Officers in riot gear returned to the streets of Ferguson as looters robbed stores
Ferguson, Missouri (CNN) — Armored vehicles and law enforcement officers in riot gear with military style rifles returned to the streets of Ferguson early Saturday, while looters robbed a number of stores.
The confrontation began after more than two dozen protesters closed off a section of street near a convenience store, the Ferguson Market and Liquor store, that has become part of the case surrounding Michael Brown, the black teen who was killed by police gunfire one week ago.
It was one of the stores that was looted.
A SWAT team lined up across from the protesters commanding them via bullhorn to unblock the street and take to sidewalks, or to go home. Security officers warned that disobeying the law would be met with arrest.
Bottles flew back in their direction and mayhem broke out. Three Molotov cocktails smashed onto the roof of a Domino’s Pizza. Firemen put the flames out, as they burned a hole in the roof.
Minutes later, the streets grew calm again, and about a dozen people lined up to block the entrance to the convenience store, putting their hands in the air. They said they had come to fend off looters.
Officers went back to their ready positions.
The overwhelming majority of protesters were peaceful, but their numbers dwindled after the mayhem, while some of those remaining defied the order to stay out of the street.
A night earlier, quiet had returned to the Missouri town after consecutive nights of ruckus, paired with tear gas fired by officers in military gear. On Thursday, new security arrangements lead by Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson seemed to calm tensions. He has bonded with the community, becoming the figurehead of softer crowd policing.
The buoyant atmosphere had continued during the day on Friday, when protesters accompanied Jesse Jackson down the street.
On the other side of the country, in Oakland, California, protests on Brown’s behalf late Friday were met with police in riot gear and pepper spray. Protesters hindered traffic, and at least one protester was seen spraying graffiti.
Peaceful protesters held up signs and raised their hands crying what has become the iconic protest chant: “Hands up! Don’t shoot!”
Saturday protests planned
On Saturday, protesters plan to commemorate the moment Brown died with a vigil across from the Ferguson police station.
At noon, near the hour that Officer Darren Wilson shot Brown, 18, in the Missouri town, protesters will silently raise their hands into the air.
It’s what Brown did before he died, witnesses say, while Wilson kept firing on him.
Two witnesses say that Wilson, 28, fired on Brown multiple times, as he tried to break away from Wilson. Police say Brown had accosted Wilson in his patrol vehicle and groped for his gun. The same two witnesses have contradicted that claim.
One side of Wilson’s face was left swollen after the confrontation, police said.
No one has disputed witness accounts that Brown was unarmed when he died.
Another rally is planned for 3:00 p.m. central near St. Louis’ hallmark symbol, the Gateway Arch, with members of Brown’s family expected to attend.
Police announcement controversy
Brown’s family and protesters in Ferguson demanded, for nearly a week, to hear the name of the officer, who pulled the trigger. Ferguson police delayed the release, citing safety concerns and saying that police had received death threats.
On Friday they conceded, revealing Wilson’s identity.
But their announcement triggered disappointment and criticism, because it was coupled with a flurry of details and surveillance camera video footage that implicated Brown in a theft at the Ferguson Market and Liquor store, before the time he was shot.
The video shows a tall, young, black man coarsely shoving a store clerk, who tried to stop him, out of the way then intimidating him before walking out of the store holding something.
Documents fingered Brown as the “primary suspect,” who walked off with a box of cigars valued at $48.99. They also named a key witness in his shooting case, Dorian Johnson, as the “second suspect” in the theft.
Johnson committed no crime
But Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson later said Johnson neither committed a crime, nor was he complicit.
Johnson said he was with Brown at the time of the shooting and that Wilson shot Brown without provocation.
“We wasn’t committing any crime, bringing no harm to nobody, but my friend was murdered in cold blood,” he told CNN affiliate KMOV.
Hours after the material was made public, Chief Jackson told reporters that the robbery wasn’t the reason Wilson stopped Brown.
It was because he was “walking down the middle of the street blocking traffic.”
Jackson expressed “every confidence” in Wilson, who has been a police officer for six years, four of those spent on Ferguson’s force.
“He (is) a gentleman … a quiet officer,” Jackson said. The shooting and its aftermath are “devastating, it’s absolutely devastating” to Wilson.
Jackson has said that evidence and testimony in the shooting will be presented to a grand jury, which will decide on whether or not Wilson should be tried.
Distraction and hints
The larger man in the video “appears to be” Brown, said family lawyer Benjamin Crump. But Brown’s family wasn’t informed of the robbery or store surveillance video ahead of time, he said.
And it’s immaterial, said Eric Davis, who is related to Brown.
“It’s a diversion, and it’s an attempt to smear Michael’s character,” he said. “It (should be) more about what happened on Canfield Drive, where Michael was executed.”
Capt. Johnson was also sour on the information release. The robbery and shooting of Brown “are separate issues,” he said.
“I told (Chief Jackson) I think both of those being released today was not needed and was not the way that we needed to go,” he said. “The priority should be to take care of the shooting, Brown and his family first.”
Earlier, state highway patrolman Johnson had vented about how Ferguson city police handled information. CNN affiliate KSDK captured it on camera.
Not upfront enough, was Johnson’s critique. “I think if we’re going to give answers, we need to not give hints,” Johnson said. “We need to say it.”
Police Chief Jackson said he distributed the store videotape “because the press asked for it” and he couldn’t perpetually hold it back. He thought important to release at the same time he released Wilson’s name.
A national discussion
Brown’s relative Davis expected the new information released by police to raise anger instead of quell it.
“It just fueled the distrust that was already out there for the Ferguson police department,” he said.
Yet there were also some who said the robbery is not necessarily irrelevant to what happened next.
“A robbery doesn’t justify shooting Mike Brown, but it definitely changes your perspective on his mindset at the time of police encounter,” read one Twitter post from @OneTermTooMany.
The full, complicated story has stirred an intense, nationwide discussion on race in the United States, and on the shooting itself, as well as the response to demonstrators afterward.