The St. Louis suburb that’s been rocked by unrest since an unarmed black teenager was shot and killed by police a week ago is set to undergo a curfew beginning today.
Missouri Governor Jay Nixon imposed the limits, extending from midnight until 5 a.m., and declared a state of emergency after tensions rose anew late Aug. 15 with protesters storming the Ferguson convenience store that 18-year-old Michael Brown had entered before he was fatally wounded.
“We cannot allow the ill will of the few to undermine the goodwill of the many,” Nixon, a 58-year-old Democrat, said yesterday at a news conference from a church near Ferguson. “We will not allow a handful of looters to endanger the rest of this community.”
Nixon’s decision to enact the restrictions was instantly rebuked by those attending the event. They jeered at the governor and some said afterward that police should focus less on quelling protests and more on the investigation into the Brown’s death on Aug. 9.
The night of skirmishes between police and protesters marked the first confrontations since the Missouri State Highway Patrol assumed responsibility for security in Ferguson on Aug. 14.
Police in Ferguson clashed with about 200 protesters during a four-hour standoff, at one point using tear gas and flash grenades. Some broke into the store and began looting it. Several other stores were also looted and some protesters hurled bottles and other objects at police.
Some residents talked about defying the curfew before it began.
“It’s just a way for them to infringe upon people’s First Amendment rights to protest for justice for Michael Brown,” said Michael Sampson, a 25-year-old organizer who traveled to Missouri from Tallahassee, Florida, to attend the protests.
Sampson said he would decide at midnight whether to comply with the orders.
“I plan to be out there,” he said. “We’ll see what happens.”
The violence came after authorities, who had kept the name of the officer who shot Brown secret for a week, identified him as Darren Wilson, a six-year veteran with no disciplinary record. Police also released documents describing Brown as a suspect in a robbery, which was recorded by a security camera shortly before his death following his visit to the store.
The news conference devolved into a raucous town hall meeting, with community members shouting down both Nixon and Capt. Ron Johnson of the State Highway Patrol.
Some pressed for more answers about the shooting death, while others shouted that Wilson should be arrested for murder. U.S. Representative William Lacy Clay told the crowd that their anger was “misdirected,” because neither Johnson nor Nixon are in charge of the investigation into Brown’s death.
“On a state charge of murder, the county prosecutor files charges,” said Clay, a Democrat from St. Louis. Clay urged residents to be patient as federal officials complete a parallel investigation alongside county officials.
That didn’t placate the crowd.
Johnson and Nixon stood at a podium near the church’s pulpit and struggled to complete their sentences as people shouted questions. Johnson said that while he was not in charge of the investigation, he wanted to reassure the community that authorities are gathering evidence.
About 40 Federal Bureau of Investigation agents came to Ferguson yesterday to interview witnesses to Brown’s shooting death, Johnson said. He said anyone with information about the shooting should cooperate with investigators.
Police have said Brown had attacked Wilson before he was shot to death. Residents say Brown had raised his hands in surrender before he died.
Johnson said police would not use tear gas and armored vehicles to enforce the curfew.
“We’ll communicate,” Johnson said. “We’ll talk about, ‘You know what, ‘It’s time to go home.’”
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