For the third straight evening in Ferguson, MO, residents were subjected to a militarized police force treating the community like a war zone. What began with the hopes of a calm and peaceful night eventually ended with police officers using tear gas to disperse protesters and two shootings, including a St. Louis County police officer shooting a suspect. Throughout the day Tuesday, calls for peace from community, state and national leaders rang out in gatherings, including one at a nearby church where Rev. Al Sharpton, head of the National Action Network, delivered a rousing speech. Earlier in the day Tuesday, hundreds of demonstrators showed up at the St. Louis County Police headquarters in Clayton, MO to march and protest.
After the delivering of speeches by Sharpton and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon at separate events, demonstrators gathered around in several areas, including in front of the QuikTrip on W. Florissant Ave., which was burned to the ground Sunday evening. The QuikTrip has become sort of a Ground Zero for protests in the past couple of days due to its symbolism and location in the heart of Ferguson. Older residents joined young men and women demonstrating at the QuikTrip after the speeches Tuesday evening in a show of solidarity. Protesters also gathered at the churches where events were held as well as at an intersection roughly a mile down from the QuikTrip.
All day Tuesday, a familiar refrain was heard from the protesters — “No justice, no peace.” Whenever in the presence of police officers, demonstrators threw their hands up in the air, symbolizing 18-year-old Mike Brown prior to his shooting death at the hand of a Ferguson police officer. Many carried signs that read “I Am A Man” or “I Am A Woman,” indicating that residents do not feel as if they are treated like equal human beings by the police force. At the events held throughout the day, diverse crowds showed up, representing all ages and races. Overall, there was a sense of unity and solidarity over this tragedy, with everyone looking for justice.
Local law enforcement’s response is still drawing extremely harsh criticism, not only from local residents, but from local and national media. The images of police officers in camouflage tactical uniforms, wearing gas masks, carrying assault rifles and driving through the neighborhood in armored military vehicles give the public pause about police overreach. On Monday and Tuesday, we have seen large packs of police officers approach unarmed individuals or small groups with guns raised. We’ve seen tear gas and rubber bullets fired directly into crowds. The police have angrily yelled at people to go home while at the same time blocking any effort for them to reach their destinations. Overall, the scenes from Ferguson rival those we’ve seen in war-torn areas like Gaza.
The lack of trust in local law enforcement only grew throughout the day on Tuesday. While St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar stated earlier in the week that the identity of the police officer who shot Mike Brown would be released by noon on Tuesday, he decided to renege on that promise, citing safety concerns for the officer. On top of that, while the coroner released preliminary findings on Brown’s death, showing he died from multiple gunshot wounds, the police department refused to release the number of times Brown was shot. If this wasn’t enough, law enforcement convinced the FAA to create a no-fly zone over Ferguson. Until Monday, except for police/emergency helicopters and aircraft approaching or leaving the nearby airport, no aircraft can be lower than 3,000 feet over Ferguson. Many are seeing this as a way to prevent news helicopters from providing images to the public.
These recent developments, along with the military-like presence of police in Ferguson, creates a sense that local law enforcement is antagonizing the residents of Ferguson. It almost seems like they are going out of their way to prove and highlight the institutional racism that exists in the St. Louis area. Since the shooting death of Brown, it has been revealed that Ferguson’s police department employs 53 commissioned officers. Only 3 of those officers are black, even though African-Americans make up 67% of Ferguson’s population. Racial disparity statistics shows that blacks are far more likely to be stopped and searched in Ferguson compared to whites, even though searches have found that whites are actually more likely to be carrying contraband. Blacks make up 86% of the stops in Ferguson and 92% of the arrests.
With distrust in local police growing by the hour, demonstrators and leaders insist that the federal government needs to completely take over the investigation. While the FBI has opened a civil-rights case, they have also stated they will work in conjunction with local law enforcement. Local residents have absolutely no faith right now that justice will be served if St. Louis County is in charge of the investigation. The feeling is that they will go out of their way to protect their own. Considering the actions that have taken place since Brown’s death on Saturday, it is hard to argue with that sentiment.
While protests and demonstrations were generally peaceful Tuesday night, and the police weren’t nearly as combative as they were Monday, violence still eventually broke out. For the first time since Brown’s death, gun violence occurred in the area. A woman was shot near the QuikTrip in an apparent drive-by shooting. She is expected to survive. Roughly a half-hour later and a mile away, a man was shot by a police officer. It is stated that the man pulled a gun on the police officer. It is assumed that this man was involved with the earlier shooting, but that has not been confirmed as of yet. Police were called to the area as there were reports that there were four or five men in the area wearing ski masks and carrying shotguns. When a crowd gathered, tear gas was used to disperse everyone.
More demonstrations and activities are expected Wednesday. I will be on the scene in Ferguson throughout the day and will report on any developments.
Justin Baragona is the Managing Editor at Politicus Sports as well as Senior Editor at PoliticusUSA. He was a political writer for 411Mania.com before joining PoliticusUSA. Politically, Justin considers himself a liberal but also a realist and pragmatist. Currently, Justin lives in St. Louis, MO and is married. Besides writing, he also runs his own business after spending a number of years in the corporate world. You can follow Justin on Twitter either with his personal handle (@justinbaragona) or the Sports site’s (@PoliticusSports).