Jacob Crawford / AP

Tension flares in Ferguson after fire destroys Brown memorial

Police arrest three after an angry crowd of nearly 200 people gathers to protest a fire many say was intentional

Police arrested three people early Wednesday morning in Ferguson, Missouri, amid protests stoked by the destruction of a makeshift memorial erected to honor slain teen Michael Brown, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

A crowd of protesters — swelling to as many as 200 — filled Ferguson’s streets Tuesday evening, not far from where Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old, was shot and killed last month by a white police officer. Besides the three arrests, sporadic gunfire was reported in the area that has witnessed racially charged protests and bursts of violence following Brown’s death.

While some protesters smashed a window at a nearby beauty products store, State Highway Patrol spokesman Al Nothum said there were no reports of looting. 

How Brown’s memorial caught fire was not immediately clear, but it stirred fresh resentment among those who question whether Brown’s death at the hands of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9 is being adequately investigated.

Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III said that the fire was small and possibly started accidentally. Candles were mixed in with stuffed animals and other items on the site. Still, Knowles said, it is “a horrible thing to happen to a memorial meant to commemorate Mr. Brown's life. It is going to be hurtful to many people.”

Many residents at the fire scene doubted a candle was the culprit, though. Most were certain someone set the blaze. Some said they smelled gasoline.

"That's very disrespectful to burn down a memorial to someone that got killed," said local resident Meldon Moffitt. "That's just wrong!"

The memorial has since been rebuilt with fresh teddy bears, a blanket and new signs. However, the sidewalk and a nearby light post remained charred.

More than six weeks after Brown's death, residents and others remain upset about the way his body lay in the street for more than four hours while police investigated the shooting. 

Many insist he was trying to surrender, with his hands up. Protests have persisted in and around Ferguson since the teen’s death, with protesters pledging to continue civil unrest until Wilson is arrested and charged in Brown's death. 

Wilson remains free and on paid administrative leave while a state grand jury weighs whether he should face criminal charges. The Justice Department is also investigating. Many protesters have also called for Mayor Knowles to step down.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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