Day of Protests, Night of Frenzy | Facing History & Ourselves

Day of Protests, Night of Frenzy

A St. Louis Post-Dispatch article summarizes events after day two in Ferguson.
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Ferguson Day Two Wrap-Up: Day of Protests, Night of Frenzy

St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Steve Giegerich and Jesse Bogan
August 11, 2014

FERGUSON: A calmer dawn broke Monday morning after a night of protest and looting in Ferguson left broken glass and at least one burned-out building.

Officer Brian Schellman of the St. Louis County police said two officers were injured overnight Sunday — one was hit by a brick and one suffered knee injuries. Police arrested 32 people for theft, assault or burglary.

The protests followed the fatal shooting on Saturday of Michael Brown, 18, by police. Authorities said Sunday that a police officer shot Brown, who was unarmed, after the teen attacked the Ferguson officer. After protests and a vigil earlier in the day, some people broke into stores and looted them, setting fire to a QuikTrip and leaving glass and other debris strewn about.

Schellman said the looting and destruction stopped and the area had quieted a down about 3:30 a.m. Monday.

He said the police helicopter was shot at once or twice, but was not hit. He said the night was a scary situation for even veteran officers.

Jennings school district canceled the first day of school today, saying it was concerned for student safety in the wake of Sunday night's violence.

"Safety is our uppermost concern," a Jennings release said. "At this time we do not feel it's safe for our students to walk to school."

Officials said they hoped classes could begin Tuesday.

On the lot of a QuikTrip that was looted and burned Sunday night, some men who said they had been there last night defended the damage as a response to injustice. 

DeAndre Smith, 30, of Ferguson was happy to justify the looting when a reporter asked him about it Monday morning.

"This is exactly what is supposed to be happening when an injustice is happening in your community," he said, adding: "You have kids getting killed for nothing."

Smith, who moved to St. Louis from New York in December, said there could be more to come.

"I don't think it's over honestly," he said. "I just think they got a taste of what fighting back means."

Karl McCarty, 39, of Bellefontaine Neighbors, watched the chaos Sunday night and was back again Monday. He said he had a message for the young men leading the charge:

"Let it go, let justice prevail. And if doesn't prevail in the way they want, don't do this again."

McCarty said as a black man he sympathizes with the mother of Brown greatly, but thinks the protest becoming violent and destructive was all wrong.

"Sometime we create our own demise. You didn't hurt Ferguson police, you hurt yourself," said McCarty, who is a contractor in St. Louis.

"My heart goes out to her," he said of the dead teen's mother. "At a time we could have been grieving or supporting her, I feel we failed her. Instead of having a nice, simple vigil, it turned into chaos confusion and destruction."

Others also showed up to express dismay at the looting or help clean up.

Leonette Hilliard, who works as a middle school English teacher, stopped by the QuikTrip. Using one of her school folders, she wrote a note to the store and taped it to the side wall.

"Corporate neighbor: I am sorry this act of robbery and violence has happened. Please return soon."

The note was taped over graffiti saying "187 county police," the 187 a slang reference to murder.

She said she comes to the store to two or three times per week and has been doing so for about 15 years.

"This just doesn't represent who we are as a community and I wanted just to say something to do something that was productive," she said.

Pamela Richardson, 51, of Jennings, came to Ferguson on Monday morning and started picking up trash left by the looters at the QuikTrip store. A bit of smoke was still coming from the burned-out building. She rounded up beer cans and discarded Powerball tickets and crushed soda cans from the lot.

"It sends the wrong kind of message," she said of the looters. "Don't destroy other people's property that they worked hard for because something else has happened. One doesn't outweigh the other, you know. No connection between the two."

Workers at an AutoZone swept up broken glass from the windows that were shattered and workers at a nearby cellphone store waited on a company to board up the front plate glass window.

The glass walls of a metro bus stop were broken, and trash was strewn up and down the road.

The NAACP released a statement Monday morning saying state and local branches would seek answers about the shooting of Brown and the national office would monitor the situation.

"The death of yet another African-American at the hands of those sworn to protect and serve the community where he lived is heartbreaking," NAACP president Cornell Williams Brooks said in the statement. "Michael Brown was preparing to begin college, and now his family is preparing to bury their child — his life cut short in a tragic encounter with the police."

The group called for calm collective action.

