Ferguson Protesters & Police Clash On The One-Year Anniversary Of Michael Brown's Death — UPDATE
In a tragic turn of events, Ferguson protesters and police clashed on the one-year anniversary of Michael Brown's death. According to the St. Louis County Police Department, multiple shots were fired during what had been a peaceful protest near the location where the unarmed black teenager was shot and killed by a white police officer last August. Updates poured in early Monday morning, and each one carried an air of déjà vu, and a fear that perhaps not much has changed since last year.
During a news conference early Monday morning, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said that a "remarkable amount of gunfire" took place after tension escalated between some protesters and police — confrontations that allegedly included bricks and bottles being thrown at officers. According to Belmar, gunfire began after two groups allegedly opened fire upon each other on West Florissant. While there were multiple shooters involved in the separate incidents, one gunman, who was being monitored by officers as someone who could be armed, somehow was separated and confronted by four plainclothes officers in an unmarked SUV. According to Belmar, he allegedly opened fire through the vehicle's windshield at the detectives, who immediately shot back. After a chase, the detectives shot at the gunman behind a store, where he fell injured, Belmar said.
Belmar said the shooter used a stolen 9 mm, and also confirmed the injured man shown in Twitter user Search4Swag's video was the suspected shooter. (Warning: This video shows graphic images.) He did not confirm the number of arrests or injuries, other than that of the sole suspected gunman, who was sent to a local hospital in critical condition to undergo surgery. While Belmar did not disclose details about the shooter other than that he was a young black male, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported the alleged victim was Tyrone Harris Jr., identified by his father Tyrone Harris. The newspaper reported that the younger Harris was a friend of Brown's, and that the two were "real close." Harris Sr. told the Post-Dispatch his son came out of surgery shortly after 3 a.m. He added, “We think there’s a lot more to this than what’s being said.”
While details were still murky on what exactly led to gunfire erupting across the city, Belmar put the blame on some people who he said were set on disrupting the peaceful activities of demonstrators, and said that he did not consider the people involved in the violent shootings as protesters:
There is a small group of people that are intent on making sure that we don’t have peace that prevails. ... They were not protesters. They were criminals. Protesters are there trying to effect change, whatever that may be.
In a media release, St. Louis police said one officer was injured by a hurled object and two others were pepper-sprayed by protesters, but no officers were reportedly hit by gunfire. The four detectives involved in the shooting, whose identities were not disclosed, range in six to 12 years of experience, and have been placed on administrative leave pending an evaluation. While Ferguson police began using body cameras after Brown's death, there were none in play in this incident, since the detectives were plainclothes. Belmar called upon the public's help for any information connected to the shootings:
We can’t talk about the good things that we have been talking about over the last year, if we’re prevented from moving forward with this type of violence.
At least two videos appeared to capture the moment gunfire began. RT posted video from its livestream, which showed multiple shots ringing out as people ran and ducked for cover. CNN also shared video of an interview in progress with interim Police Chief Andre Anderson, during which gunfire can be heard in the distance.
Both police in riot gear and protesters were on the streets well into early Monday morning. Police began to tell crowds to disperse shortly before 2:30 a.m. Reports of tear gas deployed down Canfield Drive also surfaced on Twitter, as users claimed they were unable to escape. Early Monday morning, Belmar could not confirm whether or not additional shootings had taken place around Canfield.
While there are still many unanswered questions surrounding the shooting, the incident is a sad way to end what has largely been a positive and peaceful protest throughout the weekend and in the past year. But from last August to now, Ferguson has been bookended in violence that it can't seem to shake, and the real question now is whether anything's changed.