PROTESTS TURN VIOLENT IN ST. LOUIS SUBURB
News Desk | 8/14/2014, 10 a.m.
Police used tear gas and smoke bombs to repel crowds who threw Molotov cocktails during another violent night on the streets of a St. Louis suburb in the wake of the shooting of the unarmed 18-year old Michael Brown.
Hours earlier, the police chief had said race relations were the top priority in the town, where a white police officer fatally shot the black teen. Authorities have vowed to reach across the racial, economic and generational divide in a community in search of answers.
In the streets of Ferguson, though, the polite dialogue heard at community forums and news conferences is nowhere to be found.
Instead, officers from multiple departments in riot gear and in military equipment have clashed nightly with protesters, who chant, "Hands up, don't shoot." Wednesday saw more tense confrontations and further volleys of tear gas from police - this time paired with smoke bombs in response to flaming projectiles and other objects lobbed from the crowd. Protesters faced heavily armed police who at times trained weapons on them from armored trucks.
Two reporters said they were detained by police for not clearing out quickly enough from a McDonald's where they were working, near the protests but away from the more volatile areas. The two, who work for The Washington Post and The Huffington Post, were released without any charges. Both say they were assaulted but not seriously hurt.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that about 10 people had been arrested, including St. Louis Alderman Antonio French, who has been chronicling the protests on social media. Police had said earlier they would not have arrest information until early Thursday.
The White House said President Barack Obama - who is on vacation on the Massachusetts island of Martha's Vineyard - was briefed late Wednesday on the situation in Ferguson by Attorney General Eric Holder and senior adviser Valerie Jarrett. Obama has another briefing scheduled for Thursday morning.
Residents in Ferguson have complained about what they called a heavy-handed police presence that began with the use of dogs for crowd control soon after Brown's shooting - a tactic that for some invoked the specter of civil rights protests a half-century ago. The county police force took over leading both the investigation of Brown's shooting and the subsequent attempts to keep the peace at the smaller city's request.
County Police Chief Jon Belmar, though, said his officers have responded with "an incredible amount of restraint," as they've been the targets of rocks, bottles and gunshots, with two dozen patrol vehicles being destroyed.
Police had also asked earlier that people assemble in "an organized and respectful" manner and disperse before evening.
The city and county are also under criticism for refusing to release the name of the officer involved in Brown's shooting, citing threats against that officer and others.
Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson called improving race relations "the top priority right now" but also said he won't be pressured into publicly identifying the officer - despite, he said, mounting demands from clergy, computer hackers and protesters.