AFRICANGLOBE – Police maintained close watch Tuesday over protest-wracked streets in Ferguson after another night of demonstrations that left more than two dozen people in custody and brought new potential flash points.
The latest wave of unrest — set in motion after violence erupted during marches marking the anniversary of the shooting of an unarmed Black teen — has reopened the deep racial tensions in Ferguson and brought scenes reminiscent of the riots that gripped the St. Louis suburb last year after the murder of Michael Brown.
Protesters chanted to the beat of drums in marches along West Florissant Avenue — the epicenter of last year’s clashes — in a show of solidarity that spilled into early Tuesday. Some demonstrators pelted riot police with frozen water bottles and stones.
In a sign that the confrontations could be easing, police did not respond with tear gas and no looting or injuries were reported, said St. Louis County police spokesman Shawn McGuire. At least 23 people were arrested overnight, he said.
But there also were hints of possible escalations.
Demonstrations spilled into downtown St. Louis as about 60 demonstrators, including civil rights activist Cornel West, blocked the entrance to the federal courthouse on Monday. Later, another group of protesters briefly halted traffic on busy Interstate 70 during the evening rush hour Monday. More than 100 people were arrested, including West.
In Ferguson, meanwhile, four heavily armed white men mounted a vigilante-style patrol claiming they were protecting a self-proclaimed conspiracy-hunting Web site, infowars.com, which has included reports on the unrest.
The armed men identified themselves as part of a group called “Oath Keepers,” which describes itself as an independent coalition that protects civil rights. The group — which has made appearances at previous upheavals in Ferguson over the past year — has been denounced by local law enforcement.
“Their presence was both unnecessary and inflammatory,” said St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar.
Protest leader Talal Ahmad, 30, called it a provocation. The Southern Poverty Law Center has described the “Oath Keepers” as a “fiercely anti-government, militaristic group.”
“You’re going to bring some uncommissioned citizens, white citizens, into a Black community like this? It’s disrespectful,” Ahmad told reporters.
The largely peaceful protests began Sunday morning with a silent march, but by night they had been overtaken by what appeared to be random violence and opportunistic looting.
An 18-year-old Black teen shot by police, Tyrone Harris Jr., had been with two friends who were allegedly trying to sell a looted flat-screen television, according to his girlfriend and relatives.
Harris remained in critical condition. Police charged him with 10 counts of assaulting law enforcement, shooting at a motor vehicle and armed criminal action.
The shooting — along with a state of emergency declaration on Monday — has pushed tensions higher.
“The recent acts of violence will not be tolerated in a community that has worked so tirelessly over the last year to rebuild and become stronger,” St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger said in a statement declaring a state of emergency. “The time and investment in Ferguson and Dellwood will not be destroyed by a few that wish to violate the rights of others.”
Police said the shooting began after looters broke into storefronts. Meanwhile, plainclothes detectives farther down the avenue were monitoring two rival groups of young men, including Harris, whom they believed to be armed.
The groups allegedly exchanged between 40 and 50 shots in about 45 seconds, “a remarkable amount of gunfire,” said the county police chief Belmar.
Belmar said Harris then broke away from the rival groups. As an unmarked police SUV with flashing interior lights zoomed toward him, police claim, Harris began firing at the vehicle, striking the hood and windshield multiple times.
The detectives returned fire. Harris was later found to be armed with a 9mm Sig Sauer pistol that had been reported stolen last year, Belmar said.
“They were criminals,” Belmar said of the two groups shooting. “They weren’t protesters.”
Harris was shot in the arm, legs, back, chest, liver and groin and taken to Barnes-Jewish Hospital, said his father, Tyrone Harris Sr., adding that his family has been denied entry. Relatives said they do not believe Harris was armed, though they acknowledged that he faced felony charges last year that involved a high-speed chase in a stolen vehicle.
The four detectives involved in the shooting were placed on administrative leave; they have not been identified. None were wearing body cameras — something activists have demanded in the past year.
Harris’s father, however, said he has deep doubts in the police’s account of the shooting. “There ain’t no child perfect. And I don’t claim he’s a perfect person,” he said. “He had gotten in trouble with law and made some mistakes, but he was trying to get his life together.”
Berman and Wan reported from Washington. Wesley Lowery in Ferguson and Julie Tate, Jennifer Jenkins, Alice Crites, J. Freedom du Lac, Justin Wm. Moyer, Abigail Ohlheiser and Nick Kirkpatrick and Brian Murphy in Washington contributed to this report.
By: Abby Phillip, Mark Berman And William Wan