Man shot after defying state-imposed curfew, in critical condition
FERGUSON, Mo. — Police and protesters clashed for another night Sunday after a couple hundred protesters remained on the streets of Ferguson, Mo., in violation of a curfew that took effect at midnight.
The curfew, put in place by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, was designed to quell ongoing unrest in the St. Louis suburb since the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown.
Brown, 18, was unarmed when he was gunned down in the street on Aug. 9.
The curfew expired at 5 a.m. local time.
In a press conference early Sunday, Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Ronald Johnson said one person was shot overnight and is in critical condition. Johnson, who is also in charge of security in Ferguson, said he couldn't confirm whether the shooting victim was a protester, but said the shooting happened on West Florissant Avenue, one of the main thoroughfares in Ferguson and the scene of protests for the last week.
Seven people were arrested overnight and will face charges of failure to disperse.
Crowds had dwindled significantly leading up to the curfew, but remaining protesters — chanting "No justice! No curfew!" — refused to leave the area. Some stood with their hands up, the emblematic pose used by many protesters to characterize the position witness have said Brown had assumed when he was fatally shot.
"We ready. We ready. We ready for y'all, " people chanted, while others screamed "We are Mike Brown."
About 45 minutes past the curfew deadline, armored tactical vehicles approached the crowd in an effort to disperse those that refused to leave West Florissant Avenue.
"You are in violation of a state-imposed curfew. You must disperse immediately. Failure to comply, may result in arrest," officers spoke through a loudspeaker.
As officers put on gas masks, a chant from the distant crowd emerged: "We have the right to assemble peacefully."
A moment later, police began firing smoke into the crowd of protesters. Officers also carried rifles, gas masks, plastic handcuffs and helmets.
Highway Patrol Spokesman Lt. John Hotz initially said police only used smoke, but later told The Associated Press that they also fired tear gas canisters. He said of police efforts: "Obviously, we're trying to give them every opportunity to comply with the curfew."
Police also brought in armored tanks after learning of some disturbances at Reds Barbecue, a local restaurant. En route, officers encountered a man who flashed a handgun and appeared in the middle of the street as armored vehicles approached the crowd of protesters.
"We had a subject standing in the middle of the road with a handgun," Johnson said, but the man got away.
Johnson said someone also fired at a patrol car, but no officers were injured.
St. Louis Alderman Antonio French, who represents the 21st Ward, said he and other community members pleaded with everyone to obey the curfew.
"Some of the guys didn't want to be told to leave," French said. "There was no convincing them. They wanted to do civil disobedience."
"I was disappointed in the actions of tonight," Johnson said.
Malik Shabazz, a member of Black Lawyers for Justice, said he has been working with a coalition of groups to help disperse crowds and keep the peace in Ferguson for the past several days.
As the curfew approached, Shabazz roamed the street with a bullhorn, encouraging people to leave for their own safety. Many appeared to follow his suggestion. Small crowds were gathered at a bus station waiting to leave the area.
"If we're going to have justice, we must first have and maintain peace," Nixon said of the curfew at a Saturday afternoon press conference. "The eyes of the world are watching."
Margaret Huang, deputy executive director of Amnesty International USA, disagreed with the curfew.
"It's clear that the community doesn't feel heard," Huang said. "It's hard to build trust when the governor won't meet with community members and restricts their movements with a curfew. The people of Ferguson should not have their rights further restricted."
STORY: Looting, tear gas shatter period of calm in Ferguson
Daniel Moore, 42, of Ferguson, said he thought a curfew would only make things more tense among protesters and the police. Moore said he fears police will use the curfew as an excuse to harass people on foot and in cars.
"It's stupid," Moore said as he stood among fellow protesters at QuikTrip. "They just want to control everything. ... I guess they (want) us to obey — I can't tell if I will."
Derrick Brown, 25, said he was optimistic that people would abide by the curfew but wasn't sure whether he supported it.
"It'll be interesting to see the crowd move at midnight," Brown said. "I'm curious to see how that process will unfold."
Keyon Watkins, a 26-year-old computer science worker from St. Louis, said that if many others stay in the street, he would join them.
"All of this is just building up — pent-up aggression by being mistreated on a daily basis," Watkins said.
Umar Lee, 39, an independent journalist, who said he grew up in North St. Louis saw protesters were throwing canisters of gas deployed by the police back at the police during the tense clashes.
"This is surreal to see my hometown look like Gaza," Lee said. "I just pray for peace in my community."
Ryan Frank, 33, a filmmaker, was in the crowd as they were confronted by police.
"I've never seen anything like this before," Frank said. "The crowd was really riled up."
Early Sunday, members of the media were ordered to remain in the parking lot of the Ferguson Market or risk arrest.
FBI agents have joined local authorities in some witness interviews related to the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a Ferguson, Mo., police officer, after those witnesses expressed doubts about the integrity of the local inquiry, a federal law enforcement official said Saturday.
The official, who is not authorized to comment publicly, said the joint interviews have involved few witnesses so far. But the concerns echo themes from waves of protesters during the past week who have cited a broken trust with local police.
Local authorities are heading the investigation into last week's deadly shooting, while the FBI is conducting a parallel inquiry into possible federal civil rights violations.
In a statement issued Friday evening, William Woods, the FBI's special agent in charge, U.S. Attorney Richard Callahan and Molly Moran, acting chief of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division confirmed that federal authorities had already conducted "several'' witness interviews.
"Over the next several days, teams of FBI agents will be canvassing the neighborhood where the shooting took place to identify any individuals who may have information related to the shooting and have not yet come forward,'' the officials said.
The developments came after armored vehicles, riot gear, tear gas and looting returned to Ferguson early Saturday as a brief period of peaceful demonstrations gave way to a violent atmosphere of anarchy.
The intense night shattered a short-lived calm that had been hailed as a turning point after a week of protests following the fatal shooting of Brown, a black unarmed teenager killed by Darren Wilson one week ago.
Renita Lamkin, 43, is the pastor of St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church in St. Charles, Mo. Each day since the protests began Lamkin has been at the front of the protest line urging people to remain calm. The curfew is necessary, she said, to keep the focus on Brown's death rather than looting.
Angela Whitman, 44, of Berkeley, St. Louis, helped organize a moment of silence for Brown on Saturday afternoon. The group stood in silence for 30 minutes with their hands up across the street from the Ferguson Police Station.
She said that tensions would remain high until Brown's killer was arrested.
"You can't keep putting off the officer not being locked up anymore," Whitman said.
Contributing: Kevin Johnson and Natalie DiBlasio reporting McLean, Va; Associated Press