FERGUSON, Missouri — Gun violence erupted here late Sunday night during demonstrations marking the first anniversary of Michael Brown’s death. Four detectives wearing plain clothes engaged in gunfire with an armed assailant, who was later sent to a local hospital where he was admitted to surgery and determined to be in "critical, unstable condition," according to Chief Jon Belmar of the St. Louis County Police Department.
The four officers were immediately put on administrative leave.
Local police had been monitoring the assailant ahead of the attack, Belmar said, believing he and three or four of his acquaintances were armed.
The incident took place along West Florissant Ave., the epicenter of last summer's activism, when public outrage over Brown’s fatal shooting reached its peak. Some 40-50 shots were fired, and at least two unmarked police vehicles were struck by bullets in what Belmar called "a tragedy." The officers involved wore bullet-proof vests and remained in the vehicle for the duration of the gunfire.
"I'm sure there have been some arrests," Belmar said when asked by a reporter about any other unrest amid the chaos.
Witnesses described a scene of peaceful protests that devolved into chaos as multiple gunshots were fired near demonstrators. The crowds swiftly scattered as police officers descended on the scene.
Belmar said the assailant was a "criminal" not a "protester."
The unrest came on the heels of an eventful weekend of demonstrations and rallies paying tribute to Brown, an unarmed, black teen who was shot dead by white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson last summer. Earlier in the day, Brown's family led a silent march from the site of his memorial on Canfield Drive, waiting in silence for four and a half minutes -- a number representing the hours Brown’s body was left lying in the street. Brown's family urged peaceful protests through Sunday night.
Brown’s death gave birth to a nationwide movement calling for an end to police violence. But the shooting on the anniversary of his death harkens on outbursts of violence that have marred the movement’s message.
In the aftermath of Brown’s death, public outrage over the killing led to massive demonstrations in the streets of Ferguson. Protests were met with rounds of tear gas and rubber bullets fired by police. Months later, a St. Louis grand jury declined to indict Wilson and more rounds of unrest ensued. Looters and rioters took to the streets, setting buildings and businesses aflame.
“There are no words to describe how disappointed I am right now,” Ferguson Alderman Antonio French tweeted Sunday night.
Flanked by other families who have lost loved ones at the hands of police, Michael Brown Sr. led the crowd to pause in silence earlier on Sunday at 11:55 a.m. CT – the exact time the unarmed teen was shot and killed. He stood in silence for four and a half minutes, representing each hour his son’s body was left in the street.
“Just wanted to give all my love to my family, friends, my people, my new friends, my my world,” he said.
From the memorial site, Brown’s family locked arms as they marched in the relentless summer heat, pausing for another four and a half minutes before pressing forward toward Greater Saint Marks Church, a place that became a central safe haven for protest groups in the aftermath of last summer’s unrest. Hundreds of people followed behind them, a diverse crowd that ranged the spectrum.
It has been a grueling 12 months for Brown’s family, whose fight for justice took them across the country and overseas in Mike’s name. They joined a growing list of families who lost loved ones to gun and police violence, and hoped to turn their tragedy into change. The toll has been especially great on Brown’s parents – Michael Brown Sr. says he has not shaved his beard since is son was gunned down and has no plans to trim it until substantial progress has been made.