Protests and arrests rock Ferguson after state of emergency declared

About two dozen arrested Monday night; declaration made after unrest at events for anniversary of Michael Brown’s death

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Police in riot gear contained roughly 200 protesters who had gathered in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, on Monday night to mark the anniversary of the police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen whose death one year ago reignited national debate on race relations.

The demonstrators, some waving flags, beating drums, and shouting anti-police slogans, marched along a street that was a flashpoint of last year's riots, which erupted after white police officer Darren Wilson shot dead 18-year-old Brown.

A St. Louis County Police spokesman said around two dozen people were arrested during a protest along West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson from about 9:30 p.m. on Monday to 12:15 a.m. on Tuesday.

Officer Shawn McGuire said that approximately 23 arrests were made, although police were still confirming official totals. Protesters threw bottles, frozen water bottles and rocks at police officers on-scene, he said. 

"During the protest events, there were no shootings, shots fired, burglaries, lootings, or property damages," said McGuire in a statement. "No injuries were reported by police or civilians. One St. Louis County police officer was hit in the chest with a small chunk of concrete, but was not injured however due to his protective vest."

St. Louis County declared a state of emergency in and around Ferguson on Monday in an effort to prevent a repeat of the violence that erupted Sunday and continued into early Monday. 

The order was issued for the St. Louis suburb and surrounding areas amid already tense relations between residents and police after officers shot and critically wounded an 18-year-old male in an exchange of gunfire that marred what had been a day of peaceful demonstrations on Sunday.

“In light of last night’s violence and unrest in the city of Ferguson and the potential for harm to persons and property, I am exercising my authority as county executive to issue a state of emergency, effective immediately,” read a release by St. Louis County Executive Steven Stenger. “The recent acts of violence will not be tolerated in a community that has worked so tirelessly over the last year to rebuild and become stronger.”

The St. Louis County police will take over emergency response duties in Ferguson from local officers if needed. A similar delegation of authority happened last summer, when Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon put the state’s highway patrol in charge of law enforcement after a militarized response by local police to largely peaceful protests sparked national outrage.

‘Racism lives here’

On Monday night, a crowd of hundreds had gathered on West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson as dozens of police officers and members of the press watched. Chanting, the crowd marched down the street in the fourth consecutive night of protests. Around 10 p.m., officers with bullhorns directed protesters to clear the roadway, and others in riot gear forced people out of the street. Some demonstrators threw water bottles and other debris at officers.

St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said “They're not going to take the street tonight. That's not going to happen.”

Several people were handcuffed and put into vans.

“What did I do?” one woman asked repeatedly.

Ferguson resident Hershel Myers Jr., 46, criticized the police response as aggressive and unnecessary.

A military veteran, he added, “It's wrong for me to have to go overseas and fight with Army across my chest, but we can't fight on our own street where I live.”

Earlier on Monday activists released a pair of balloons attached to a sign saying “Racism lives here,” floating it near the city’s iconic arch. Some protesters reportedly jumped barricades in front of a federal courthouse during a demonstration demanding the disbanding of the Ferguson police department.

Protesters chanted, “Do your job, DOJ!”

Police arrested 57 protesters after they blocked the federal courthouse in St. Louis, Reuters reported. Prominent activists in the Black Lives Matter movement were detained, including DeRay McKesson and Johnetta Elzieaccording to Mother Jones. Union Theological Seminary professor Cornel West was also arrested, The Associated Press reported.

Videos posted to Twitter by McKesson show St. Louis police and Federal Protective Service officers arresting people who sat down outside the courthouse. 

Violence between police and protesters took place during demonstrations Sunday night, police said. Two unmarked police cars were hit by gunfire. Three St. Louis County police officers suffered injuries, with two allegedly pepper sprayed by protesters. A thrown rock cut the face of one officer, who was treated at a local hospital. Five people were arrested.

The most serious injury occurred when St. Louis County plainclothes detective shot an 18-year-old in Ferguson over shots he allegedly fired in the direction of officers. The suspect, Tyrone Harris Jr., was critically wounded, and he was charged with 10 felony counts Monday.

Harris’ father called the police version of events “a bunch of lies.” He said two girls who were with his son told him he was unarmed and was drawn into a dispute involving two groups of young people.

St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said he believes the shots came from about six shooters. It was not clear what prompted the exchange, he said, but two groups of young people had been feuding.

Tyrone Harris Sr. said his son was “running for his life” after gunfire broke out. He told the AP his son was a close friend of Michael Brown and was in Ferguson on Sunday night to pay respects.

“My son was running to the police to ask for help, and he was shot,” he said. “It’s all a bunch of lies ... They’re making my son look like a criminal.”

Al Jazeera and wire services

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