The relative peace and quiet of recent weeks in Ferguson, Missouri was disrupted late Tuesday night when Beauty Town, a local cosmetics store, was looted and vandalized.
According to Ferguson authorities, five people, including one juvenile, were arrested early Wednesday in the aftermath of the incident for failing to disperse. The latest outbreak of violence, which was followed by rowdy protests, has been widely viewed as a reaction to the news that a makeshift memorial to Michael Brown on Canfield Drive was destroyed in a fire on Tuesday.
Brown, a black teenager, was killed by Ferguson police during a police stop on Aug. 9. His supporters allege he was surrendering at the time, while authorities maintain that he was in a scuffle with officers and tried to reach for a gun. The controversy over the case has sparked both violence and peaceful protests, but tempers seemed to have subsided following the launch of a federal investigation into the matter by Attorney General Eric Holder last month.
“We can not have nights like last night. We cannot have actions like those last night that can result in injury or death. Those will not be tolerated,” Capt. Ron Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol told reporters. Johnson was tasked with keeping the peace in Ferguson by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon when violent clashes between residents and police first began to occur back in August.
Johnson told the press that rocks were thrown and shots were fired at police officers who arrived on the scene of the Beauty Town break-in to disperse the crowd of approximately 200 people that had gathered in the area. Johnson said cops weren’t wearing riot gear or bullet proof vests, a departure from the response in August, which could have led to a fatality. Johnson did not rule out the use of riot gear and other tactical equipment in the future. At least two officers were said to have suffered minor injuries.
“As you’ve seen we’ve taken weapons and guns and knives. Last night there was a molotov cocktail thrown at a facility,” Johnson said. He also said that fires were set and cars were rocked by violent protesters.Local affiliate KDSK reported on Tuesday night that some members of the community were incensed because they believed the memorial to Brown, which was located near the scene of his death, was deliberately burned down by supporters of Darren Wilson, the white officer who shot and killed the unarmed 18-year-old on Aug. 9, and that it was “naive” to think otherwise.
“I do not believe … that police officers went out there and burned that shrine,” Johnson told the press on Wednesday.
A photo of what appeared to be a Ferguson police officer wearing an “I am Darren Wilson” bracelet was circulated widely on social media overnight.
Johnson said that the statement reflected the views of an individual, not the Ferguson police as a whole. “When we wear this uniform we understand that we’ve got a professional statement that we must adhere to,” Johnson said. He added that there would be inter-department discussions following the press conference about wearing of bracelets by officers.
“All the people in Canfield aren’t supporting this behavior. They want their freedom back. I don’t want people to think that people of Canfield support this,” he added.
A grand jury is currently weighing evidence against Wilson in the death of Brown. According to St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch, the jury will might need to work until at least late October or mid-November.
McCulloch, whose role as prosecutor has been fraught with controversy, told a KTRS radio show that the jury is hearing an abnormally large amount of evidence because ”this case is so significant.” The grand jury’s term began in May and was supposed to end by Sept 10., but was extended through Jan. 7.
Additional reporting by Joy Wang.