Strategies to calm battered, tense Ferguson keep shifting
In the days since an unarmed black 18-year-old, Michael Brown, was shot to death by a white police officer on Aug. 9, an array of law enforcement authorities has swerved from one approach to another.
The New York Times
FERGUSON, Mo. — Missouri National Guard troops entered this battered city Monday even as an overnight curfew was lifted, the latest in a series of quickly-shifting attempts to quell the violence that has upended this St. Louis suburb for more than a week.
In the days since an unarmed black 18-year-old, Michael Brown, was shot to death by a white police officer here on Aug. 9, an array of state and local law enforcement authorities has swerved from one approach to another: taking to the streets in military-style vehicles and riot gear; then turning over power to a state Highway Patrol official who permitted the protests and marched along; then calling again for a curfew.
Monday, after a new spate of violence, Gov. Jay Nixon said he was bringing in the National Guard. Hours later he said he was lifting the curfew and said the Guard would have only a limited role, protecting the police command post.
At the same time, more details emerged from autopsies performed on Brown. One showed that he had been shot at least six times; another found evidence of marijuana in his system.
In Washington, President Obama said that Attorney General Eric Holder would go to Ferguson on Wednesday to meet with FBI agents conducting a federal civil-rights investigation into the shooting. He seemed less than enthusiastic about the decision to call in the National Guard.
Obama said he had told the governor in a phone call on Monday that the Guard should be “used in a limited and appropriate way.”
He emphasized that the state of Missouri, not the White House, had called in the Guard.
As darkness set in, along West Florissant Avenue, one of the city’s main thoroughfares and a center of the weeklong protests, demonstrators were required to keep moving. There were several skirmishes.
After more of than hour of peaceful protests, some in the crowd began to throw bottles at police, who brought out armored vehicles and tactical units. But many peacekeepers in the crowd formed a human chain and got the agitators to back down.
At another point, as protesters gathered near a convenience store, some of them threw objects; police responded with stun grenades and tear gas.
A few blocks away, at the police command post, National Guard members in Army fatigues, some with military police patches on their uniforms, stood guard.
Residents seemed puzzled and frustrated by the continuously changing approaches, suggesting that the moving set of rules was only serving to worsen longstanding tensions about policing and race.
“It almost seems like they can’t decide what to do, and like law enforcement is fighting over who’s got the power,” said Antione Watson, 37, who stood near a middle-of-the-street memorial of candles and flowers for Brown, the 18-year-old killed on a winding block here.
“First they do this, then there’s that, and now who can even tell what their plan is?” Watson said. “They can try all of this, but I don’t see an end to this until there are charges against the cop.”
The latest turn in law-enforcement tactics — the removal of a midnight-to-5 a.m. curfew imposed Saturday and the arrival of members of the Guard — followed one of the tensest nights here so far. Police officers reported incoming gunfire and firebombs from some among a larger group assembled, and responded with tear gas, smoke canisters and rubber bullets.
By Monday, the police seemed intent on taking control of the situation long before evening and the expected arrival of protesters, some of them inclined to provoke clashes. The authorities banned stationary protests, even during the day, ordering demonstrators to continue walking, particularly in an area along West Florissant, not far from where the shooting occurred. One of those told to move along was the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
Six members of the Highway Patrol, plastic flex-ties within easy reach, stood guard at a barbecue restaurant that has been a hub of the turmoil. Just north of the restaurant, about 30 officers surrounded a convenience store that was heavily damaged early in the unrest.
Several people were arrested during the day, including a photographer for Getty Images, Scott Olson, who was led away in plastic handcuffs in the early evening.
Explaining his decision to call in the National Guard, Gov. Nixon recounted details of the tumult Sunday night, and described the events as “very difficult and dangerous as a result of a violent criminal element intent upon terrorizing the community.”
Yet Nixon also emphasized that the Guard’s role would be limited to providing protection for a police command center here, which the authorities say came under attack. Brig. Gen. Gregory Mason described the arriving troops as “well trained and well-seasoned.”
“With these additional resources in place,” said Nixon, a Democrat in his second term, “the Missouri state Highway Patrol and local law enforcement will continue to respond appropriately to incidents of lawlessness and violence, and protect the civil rights of all peaceful citizens to make their voices heard.”
While Obama and other leaders called for healing and 40 FBI agents fanned out around this city to interview residents about the shooting, emotions remained raw, and the divide over all that had happened seemed only to be growing amid competing demonstrations and multiple investigations.
Brown is now the subject of three autopsies. The first was conducted by St. Louis County, the results of which were delivered to the county prosecutor’s office on Monday. That autopsy report showed evidence of marijuana in Brown’s system, according to someone briefed on the report who was not authorized to discuss it publicly before it was released.
Another, on Monday, was done by a military doctor as part of the Justice Department’s investigation.
On Sunday, at the request of Brown’s family, the body was examined by Dr. Michael Baden, a former New York City medical examiner.
The findings showed that he was shot at least six times in the front of his body and that he did not appear to have been shot from very close range because no powder burns were found on his body.
But that determination could change if burns were found on his clothing, which was not available for examination.
In a news conference Monday, family members and Baden said that the autopsy he performed confirmed witness accounts that Brown was trying to surrender when he was killed.
Daryl Parks, a lawyer for the family, said the autopsy proved that the officer should have been arrested. The bullet that killed Brown entered the top of his head and came out through the front at an angle that suggested he was facing downward when he was killed, Parks said.
What the autopsy did not show was what Brown was doing at the moment he was struck in the head.
“Why would he be shot in the very top of his head, a 6-foot-4 man?” he said. “It makes no sense. And so that’s what we have. That’s why we believe that those two things alone are ample for this officer to be arrested.”
Piaget Crenshaw, who told reporters she witnessed Brown’s death from her nearby apartment, seemed unsurprised by the eruptions of anger, which have left schools closed and some businesses looted.
“This community had underlying problems way before this happened,” Crenshaw said. “And now the tension is finally broken.”
For businesses here, the days and long nights have been costly and frightening.
At Dellena Jones’ hair salon, demonstrators had tossed concrete slabs into the business as Jones’ two children prepared for what had been hoped would be a first day back to school.
“I had a full week that went down to really nothing,” she said of her business, which has sat mostly empty. “They’re too scared to come.”