fell.

Early yesterday, four civilians with automatic rifles were spotted patrolling a riot-torn street in Ferguson, saying they were there to protect a media organisation but drawing swift criticism from police and protesters alike.

The men, all white, said they were part of a group called "Oath Keepers", which describes itself as an association of current and former US soldiers and police officers who aim to protect the US Constitution. The group was said to be a "fiercely anti-government, militaristic group".

"Their presence was both unnecessary and inflammatory," Mr Belmar said, adding the police would work with prosecutors to see if the men had broken any laws.

Outrage over the police killings of Mr Brown and other unarmed African Americans has been channelled into a sustained nationwide movement, with the social media hashtag #BlackLivesMatter becoming its rallying cry.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 12, 2015, with the headline 'State of emergency in Ferguson as tensions rise'. Print Edition | Subscribe