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State of Emergency and Curfew in Ferguson After Tensions Flare Again

After a party mood had developed in Ferguson on Friday, the streets once again turned violent in the early hours of this morning.

by Alice Speri
Aug 16 2014, 8:20pm

Photo by Alice Speri

At a press conference attended by angry members of the community, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and curfew in Ferguson this afternoon after violence flared on the streets in the early hours of the morning.

The curfew will last from midnight Saturday through 5AM Sunday — and officials did not specify how long the emergency would last.

Protesters at the press conference met the announcement with anger and frustration, yelling at the governor that the people of Ferguson wanted "justice" not curfews, and complaining that the police officer who killed 18-year-old Michael Brown — the incident which sparked the week of protest — has not been arrested.

"The only reason people have been in the street for a week now is that they want justice," someone shouted.

Capt. Johnson, of Highway Patrol, said that officers would not enforce the curfew with tear gas but would "talk to people" instead — though breaking curfew would theoretically constitute enough grounds for arrest.

Johnson also said that FBI agents went door to door in the residential community where Brown was shot on August 9, "trying to find other witnesses."

Speaking with VICE News, some Ferguson residents said they had no plans to stay at home on Saturday night.

"I don't think this is gonna be nice at all. Violence will be met with violence," one of them told VICE News after the conference. "They shouldn't have shown the tape." He was referring to the surveillance video released by police earlier today that allegedly shows Brown stealing $50-worth of cigars from a local convenience store

He also said protesters would likely come in, past curfew, from different parts of Saint Louis — "just to tell the motherfucking government, 'Fuck you.'" 

Another evening of large, peaceful protests on Friday took a turn for the worse early today as small groups of people confronted police and some individuals broke into several stores.

Tensions in the St. Louis suburb flared up again after an almost festive reaction to a shift in police response earlier. Highway Patrol officers took over control of the area on Thursday after widespread criticism of the local force's aggressive response to residents protesting Brown's fatal police shooting.

Earlier on Friday, police identified Darren Wilson as the officer who killed Brown on August 9, but at the same time released the surveillance video.

Video via Ferguson Police Department.

That store was broken into and looted this morning — despite efforts by dozens of protesters to keep looters out.

Police cited Brown as a primary suspect in the robbery last Saturday, sparking angry protests from local residents who accused the department of running a "smear campaign" against the teenager to justify the killing.

People in Ferguson were skeptical of the video's authenticity and argued that petty theft is no excuse for "execution."

"Not only did you murder him but now you draw up this story?" Mark Evans, a 43-year-old father of three teens, told VICE News. "I'm sure they took a lot of time to contemplate and put the story together. We were waiting to see what they would come up with to justify this, and this doesn't justify anything anyway."

Evans was one of several witnesses who heard the shots that killed Brown and came to the scene. He suggested that by moving the "crime scene" over to the convenience store, police were trying to steer attention away from witnesses' accounts of Brown dropping to his knees with his hands raised when he was shot.

"It's sad to say it wouldn't shock me if they let [Wilson] loose, because he's one of their own," Evans added. "But remember, they slaughtered him. One, two shots maybe, but they slaughtered him."

Many questioned the timing of the video's release — with some charging the Ferguson Police Department of sabotaging efforts to bring peace to the neighborhood. Others said the robbery was unrelated to the shooting.

The Department of Justice, which launched a separate investigation into Brown's death, had reportedly asked police not to release the video. 

Capt. Ron Johnson, of Highway Patrol — the face of police's de-escalation efforts in Ferguson — told VICE News on Friday that he had not known the details of the police report's release, and found out about it from the media.

"At this point I don't know the why… But I don't know if I'm gonna get an answer that's really going to satisfy the why," Johnson said about the release of the video. He said his officers would continue to show restraint but agreed the release would negatively impact efforts to keep the peace.

"Last night we were able to build a lot of things up, I think we've taken a couple steps back here and we need to talk about that," Johnson added.

Privately, other Highway Patrol officers said the release was poorly timed, and added that there had been "bad feelings" over authorities' decision to relieve St. Louis County Police of control of Ferguson.

As the Ferguson Market liquor store — where Brown allegedly stole the cigars — was broken into early today, protesters on the scene accused looters of being outsiders, taking advantage of the situation, but also criticized police for giving them an excuse to do so.

"The police fucked this up by saying Mike Brown stole from here," one of several protesters (pictured below) that barricaded the liquor store in a failed attempt to keep looters out, told VICE News. "What you see in here, they're rats. We don't steal people's shit, we work for it. That's what real black men do."

Tensions ran high throughout the night, as several groups faced off. Some protesters walked up to police lines and threw Molotov cocktails — to which police responded with tear gas at least once. Volunteers, including several members of the New Black Panthers, desperately attempted to push protesters back.

Later, as looters arrived — from outside Ferguson and alerted by social media of rising tensions, locals said — groups of young protesters attempted to stop them and keep them out of stores, despite being threatened with shooting.

A young woman, almost in tears, complained that the media had focused on the looting following Brown's death, rather than on the community's efforts to keep looters and "outside opportunists" away.

"This is not us," she said after leaving a store she and others had tried to protect from looters — but stopped when threatened with shooting. "Did you see how peaceful it was earlier?"

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