FERGUSON, Mo, (REUTERS) – Police in riot gear clashed with protesters who had gathered in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, early on Tuesday to mark the anniversary of the police shooting of an unarmed black teen whose death sparked a national outcry over race relations.
About 200 demonstrators, some waving flags, beating drums, and shouting anti-police slogans, marched along a street that was a flashpoint of riots that erupted last year after white police officer Darren Wilson shot dead 18-year-old black teen Michael Brown.
Police made several arrests, including nine people on Monday evening after a group of protesters briefly blocked the roadway.
Police carrying shields rushed into a crowd of protesters around midnight, many of whom started screaming and running from the area. Some protesters threw water bottles and rocks at officers, who used bullhorns to order people out of the street or face arrest.
Authorities declared a state of emergency on Monday for the St. Louis suburb and surrounding areas after police officers shot and critically wounded a man in an exchange of gunfire Sunday night, marring what had been a day of peaceful demonstrations.
Ferguson resident Roberta Lynch, 51, was among the demonstrators on Monday evening. She said relations between police and the community had improved little over the past year. “They are doing the same old stuff, taking our rights,”Lynch said. “They need to give us our space.” Monday’s demonstrations capped a day of civil disobedience called by activists to protest against the shooting of Brown and other unarmed black men by police across the United States.
Clergy and civil rights groups led a series of protests, staging a demonstration at a courthouse in St. Louis where 60 people were arrested, including Princeton University professor and activist Cornel West, according to a protest organiser.
Police arrested dozens of protesters who blocked rush-hour traffic on Interstate 70 a few miles from Ferguson hours later, according to a Reuters witness.
The death of Brown and a grand jury’s decision to spare the white officer from criminal charges led to a wave of demonstrations that boiled over into rioting and arson at times and spawned sympathy rallies across the country.
Brown’s death also prompted greater scrutiny of racial bias within the U.S. criminal justice system, giving rise to the“Black Lives Matter” movement that gained momentum from similar incidents in cities such as New York, Baltimore, Los Angeles, Cincinnati and, most recently, Arlington, Texas..
‘MARRED BY VIOLENCE’
Tensions increased after darkness fell on Monday, with some demonstrators throwing objects at officers who pushed back with shields and threatened arrests. Others urged protesters on the street to maintain order.
St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar told reporters police would give protesters leeway to march, but said the authorities also had to maintain public safety. “We are going to let them vent and we are going to manage it the best we possibly can,” Belmar said.
“Last night was pretty out of control at times. Unfortunately, all the good work that’s happening on both sides of the street has been marred by violence,” he said.
The violence, according to Belmar, erupted Sunday when two groups of agitators apparently began shooting at each other, disrupting what had been peaceful demonstrations. At one point, a gunman darted across a parking lot and was confronted by four officers who pulled up in an unmarked vehicle.
The officers wounded the suspect in an exchange of gunfire, according to police.
Prosecutors charged the man, Tyrone Harris, who was in critical condition in a hospital, with four counts of assault on law enforcement, five counts of armed criminal action, and one count of shooting at a vehicle.
His bond was set at US$250,000.
Harris’s father said his son did not have a gun. “He was running for his ... life because someone was shooting at him,” Tyrone Harris, Sr, said in a telephone interview from his St. Louis-area home.
The younger Harris was out on bail awaiting trial on charges of stealing a motor vehicle, theft of a firearm and resisting arrest. He was charged with those crimes on Nov 5 and released after posting a US$30,000 (S$42,000) bond on Dec 19, records showed.
Activist groups, meanwhile, said the plain clothes officers who shot Harris should never have been deployed to the scene.
Missouri Governor Jay Nixon called Sunday’s violence “a sad turn of events.” Nixon, who deployed the National Guard to quell violence last year, did not make any mention of additional security for those rallies.
Michael Brown’s father, Michael Brown Sr. said on Facebook that peaceful weekend protests were “meaningful, inspiring and successful.”
“With your support, we properly honored your friend and my son’s memory,” he said.
Protester Rayna Martin, 17, who lives in the neighborhood where Brown was shot, said the violence within her community has been made worse by the actions of police. “They kill us, they get away with it. It’s crazy,” she said.