St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger declared a state of emergency Monday after Ferguson protests on the anniversary of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer turned violent overnight.
“In light of last night’s violence and unrest in the city of Ferguson, and the potential for harm to persons and property, I am exercising my authority as county executive to issue a state of emergency effective immediately,” Stenger said in a statement. “The recent acts of violence will not be tolerated in a community that has worked so tirelessly over the last year to rebuild and become stronger.”
St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar is immediately taking control of policing in Ferguson, under the order.
Police in St. Louis on Monday arrested 56 people during protests outside the Thomas F. Eagleton Courthouse. The demonstrations were part of events dubbed #MoralMonday. Clergy members prayed in front of the building and spread oil on it, saying they were anointing it. Author and activist Cornel West, along with several prominent protesters including DeRay McKesson, 30, and Johnetta Elzie, 26, were arrested. The demonstration was part of a move by clergy members to purposefully be detained by police.
West and several others jumped over metal barricades around the building and walked toward officers guarding it. The protestors sat directly in front of the building’s entrance and police surrounded the group. Moments later, police began ordering people back behind the barricades, taking into custody those who didn’t follow their instructions.
Overnight in Ferguson, at least three people were shot and four arrested as peaceful Sunday protests became violent. Belmar told a news conference at 3:30 a.m. that one suspect who was shot by police is in “critical, unstable” condition in a local hospital and undergoing surgery.
Belmar said that after a shootout between at least six people, the suspect ran away but then shot at police who were chasing him in an unmarked vehicle with emergency lights flashing. Four detectives got out of their car and shot at the suspect, hitting him several times, according to police. All four officers have been placed on administrative leave.
“There is a small group of people out there who are intent on making sure we don’t have peace that prevails,” Belmar said. “That’s just the bottom line on this and that’s just unfortunate…We can’t afford to have this kind of violence.”
Moments after the shots were fired, a young woman screamed, “They shot my brother.”
St. Louis County Police identified him as Tyrone Harris Jr., of St. Louis. Police charged Harris, 18, with four counts of assault on law enforcement in the first degree, five counts of armed criminal action, and one count of discharging or shooting a firearm at a motor vehicle. Harris, who remained hospitalized and in critical condition, was being held on a $250,000 cash bond
Harris’ father, Tyrone Harris, told USA TODAY that his son was close friends with Brown.
Speaking Monday at the national conference of the Fraternal Order of Police in Pittsburgh, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said she “strongly condemned’’ the violence in Ferguson.
“As we have seen over the recent months and years, not only does violence obscure any message of peaceful protest, it places the community, as well as the officers who seek to protect it, in harm’s way,’’ Lynch said. “Incidents of violence, such as we saw last night, are contrary to both that message, along with everything that all of us, including this group, have worked to achieve over the past year.”
The eruption of violence came as tensions between police and protesters mounted during the night after a day of peaceful protests.
Ferguson police reported two male teens — 17- and 19-years-old — were shot about 2:15 a.m. Monday at the Canfield Apartments by a suspect in the backseat of a car who was wearing a red-hooded sweatshirt.
They were each shot once in the chest, according to police, and transported to a local hospital. The injuries weren’t life-threatening, police said.
St. Louis County police announced three officers were injured, five people were arrested and some property was damaged during the protests taking place over the past three days.
All the arrests were in the same area of the 9100 and 9200 blocks of West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson. A 17-year-old Jennings teen was charged with assault and resisting arrest at 11 p.m. Saturday.
Christopher Burns, 18, of St. Louis, was charged with interfering with police just after midnight Monday.
Three men — Jeffrey Pruitt, 27, of Jennings; a 17-year-old, also of Jennings; and Freddie Leopold, 21, of St. Louis — were arrested about 1:15 a.m. Monday. Pruitt was charged with unlawful use of a weapon and failing to disperse. The 17-year-old and Leopold were charged with interfering with police.
The property damaged included three St. Louis County police cars — two damaged by gunfire and one from a minor accident, according to police. Three officers were injured, two from pepper spray from protesters, police said. One officer suffered a cut face from a rock thrown by protesters, police said.
Some looting was reported during the scuffles, according to KSDK-TV. Police also said thieves grabbed the cash register at a beauty supply shop, but because officers responded quickly, the cash register was dropped in the street and the suspects took off.
St. Louis Alderman Antonio French, who’s opened a Heal STL office in the area, tweeted that he let some people into his office to escape the gunfire, but they stole laptops and iPads.
The violence came after a day of peaceful protests. Before the shots rang out, some protesters began screaming at the line of police. Officers then moved to close the streets and demanded demonstrators move off the road.
“We welcome peaceful protests,” an officer said on a loud speaker. “You must leave the roadway and remain on the sidewalk or be subject to arrest.”
After the gunfire, officers in riot gear and armored vehicles quickly filled the streets and police moved toward the suspected source of the shots.
Tony Rice, a frequent protester who lives in Ferguson, was walking along West Florissant Avenue when he heard gun shots and ducked behind a car. Moments later, his friend said she saw what looked like a body on the ground across the street.
“At first I saw something red and thought it was a pair of pants on the ground,” Rice, a general contractor, said. “As I got closer I thought damn, there’s a body on the ground right there.”
Rice said he hopes the boy survives the shooting.
“He was cuffed, laying on the ground bleeding,” Rice said. “There was an officer standing over him.”
The protesters were gathered for the first anniversary of the shooting that rocked the nation and shone a spotlight on race relations in America.
Brown, 18, was unarmed when Darren Wilson pulled up in a cruiser and told Brown and a friend not to walk in the street. An argument ensued, spilling into a physical confrontation. Wilson said Brown attempted to take Wilson’s gun. Moments later Brown was fatally shot. Months of sometimes violent protests followed.
A grand jury and the Justice Department cleared Wilson of wrongdoing. But the Justice Department also issued a scathing, 102-page report — made public in March — that details how racial biases permeated the city’s police and justice system. The revelations prompted the resignations of the city’s police chief and a local judge.
“This feels like August 2014 all over again,” said DeRay McKesson, 30, a protester who said he heard gun shots “whiz past” him before he ran as fast as he could from the scene.
“It’s a reminder that there is a lot of work to do in terms of ending police violence,” he said.
Kevin Norman, 34, of Kansas City, Mo., traveled to Ferguson to join in the protests.
Norman said it was heartbreaking that another officer-involved shooting had taken place on the anniversary of Michael Brown’s death.
“The police are going to do what they do,” he said. “It’s sad that all this had to come to this.”
Contributing: Kevin Johnson, Sam Clancy, KSDK-TV in St. Louis
SOURCE: Yamiche Alcindor