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Anger And Grief Boil Over In Ferguson In Wake Of Unarmed Young Man’s Senseless Killing

 

What began as a peaceful candlelight vigil to remember a teenager who was viciously shot down Saturday by a police officer turned into a night of rioting and looting. On Sunday, in the community of Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis, protesters marching after a vigil that was held for Mike Brown, the 18-year-old who was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer the day before, confronted a large group of cops that were gathered nearby to ostensibly keep the peace during the demonstration. It appears that the outsized police presence in the area caused a number of the protesters to be agitated and focus their anger directly at the officers. Things would only go downhill from there.

I was on the scene for the beginning of the tensions. After the vigil, which was held at the apartment complex where Brown was killed, hundreds of people began marching up the street chanting “We want justice!” and “No justice, No peace!” Community leaders were part of the procession, and it appeared that it was going to be similar to demonstrations that had taken place over the previous 24 hours. In other marches and gatherings in the city, while demonstrators were palpably angry and emotional about what had occurred, no instances of violence were reported. All protests up until Sunday evening were peaceful and well-organized.

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However, in this instance, there was a sudden change within the crowd as they approached a large group of law enforcement. While most in the group of demonstrators peacefully chanted and expressed their sadness regarding this awful tragedy, about 50 or so of the protesters verbally confronted the police officers in an extremely confrontational way. While no physical action was taken towards the officers on the scene, the sight of them gathered wearing tactical gear as if a riot was inevitable seemed to be too much for some in the crowd. Obscenities were tossed at the cops and tension was extremely high. In response to the perceived threat, hundreds of more police officers were called in from surrounding jurisdictions. By the time I had left the scene, roughly 200 squad cars had arrived, and there were about 400 police officers on the scene.

With a large force of cops forming a line and dealing with the demonstration, the entire Ferguson community was thrust into chaos. With the knowledge that all surrounding police forces were engaged directly with the protesters, groups of people started looting and damaging local businesses. Over a dozen stores were ransacked and a QuikTrip gas station was eventually burned to the ground after being cleaned out of all merchandise. Per reports, this QuikTrip was where Mike Brown had just left when he was confronted by the police officer who shot him. The looting continued on through the night. It wasn’t until the early hours of Monday morning that the police were able to finally contain the scene and arrest dozens who were robbing stores.

Overall, police arrested over 30 individuals. Despite the chaotic scene, there were almost no injuries reported. A reporter for a local newspaper said he was hit in the head with a bottle and two police officers suffered minor injuries, but apparently no residents were hurt. However, the aftereffects of this horrible night will be felt in the community for a long time. Some of the businesses in the area may not be able to recover or will simply move to different communities. A planned rally for Monday morning was canceled as the mayor of Ferguson stated that anyone attending would be arrested.

 

Residents in the area are heartbroken over what happened Sunday night. Instead of giving voice to a cause and shedding light on an issue that seems to disproportionately affect the African-American community, the images of looting and rioting will now be what is associated with this tragedy. Community leaders and Mike Brown’s family have condemned the criminal activities that occurred in the wake of a peaceful demonstration, but the damage has been done. On Monday morning, some residents expressed their thought that most of those involved in the looting were not from Ferguson, but from surrounding communities taking advantage of the situation. If true, that is even sadder as they do not have to deal with the ramifications of their actions.

In conclusion, my feelings now are the same as they were Sunday evening. This situation was exacerbated by the heavy police presence on the scene during a very solemn and peaceful remembrance for a young man who had his life taken from him. Considering that this tragedy was caused by a Ferguson police officer, it is only adding fuel to the fire for a large group of cops to be gathered and wearing riot gear. They are just making themselves a target for the anger and outrage that many in the community are feeling. Perhaps giving those protesting space and dignity, while not appearing in such a militarized fashion, may have created a much calmer environment. Instead, law enforcement allowed itself to be a target for hostility.

Below are some tweets I sent out shortly after leaving the scene. I’d also like to recognize Alderman Antonio French. He has been providing firsthand accounts from Ferguson since Saturday. The Alderman was also doing his best Sunday night to calm the tensions.

 

ETA: While Monday’s rally was canceled, dozens of protesters still showed up outside the Ferguson police department on Monday morning. Alderman French live tweeted during the demonstration.

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