Missouri Governor Jay Nixon ordered the state National Guard to restore peace in a town rocked by protests over the killing of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer. A preliminary autopsy made public by lawyers for the family shows he was struck at least six times.
Nixon’s decision came after organized groups attacked police officers with firearms and gasoline bombs last night, leading police to fire a barrage of tear gas into the streets.
“Given these deliberate, coordinated and intensifying violent attacks on lives and property in Ferguson, I am directing the highly capable men and women of the Missouri National Guard to assist Colonel Ron Replogle and the Unified Command in restoring peace and order to this community,” Nixon, a 58-year-old Democrat, said in a statement.
Police in riot gear “came out in tanks and started shooting,” said Lisha Williams, a 45-year-old from St. Louis who was in a crowd of protesters yesterday as the gas was deployed. “My face is still burning.”
The Aug. 9 death of 18-year-old Michael Brown and images of armored trucks bearing down on protesters have drawn international attention to Ferguson, a St. Louis suburb that’s become a symbol of racial inequality and heavy-handed police tactics in the U.S. Last night’s violence included at least one shooting.
Police said organized groups began attacking police officers beginning around 8 p.m. yesterday.
“Molotov cocktails were thrown, there were shootings, looting, vandalism and other acts of violence that clearly appear not to have been spontaneous,” said Capt. Ron Johnson, of the Missouri State Highway Patrol. No police officers were injured, he said at a news conference early today.
The autopsy, conducted by former New York City chief medical examiner Michael Baden at the family’s request, shows at least two gunshot wounds to Brown’s head. The shots, one of which exited around his eye, probably caused fatal damage to the brain, Baden said today at a news conference in St. Louis.
Gunshot wounds to Brown’s arms and chest were also found in the autopsy. Baden said his examination revealed no signs of a struggle before Brown died. Brown’s mother wants Wilson arrested, according to Benjamin Crump, a lawyer for the family.
An official autopsy by the St. Louis county medical examiner hasn’t been released. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has ordered an additional autopsy by a federal medical examiner, according to an e-mailed statement from Brian Fallon, a Justice Department spokesman.
The Guard normally deploys in support of law enforcement as opposed to taking over, said James Carafano, a vice president at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based think tank.
National Guard troops were called to quell civil unrest in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana were wracked by gunshots and looting as well as fire and flooding as some areas of the region descended into chaos.
In Texas, Governor Rick Perry has asked 1,000 National Guard troops to help fortify the border with Mexico as undocumented immigrants stream into the state. Last week, the Guard was called in Hawaii to help prevent looting after the Iselle storm.
“The first thing you want to do is you want to restore calm and a sense of order,” Carafano said. “When people think the system is spinning out of control and the system isn’t there for them, then the cycle continues to escalate.”
Nixon declared a state of emergency and imposed a midnight curfew on Aug. 16 after several businesses were vandalized by looters the night before.
The curfew has not quelled the violence, as police have continued using tear gas to disperse crowds of protesters. Children were among those hit by tear gas, Williams said. Nixon said today in a statement that the curfew wouldn’t be in place tonight.
Police said seven or eight people were arrested and at least one was treated for gunshot wounds. Johnson said the violence appeared to be coordinated, with people firing shots at police and setting up barricades to block officers.
Protesters have taken to the streets daily for the past week, calling for the police officer who killed Brown to be charged with murder.
“Ten years in the military fighting for this country and I come back home to this?” Williams, an army veteran who served in the 1991 U.S.-led war against Iraq, said as armored trucks rolled through an empty street in Ferguson.
President Barack Obama was monitoring the situation over the weekend while vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. Obama was set to be briefed by Attorney General Eric Holder on his return to Washington last night, Eric Schultz, the White House deputy press secretary, said in an e-mail.
Civil rights leader Al Sharpton visited Ferguson yesterday to rally with hundreds of residents and encourage peaceful protests.
The Brown case and its aftermath in Ferguson “will be a defining moment on how this country deals with policing and the rights of its citizens to address how police behave in this country,” Sharpton said at a Ferguson church.
Holder has instructed Justice Department officials to arrange for an additional autopsy of Brown by a federal medical examiner, according to an e-mailed statement from Brian Fallon, a department spokesman.