Monday 23 April 2018

Peaceful protest in Ferguson after two nights of violence

Police walk around protesters as people gather along West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson, Missouri (AP)
Police walk around protesters as people gather along West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson, Missouri (AP)

More peaceful protests appear to have returned to the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, after two nights of violence and tension.

Police outnumbered demonstrators in Ferguson on Tuesday night, signalling the protests around the anniversary of an unarmed African-American teenager's death at the hands of a white police officer could be starting to fade.

The crowd of around 100 protesters was mostly calm and peaceful. Occasionally a few people would march or chant, but they spent most of several hours milling around and chatting with one another.

The St Louis suburb has seen demonstrations for days marking the anniversary of Michael Brown's killing on August 9 2014.

Mr Brown, 18, was fatally shot by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. A St Louis County grand jury and the US Department of Justice cleared Mr Wilson, sparking sometimes violent protests and a national debate over police treatment of minorities.

The events had largely been peaceful until Sunday night, when gunfire erupted and 18-year-old Tyrone Harris Jr was shot by officers after they say he fired at an unmarked police van. Harris is in critical condition in hospital and has been charged with 10 felonies.

Larry Miller, 58, organiser of the protest group Ferguson Freedom Fighters, said it was clear the latest round of demonstrations was dying down. He was not convinced much had been accomplished.

"We already know what needs to be happening is not happening," Mr Miller said. "We're still bothered over the killing of Mike Brown because we still need police reform, criminal justice system reform."

A tense moment came on Tuesday when a few dozen people briefly blocked traffic. But several officers in riot gear, along with St Louis County police chief Jon Belmar, quickly moved to break it up. Police said they made no arrests.

St Louis County police have released a 13-second clip of security camera footage they say shows Harris minutes before he fired at plainclothes officers. The clip shows a person police identify as Harris grabbing a handgun from his waistband and running toward a parking lot, police say in response to the other shots being fired.

The gunfire and Harris's shooting set the city on edge and had protest leaders worried that tensions would escalate. The St Louis County executive declared a state of emergency on Monday, a move that gave Mr Belmar, instead of interim Ferguson Police Chief Andre Anderson, control of security.

On Monday night, the police presence was far greater. Unlike Sunday, there was no gunfire, no injuries and no reports of looting or property damage.

Still though, more than 20 people were arrested. Police never deployed smoke or tear gas, though they were at times pelted with water bottles and rocks.

By Tuesday night, there was far less tension. Police said in a statement that at one point, officers reported rocks being thrown at them. They took no action, and the rock-throwing stopped.

Even when armed members of the Oath Keepers, a far-right anti-government activist group whose presence Mr Belmar has called "both unnecessary and inflammatory", appeared, there was little conflict.

Press Association

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