Missouri Governor Jay Nixon canceled a trip to the state fair and said he would visit St. Louis County today to address the escalating unrest in Ferguson, where police and protesters are engaged in a six-day standoff.
About 2 a.m., a group of more than 50 police officers in full protective gear drove three black armored vehicles to the Ferguson police department, where about 50 people protesting the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager were chanting and singing. Officers pointed guns at the crowd and told everyone to disperse immediately or face arrest. Protesters, who raised their hands and dropped to their knees, later departed, with some shouting expletives at the police.
Police officers in military-style regalia yesterday fired tear gas at groups of protesters, as demonstrations in the St. Louis suburb continued. Reporters from the Washington Post and The Huffington Post were arrested.
“The worsening situation in Ferguson is deeply troubling, and does not represent who we are as Missourians or as Americans,” Nixon, a 58-year-old Democrat, said in a statement. “While we all respect the solemn responsibility of our law enforcement officers to protect the public, we must also safeguard the rights of Missourians to peaceably assemble and the rights of the press to report on matters of public concern.”
The police tactics drew rebuke from across the U.S., and the White House said President Barack Obama had been briefed on the events yesterday.
“This is police terrorism at its finest,” said Kyra Rayford, a 24-year-old from St. Louis who was waving a sign across the street from the police department. “They’ve been using unnecessary aggression and force. They’re violating our civil rights.”
Rayford said she had been protesting since Aug. 9, the day 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot to death by a Ferguson police officer. Police say Brown had fought the officer over his weapon. Residents say Brown was shot while putting his hands up in surrender.
The officer’s name hasn’t been released.
Wesley Lowery, a reporter for the Washington Post, wrote that he was handcuffed by officers in a McDonald’s restaurant after attempting to videotape them. Lowery and Huffington Post reporter Ryan Reilly were briefly detained, then released without charges, he wrote on the Washington Post’s website.
Marty Baron, the executive editor of the Washington Post, said he was “appalled” at how reporters were being treated.
“There was absolutely no justification for his arrest,” Baron said in a statement.
Thousands have taken to the street to protest, and looting and rioting this week and two shootings early yesterday morning have led to a heightened police response.
Yesterday, the streets in Ferguson were coated with the haze of tear gas. Police in riot gear tried to break up a gathering of demonstrators who covered their faces with shirts while shouting at the officers.
“The Ferguson police department really took a heavy-handed approach to what at the time was a peaceful protest,” St. Louis Alderman Antonio French said in a phone interview yesterday. “Showing up with riot gear, tear gas, gas masks -- that set the tone.”
French, who was arrested during one of the protests, said the events are a black eye for the St. Louis region. The Disparity between the mostly black residents of Ferguson and the mostly white police force has fueled animosity for years, he said.
Nixon said he planned to urge both the police and residents to refrain from violence.
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