"Even as we call for accountability by those charged with protecting the community, we call on the community to act —collectively and calmly until we secure justice for the family of Michael Brown," the statement said.

Our earlier story:

FERGUSON: A day of protests and vigils Sunday for an unarmed black teenager who was shot to death by a Ferguson police officer erupted Sunday night with confrontations, looting and gunshots.

Authorities said Sunday that a police officer shot an unarmed black teenager after the teen attacked the Ferguson officer. But pressure for a deeper explanation grew locally and nationally through the day.

Hundreds of people gathered at the shooting site Sunday night for a vigil for Michael Brown, 18, who was to begin technical school classes today.

While some people prayed, others spilled onto West Florissant Avenue, choking off traffic. Looting was reported at a QuikTrip at 9420 West Florissant Avenue about 9 p.m. and soon spread from there. Most of the businesses being targeted were mainly along West Florissant. 

Around 11 p.m., looters smashed into a Wal-Mart in the area near Interstate 270, as well as cell phone, clothing and dollar stores. A large fire was burning at West Florissant and Northwinds Estates Drive. A civilian was reported beaten near West Florissant and Chambers.

Jimmy Muhammad, 32, said he and his colleagues had just fended off a gang of masked young men with guns who tried to break into his uncle's store, United Mart, in the 10300 block of West Florissant. The front door was shattered. 

"It's bad," said Muhammad, still gripping a pistol. Sirens blasted from all the police vehicles speeding by to other crime scenes. "I don't blame the police, but they can't keep up."

Silas Chung, 53, didn't get to his small store, Up N Up Fashion, in the 11600 block of West Florissant, soon enough to defend it. 

"I feel bad," said Chung, cleaning up the damage. "This world is getting worse and worse."  

At Ferguson Avenue and West Florissant Road, about 150 demonstrators also blocked traffic. They were taunting police officers, who were lined up in riot gear, carrying shields and batons.

“It could have been one of your kids,” yelled Charles Staton, 35, of Ferguson, at the officers. “Protect and serve. They aren’t protecting.”

At the same time, about 100 people remained in front of the Ferguson police station, where South Florissant Road was also blocked by demonstrators. There the emphasis was on keeping the peace.

St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar promised a thorough outside investigation.

"It's turning into something it's not supposed to be," said Darryl Jones of Pine Lawn as the looting began.

Late Sunday, County Executive Charlie Dooley came to the line and tried to convince raucous demonstrators to leave. His efforts were yelled down. Eventually, officers moved their line forward with the help of barking dogs on tight leashes. 

"It's time to leave," the officers said. Reporters on the scene said the area calmed down shortly after as action moved elsewhere.

Some people were caught in the crowds, though, and couldn't easily leave. J.R. Grace came for the vigil but never made it because of the blockade. He was disheartened by the events playing out.   

"The businesses didn't kill that man. That's not going to solve anything," he said. "That's only going to make things worse."

Gunshots were reported in the area late Sunday, and a SWAT team was seen in the area. Hundreds of police officers from surrounding communities reported on the scene.

"We have officers from just about every department around here," said St. Louis Police Capt. Ed Kuntz. "Obviously we don't want to use force. We are hoping that just the presence is enough." 

By 1 a.m. today, he said pockets of stores had been looted from north of Interstate 270 to the city's northern border. Kuntz, who has worked in policing for 34 years, said of the level of looting: "This is the first time I can remember this ever happening here."  

Benjamin L. Crump, a civil rights lawyer known for representing the family of Florida shooting victim Trayvon Martin, announced Sunday night that he had been hired to represent Brown's family. Crump is based in Tallahassee, Fla.

In Washington, a spokesperson said Attorney General Eric Holder asked civil rights lawyers in the Justice Department to monitor the case. In St. Louis, Special Agent Cheryl Mimura said, “I can confirm that the FBI is working closely with the St Louis County PD to review the matter at this time.”

Protesters complained that the killing was emblematic of deep tensions between black residents of North County and a predominantly white Ferguson police force. Officials have not revealed the race of the officer who killed Brown.

“We have to stick together because we are targets,” said Robert Brefford, 26, an African-American musician from Berkeley who spoke in front of the police station Sunday night. He said police in the area pull over, poke and prod black drivers to provoke them. 

