Once again, a day that began with peaceful protests in Ferguson descended into madness and chaos as hundreds of law officers dispersed demonstrators and reporters by shooting tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowd. Police officers also arrested at least two reporters and St. Louis Alderman Antonio French. The Alderman has provided vital on-the-ground footage throughout this entire period. His Vine videos have given a lot of insight into what has really been happening during the protests in Ferguson over the senseless shooting death of 18-year-old Mike Brown. The unarmed Brown was shot multiple times by a Ferguson police officer Saturday afternoon, setting off the protests in the neighborhood.
If there is a handbook on how NOT to handle a delicate situation like the one in Ferguson, local law enforcement is apparently following it to a tee. First, officers on the scene allowed Brown’s dead body to lay on the ground for at least four hours before removing him as they were more worried about getting the shooting officer to safety and securing the scene. The following evening, a large police presence was at the location where a candlelight vigil was held. The sight of dozens of cops, some already decked out in riot gear, caused tensions to boil over and eventually lead to the rioting and looting in the area. Monday evening is when we saw local police start treating Ferguson like a war zone. Every evening since we’ve seen police officers, dressed in military-style uniforms and carrying assault rifles, aggressively engage protesting citizens. They’ve utilized tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades while driving around in large armored vehicles.
It isn’t just how the police have handled the situation on the ground, either. The way the St. Louis County and Ferguson police departments are handling this investigation makes one feel as if they are purposely trying to antagonize and anger the people of Ferguson. St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar has refused to release the name of the police officer who was involved in Brown’s shooting, despite initially telling the public that the officer’s identity would be revealed by Tuesday afternoon. After the coroner was done with the autopsy, the police department refused to state how many times Brown was shot, only saying that he sustained multiple gun wounds. An eyewitness to the shooting has revealed details of the shooting to numerous media outlets. However, until recently, the police hadn’t even contacted him to get a statement. The Ferguson police chief has ‘suggested’ a nighttime curfew to the community, essentially placing the community under martial law.
Wednesday evening’s actions by local law enforcement may finally, FINALLY be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Like previous nights, the officers aggressively confronted protesters and used excessive force to disperse them. However, they also started targeting media that was there covering the protests. Two reporters were arrested early Wednesday evening (while it was still daylight) as they were writing in a local McDonald’s. The reporters, Wesley Lowery of The Washington Post and Ryan Reilly of The Huffington Post, were confronted by police officers in the restaurant and arrested for basically not moving fast enough when told to leave. Both reporters were later released but have provided detailed accounts of how they were treated.
Below is video of the reporters’ interaction with the officers that led to their arrest:
Meanwhile, later in the evening, a news crew for Al Jazeera America, while filming the police, had tear gas shot directly at them. KSDK 5 in St. Louis was able to capture video as it occurred.
Later on, one of the reporters from Al Jazeera America, Ash-Har Quraishi, gave an account of what occurred when his crew was fired upon:
“The Al Jazeera crew were in a place we believed to be safe. “Soon afterwards people started running towards us saying they were being fired on with rubber bullets. Rubber bullets were fired on us, and then a canister. We had to retreat into the neighborhood.”
French was arrested later on in the evening for ‘unlawful assembly.’ As of Thursday morning, he was still siting in a jail cell but was expected to be released shortly. French has recently gained national prominence for his constant updates on Twitter from Ferguson. His arrest, along with the arrest of two national reporters, gives local law enforcement an even worse reputation. Perhaps due to these arrests, and the fact that the police are seemingly indiscriminately and with no legislative oversight, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon is arriving in Ferguson on Thursday. Aside from a short speech on Tuesday, Nixon has been very hands-off regarding this situation. However, with national news coverage showing police harassing not only protesters but the media, Nixon has to get his hands dirty before the police embarrass the St. Louis area and the state of Missouri further.
— Governor Jay Nixon (@GovJayNixon) August 14, 2014
Wednesday, like the preceding days, began with peace and a call for real action from protesters who are angry over Brown’s death and their overall treatment from local law enforcement. The police have only reinforced the local residents’ feelings that they aren’t there to protect and serve but to rule by fear. Every day that I’ve gone to Ferguson, I sense the feeling of solidarity, unity and love within the community. They just want answers. At the same time, they don’t want to have this complete distrust of the police. Law enforcement is supposed to be part of the community, not something that the community fears and hates.