Lucas Jackson / Reuters

Missouri governor declares state of emergency, curfew for Ferguson

Gov. Jay Nixon said the state would not allow a handful of looters to endanger the community

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and implemented a curfew on Saturday in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, where protests have erupted over the fatal police shooting of an unarmed black teenager at the hands of a white officer last week.

Nixon said at a press conference that Missouri would not allow protesters, who at times have turned to looting and vandalism, endanger the community and that calm would have to be imposed for justice for the victim could prevail.

The curfew will run from midnight to 5 a.m. Central Time. 

“This is not to silence the people of Ferguson or this region, or others, but to contain those who are drowning out the voices of the people with their actions," Nixon said.  “We will not allow a handful of looters, to endanger the rest of this community.” 

Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson assured members of the public in attendance that police would communicate with protesters and give them ample opportunity to observe the curfew.

Anger spurred by the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown boiled over again late Friday when protesters stormed and looted a Missouri convenience store — the same store the victim was accused of robbing.

A group of peaceful protesters, however, yelled at the looters to stop, and soon about a dozen protesters blocked off the front of the convenience store to help protect it.

“I disagree with the looting and rioting out there,” Wonetta Thomas, a resident of Ferguson and Army veteran, told Al Jazeera. “I know the rioters do not represent the protesters.”

Rain came down Saturday morning after the second night of looting since Brown was killed by officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9. Despite the weather, community members took to the streets again to help clean up after the unrest in the early hours of the morning.

“I just couldn’t sit here at home cursing at the TV anymore,” said Carla Maxwell, who came to help clean up. “And I had to come out here to do something.”

“I went down and helped clean up after Katrina,” said Ferguson-resident Joe, who chose to have his last name withheld. “I was lying in bed and saw the news, and it didn’t make no sense to not come help.”

Citizens of Ferguson have continued to come together in the daylight hours on Saturday to clean, pray and protest. It’s this kind of positive organizing that residents say characterize Ferguson and the region, and they feel it is the isolated incidents of violence that have come to represent their community.

“I think the way the city has been portrayed by the media is not how the city is,” said Cynthia Bennet, who raised her kids in Ferguson and still lives there. “I think the community will rally for the right thing.”

“There was just a prayer recited,” said Damian Barsh. “Why wasn’t that recorded on the news? Why aren’t they recording people serving hotdogs? Why aren’t they recording people picking up trash?”

Tensions remain high

While Ferguson had been calmer after local law enforcement was replaced by state police led by Johnson, an African-American captain, racially charged protests entered their sixth night since Brown's shooting.

Police and about 200 protesters clashed late Friday after another tense day in the St. Louis suburb, where hours earlier authorities held a news conference to make public Wilson’s identity.

At the same news conference, Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson released documents alleging that Brown stole a $48.99 box of cigars from the convenience store, then strong-armed a man on his way out — sparking accusations of character assassination from family and supporters of Brown.

The documents released did not explain what, if anything, Brown's suspected theft had to do with the fatal encounter with Wilson. The circumstances surrounding Brown’s shooting remain contested — with witnesses saying Brown was shot with his hands in the air and police alleging he had reached for an officer’s gun.

Just before midnight on Friday, some in what had been a large and rowdy but mostly well-behaved crowd broke into the same small store Brown had been accused of robbing and began looting it, said Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Johnson. He said police fired a teargas canister at the crowd and broader violence and looting erupted.

Some in the crowd began throwing rocks and other objects at police, Johnson said. One officer was hurt but details on the injury were not immediately available.

Some protesters chanted "hands up, don't shoot," while a Reuters photographer saw some people break into a handful of retail stores. The chant has become popular among local protesters who assert Brown was shot with his hands in the air.

Johnson said police backed off to try and ease the tension. No arrests were made.

"We had to evaluate the security of the officers there and also the rioters," Johnson said. "We just felt it was better to move back."

Brown's death had previously ignited four days of clashes between protesters and local law enforcement — during which police were criticized for using aggressive tactics and weapons, including military vehicles, tear gas and rubber bullets.

Tensions eased Thursday after Gov. Nixon turned oversight of the protests to the Missouri Highway Patrol. Gone were the police in riot gear and armored vehicles, replaced by the new patrol commander who personally walked through the streets with demonstrators. But Friday night marked a resurgence of the unrest that had momentarily abated.

In response to demonstrations that turned violent earlier this week, President Barack Obama said he asked the FBI and Department of Justice to launch an independent investigation into Brown’s death.

The DOJ on Friday confirmed in a statement that FBI agents had conducted several interviews with witnesses as part of a civil-rights investigation into Brown's death. In the days ahead, the agents plan to canvass the neighborhood where the shooting happened, seeking more information, the statement said.

Al Jazeera and wire services. Ryan Schuessler contributed to this report. 

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