Protesters defy curfew in riot-shaken US town
Police used smoke bombs and tear gas to disperse demonstrators who defied a curfew in Ferguson, Missouri early Sunday, where a fatal police shooting of an unarmed black teen triggered a wave of rioting.
Missouri Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and a curfew starting at midnight Saturday (1pm Sunday Singapore time) until 5.00 am for the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, where 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot dead by police on Aug 9.
Ferguson was mostly peaceful when the curfew began on Sunday, but a crowd of protesters gathered in the area where Brown was shot and refused to disperse.
Heavily armed riot police, backed up by reinforcements in armored vehicles, hurled smoke and tear gas canisters and slowly moved in to break up the crowd, which local media said numbered around 200.
Seven people were arrested for failing to dispurse, said Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson, the African-American officer that governor Nixon put in charge of restoring peace in Ferguson.
Johnson said that police moved in when they received reports that someone apparently unrelated to the protests had been shot, and that armed individuals had broken into a restaurant.
“We have a shooting victim in critical condition that may lose her life,” said Johnson, speaking to reporters around 3:50 am (4.30pm Singapore time).
“We had a subject standing in the middle of the road with a handgun. We had a police car shot at tonight. And, yes, I think that was a proper response tonight, to maintain officer safety and public safety.”
A protester reaches down to throw back a smoke canister as police clear a street after the passing of a midnight curfew meant to stem ongoing demonstrations. Photo: Reuters.
Governor Nixon said he ordered the emergency measures “to protect the people and property of Ferguson” after looters raided town stores and scuffled with police overnight Friday to Saturday.
Nixon, speaking at a press conference Saturday held at a local church, was repeatedly interrupted by locals angered by an apparent lack of accountability for the largely white police force responsible for Brown’s death in the majority black area.
“Excuse me, governor, you need to charge that police officer with murder,” said a heckler, referring to the white officer who shot Brown. “Yeah!” cried out supporters.
“Call for an investigation,” said another heckler, as palpable anger and frustration simmered in the church hall. “Where’s the indictment?”
Riot police fired tear gas and clashed with looters in the early hours of Saturday, after police named Brown as a suspect in the robbery of a Ferguson convenience store.
Gangs of thieves targeted several stores, including the one that Brown allegedly robbed just before he was shot dead on August 9.
Protesters also hurled Molotov cocktails and bricks at police, who responded with tear gas, smoke bombs and rubber bullets but they mostly stayed at a distance in armored vehicles and riot gear.
In some cases locals locked arms outside stores to keep looters out, and in others store owners showed up carrying rifles and sidearms to protect their property.
Brown’s death has renewed a national debate about relations between law enforcement and African Americans. - AFP