“The bleeding began long before Michael Brown,” said Pastor Traci Blackmon of nearby Christ the King United Church of Christ.

She passed a petition seeking a dialogue with officials. “We come in peace,” she said. “But we are angry and in need of action and answers.”

Shontell Walters, of Berkeley, complained to stone-faced police outside their headquarters: “This child was ready to go to college and you killed his dream.” She added, “He is not coming back. He could have owned a business and made money for Ferguson someday, but you killed him.”

Dooley also visited protesters around noon Sunday to acknowledge their “justifiable anger” and implore them to “channel this anger into justice.” But the group turned on him for expressing confidence in the ability of county police to do a fair investigation, buffeting him with heated rhetoric and questions.

“How can we protect our children?” one mother screamed at him.

The shaken Dooley responded, “This is not the way to console the family right now.”

The NAACP and State Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, joined a chorus seeking a federal investigation.

State Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, said of the gathering in front of the Ferguson police station: “This demonstration has to happen to release all the negative energy people are feeling on the inside. And we are doing it peacefully.”

Activist Zaki Baruti said the presence of police dogs near demonstrations reinforced the perception of bias against black people. “It sends a very negative message, and it is a very insensitive reaction to the outrage of the people,” he said.

Another protest was scheduled for 10 a.m. today outside the police station. And the St. Louis County NAACP is planning a mass public meeting at 6 p.m. today at Murchison Tabernacle Church, 7629 Natural Bridge in St. Louis.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, a New York-based civil rights leader, called the shooting “very disturbing” and said he planned to meet here with Brown’s family today or Tuesday.

The demonstrations Sunday drew national news media attention to two sites: the police station, at 222 South Florissant Road, and the street where Brown fell, in the 2900 block of Canfield Drive.

Brown’s stepfather, Louis Head, sat cross-legged, head in hands, sobbing Sunday morning before a memorial on Canfield that would grow exponentially through Sunday with teddy bears, flowers and tributes.

“Ferguson killed my son,” he said. “Ferguson flat-out murdered my son in the street, a cold-blooded murder.”

In a news conference Sunday morning, Belmar, the county police chief, said the Ferguson officer had an encounter with two “individuals” about noon Saturday and that Brown pushed the officer back into his car and “assaulted” him in the vehicle.

Belmar said one shot was fired by the officer’s gun inside the car during the struggle, and that the officer then got out of the car and fired multiple times. Brown fell dead in the street. Belmar said the crime scene covered a distance of just 35 feet.

Belmar did not describe the reason for the initial contact, nor indicate whether police think the shooting was justified. He also did not provide any details about the person who had been with Brown.

He said the shots that hit Brown were “more than just a couple but I don’t think it was many more than that.” He said an autopsy was pending.

The chief said the investigation’s results will be forwarded to St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch, whose office would decide whether criminal charges were justified.

Belmar noted that as Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson arrived at the scene Saturday, he called Belmar to ask for a county investigation.

Jackson sat beside Belmar but did not speak in a short news conference at 10 a.m. at the community’s firehouse.

Belmar emphasized that the outside investigation and consultation with the FBI — which has jurisdiction over allegations of civil rights violations by police — are “standard protocols.”

The officer who fired, whose name has not been disclosed, is now on administrative leave. Belmar said that officer has been on the Ferguson force for six years and appears to have “no other issues” in his past.

Belmar and Jackson abruptly left the news conference as reporters continued to call out questions.

Ferguson police and demonstration leaders were forced late Sunday morning to tamp down a rumor that a youth who had been with Brown in the police encounter was found dead.

It apparently began on social media and was still circulating Sunday afternoon despite a promise from Baruti, a demonstration organizer, that it was not true.

About a block from the police station, at Wellspring Church, Pastor F. Willis Johnson Jr. urged Sunday morning that frustration and anger be channeled into constructive acts, such as praying and volunteering in schools.

“We can’t act unjust in the name of justice. We can’t act uncivil, and then cry for civility,” Johnson preached.

Brown, a 2014 Normandy High School graduate, was scheduled to begin classes today at Vatterott College.

Reproduced with permission from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

How to Cite This Reading

Facing History & Ourselves, “Day of Protests, Night of Frenzy,” last updated April 28, 2022. 

This reading contains text not authored by Facing History & Ourselves. See footnotes for source information.

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