FERGUSON, Missouri — As the rain and smoke poured down, the hands shot up.
Police fired tear gas canisters on protesters defying a curfew in Ferguson, Missouri, where the police shooting of an unarmed black teenager sparked a week of protests and sporadic looting.
In a press conference about 1:30 a.m. MST, police said they deployed the tear gas to clear roadways in order to evacuate a man who had been shot. The alleged shooter was not found, but seven other people were reportedly arrested for failing to disperse when ordered to.
Dozens of protesters gathered a day after Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and implemented a midnight to 5 a.m. curfew.
Despite a quiet first few minutes early Sunday morning, a handful of people — a noticeably younger group than what has been the norm in Ferguson — marched towards police.
Many of them were out to express their disagreement with the curfew by marching and raising their hands in the air — an action that’s become symbolic of these protests, echoing what some witnesses say Michael Brown was doing before he was killed.
Police in Ferguson confirm they fired tear gas canisters on protesters defying a curfew: http://t.co/sORCVkl6Wb
— The Associated Press (@AP) August 17, 2014
Disproportionate use of force?
St. Louis Alderman Antonio French spoke with protesters to try to convince them to abide by the curfew — which he says was a compromise reached between the government and community leaders.
While many heeded French’s advice, a small group of people could not be convinced to stay home.
“Some of the guys didn’t want to be told to leave,” French said. “That’s their right.”
French said he does not believe the use of smoke was a disproportionate — although it “definitely burned,” he said.
“If we’re going to achieve justice, we first must have and maintain peace.”
“I’m committed to making sure the forces of peace and justice prevail,” Nixon said at a community meeting. “If we’re going to achieve justice, we first must have and maintain peace.”
But the meeting at a local church at times was tumultuous.
People repeatedly interrupted Nixon, shouting, “You need to charge the police with murder!” and “We want justice!”
And some residents said law enforcement officers had instigated the violence with their military-like tactics.
State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, in charge of security for the town, praised local citizens who tried to stop the looting of several businesses early Saturday. He said law enforcement would not be heavy-handed in enforcing the curfew.
“We won’t enforce it with trucks, we won’t enforce it with tear gas,” he said.
But at least one resident was skeptical about whether the curfew would work.
“It’s an intimidation thing. And you’re basically suppressing people who still have questions that need answers,” said Carissa McGraw, who has joined protests throughout the week. “You have people who — at this point — do not care what authorities say right now.”
Michael Brown killed a week ago
Ferguson, a town of about 22,000 people near St. Louis, entered the national consciousness on August 9 when a white police officer, identified as Darren Wilson, shot and killed and Michael Brown, 18, on a city street during the middle of the day.
Accounts of what happened vary widely. Police said Brown struggled with the officer and reached for his weapon. Several witnesses said Brown raised his hands and was not attacking the officer.
Since then, Ferguson has become a tinder box, with regular street protests, an influx of heavily armed law enforcement officers and intense media coverage.
A new development in the investigation popped up Saturday when a Brown family lawyer, Anthony Gray, said that Michael Baden will conduct a second autopsy on the the teenager’s body. Baden is a high-profile pathologist who testified in the O.J. Simpson, Phil Spector and Drew Peterson trials.
Early Saturday morning, before sunrise, a fragile peace was shattered when looters again targeted neighborhood businesses while law enforcement in riot gear largely looked on without intervening.
Some protesters tried to stop the looting, at times standing in front of one convenience store and preventing others from doing more damage. Police, criticized days earlier for being too aggressive with protesters, now drew the ire of merchants who told CNN they weren’t doing enough.
“You still have a job to do now, and now you’re not doing your job,” Tanya Littleton said of police after thieves broke into her beauty supply shop in the St. Louis suburb and made off with bags of hair extensions worth hundreds of dollars.
At noon Saturday — the hour that police say Wilson shot Brown a week earlier — protesters outside the police station silently raised their arms into the air, mimicking Brown’s purported actions right before he died.
Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson joined loud but peaceful crowds that marched in the street carrying signs saying “Mike Brown is our son” and “The whole world is watching Ferguson.” They chanted “Hands up, don’t shoot” and “Hey hey, ho ho, killer cops have got to go.”
Looting earlier in the day
The looting began at the Ferguson Market and Liquor store, which has become part of the case. Minutes before Brown was shot, police say, a man fitting his description allegedly stole cigars and roughed up a store clerk as surveillance cameras recorded.
Ferguson police released surveillance video of that robbery on Friday, but then emphasized that Wilson stopped Brown not because of the theft, but because Brown and a friend were “walking down the middle of the street blocking traffic.”
Release of the video on Friday angered some, who say police were using it to distract from Brown’s killing and make him look bad.
As protesters took to the streets early Saturday, more than two dozen people blocked off the convenience store with cars. Police with riot gear, tactical rifles and armored vehicles were nearby, commanding them through loudspeakers to free it up.
Instead, bottles flew, mayhem erupted, and looters ransacked the store, which the owner had boarded up. It was the first of at least three stores raided.