National Guard Called In After Ferguson Shatters In Night Of Rolling Confrontation
Tear gas, gunshots and chaos engulfed a mile-long swath of Ferguson Sunday night as police and demonstrators engaged in a rolling confrontation that lasted for more than three hours. Early Monday, Gov. Jay Nixon signed an executive order directing the Missouri National Guard to restore "peace and order to this community."
Police said two or three people were shot by other demonstrators in the street. Seven or eight were arrested for failure to disperse.
In a statement released shortly before 2 a.m., Nixon said:
“Tonight, a day of hope, prayers, and peaceful protests was marred by the violent criminal acts of an organized and growing number of individuals, many from outside the community and state, whose actions are putting the residents and businesses of Ferguson at risk. I join the people of Ferguson, and all Missourians, in strongly condemning this criminal activity that included firing upon law enforcement officers, shooting a civilian, throwing Molotov cocktails, looting, and a coordinated attempt to block roads and overrun the Unified Command Center. These violent acts are a disservice to the family of Michael Brown and his memory, and to the people of this community who yearn for justice to be served, and to feel safe in their own homes. Given these deliberate, coordinated and intensifying violent attacks on lives and property in Ferguson, I am directing the highly capable men and women of the Missouri National Guard to assist Colonel Ron Replogle and the Unified Command in restoring peace and order to this community.”
See the full PDF of the order here.
Earlier Monday morning, Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson said police had "no alternative but to elevate the level of our response" Sunday night.
Well before the midnight curfew was to go into effect for the second night, state troopers reported a demonstrator had been shot by others in the street. Johnson said they forced the crowd to disperse in an effort to reach the victim.
When state troopers began firing tear gas from armored trucks around 8:30 p.m., several families with children were caught in the crowd. Demonstrators ran to escape, but some were caught in a second cloud of gas that had been fired over their heads. Others ran forward towards police, placing bricks and broken glass in the road as trucks advanced.
Johnson said police received a report of eight men with guns among the protestors. There were multiple reports of shots fired throughout the night. Johnson said officers took gunfire but sustained no injuries. Johnson said protestors threw Molotov cocktails at police.
At one point, employees of the McDonald's at Ferguson and West Florissant locked themselves in a storeroom because they feared for their safety amidst the turmoil, Johnson said. A window at McDonald's was shattered and several other businesses were damaged.
Some of the earliest gunfire was heard near West Florissant and Canfield, where Michael Brown was killed by a Ferguson police officer last Saturday. An autopsy arranged by an attorney for the family and released Sunday showed that Brown had been shot six times, The New York Times reported.
Brown's death set in motion the chain of events that has kept Ferguson fluctuating all week between days of peaceful protest and nights of turmoil.
Police initially responded to the protests last week in riot gear and with armored vehicles. Some reporters were detained and hit with tear gas. The response was criticized as too aggressive and provocative. On Thursday, Nixon put Johnson in charge, and said he wanted to soften the tone. Johnson walked among the crowd and the mood seemed to lift.
On Friday, police released the name of Darren Wilson, the Ferguson officer who shot Brown. They also released a videotape that showed Brown stealing cigars from a convenience store shortly before he was shot. Johnson and Nixon were blindsided by the release of the tape, and protesters and the family called it an attempt to smear Brown.
Following violence Friday night, Nixon imposed a curfew Saturday from midnight to 5 a.m. in affected areas. Sunday night's turmoil in Ferguson was the worst of the week.
Police fired tear gas at and around crowds along West Florissant, and people ran, falling back and reforming lines. Some took shelter in the McDonald's at West Florissant and Ferguson. Others tried to get in and couldn't; then someone broke the window. A number of other businesses suffered damage, and fires were reported.
At one point, St. Louis Public Radio reporter Stephanie Lecci was caught up in the turmoil. Here is her account:
"As police were coming down West Florissant towards people on the street, the group of people and I were running down West Florissant towards Chambers. I heard shots near the Mobil gas station where police were staging.
"I went to police and said, 'I'm media. I'm lost and I'm scared. Can you help me?'
"They said, 'You shouldn't have been out here in the first place.'
"I said, 'I know. Where can I go to be safe?' They told me to go around the staging area. As I went around the Mobil station, police had guns drawn and there was a team by the armored truck with guns drawn.
"I ran with my hands up saying, 'I'm media, I'm media' until I got to another group of journalists. That's when I started crying."