On Sunday night in Ferguson, protesters held a vigil for Michael Brown, the unarmed eighteen-year-old who was gunned down by a police officer for reasons that are still unclear. The event started out peacefully, with many people holding signs and candles as they faced hundreds of cops in riot gear. But as the night wore on, vigil candle lights gave way to smashed windows.
At around 8 p.m. approximately 500 people marched from the Canfield Green apartment complex where Brown was fatally shot to a corner near the intersection of W. Florissant and Ferguson avenues. The protesters were met by dozens of police carrying shields and batons. Several cops wore gas masks.
See also: - Family of Michael Brown, Teenager Shot to Death By Ferguson Police, Talks About His Life - Ferguson Riots: North County Business Owners (Some Armed) Survey the Damage - Police in Ferguson Fire Tear Gas on Protesters Standing in Their Own Backyard
"Michael Brown was my second cousin," said a woman marching with two small children in tow. "These police say they are here to protect and serve. But instead they're slaughtering our children. They can't do that -- it needs to stop."
The protest itself didn't appear to have any major incidents. Several protesters stood in front of police and put their hands in the air -- a symbolic gesture referencing Brown, who witnesses say had put his hands in the air before the police officer shot him. At one point, a man with a megaphone who seemed to take on the role of a crowd-leader convinced several people to get on their knees and put their hands in the air directly in front of police.
"Stand down!" he said repeatedly as people got on their knees with both arms in the air while staring down the police. But in a sign of the disorganization among protesters, another man disagreed with the appearance of the gesture.
"We need to stand up!" he said. "Everyone stand up!"
A few people got off their knees and did so.
While the protest was peaceful, it was never tranquil. Anger seethed the entire evening, with protesters venting their frustration over what they described as too many years of mistreatment at the hands of the local police with Michael Brown being only the latest -- and possibly most egregious -- example.
Shouting directly into the faces of the police forming the barricade, several protesters called them cowards, child-killers and racists. One woman shouted, "Go home, pigs!" and throughout the night, the chant of "Fuck the police" would recur.
"The anger that you see here today is because for decades, the police have never taken any responsibility or have never been held accountable for police shootings," Jamala Rogers, president of the Organization for Black Struggle, told Daily RFT. "The rage, the anger is justifiable. But we have to direct in a way to create something more positive."
Rogers added that the OBS is working to organize people in the community to to enact changes in how police affect the community, including "know your rights" education.
"That way, we can avoid some of this before it happens," she said.
Most protesters did not engage in any police taunting, but of those who spoke to Daily RFT, the anger was similar. And one detail that was brought up repeatedly was that the officer who shot Brown is on "paid administrative leave" during the investigation.
Click on the next page for videos of police evacuating areas, looting, and more from Ferguson residents condemning the violence...
"A police officer got a paid vacation for killing a teenager," said protester Randy Corthans. "He shot the man and walked up to him and shot him again while [Brown's] hands were up. He didn't have no kind of gun or nothing, but the police were still shooting. And for what? Whatever they say he stole, even if he did, it's petty. Ain't worth it."
"Ain't worth nine bullets," protester Christoper Johnson chimed in. Pointing to the police forming the barricade, he added: "They got their riot shields and everything, but we just want our peace, man. We just want our peace."
Rumors have circulated that Brown stole an item from a nearby convenience store, but the owner of that store says no such thing happened.
As the night wore on, the protest would give way to looting with some demonstrators pillaging a nearby Quik Trip convenience store and setting it ablaze. There were also rumors of another shooting. Loud "pops" were heard near the protest area, but it's unclear if they were gun shots.
(Update, 12:20 p.m.: St. Louis County Police confirm that shots were fired by rioters during the frenzy, but no one was hurt. Thirty-two people were arrested on charges including theft and burglary.)
Directly across from where an entire street of police and police vehicles were standing, a cell phone store and a beauty shop were looted. People broke the glass with chunks of cement and several more ran inside.
The protester with the megaphone noticed the looting and walked over to the scene.
"This does not help!" he yelled with the megaphone. "Stop this shit now!"
A TV news crew was filming the looting and the megaphone man, frustrated, shouted at them, too -- without the megaphone.
"Don't film what's going on over there," he told them. "Film what's going on over here," and pointed to the police.
At approximately 11 p.m., police surrounded a W. Florissant Rd. pawn shop down the street from the main area of the protest, which had almost completely died down. An officer had his gun drawn towards the alley. Police dogs were brought in. Ferguson residents were hanging out in the area, some of whom taunted the police by singing along to the Lil' Boosie song, "Fuck Da Police," which was blasted from a car stereo.
The police decided to clear the area. Although only a few dozen people were in the area, an equal number of camouflage-clad cops in full riot gear lined up.
"They're coming!" somebody yelled.
With military-like coordination, the police shouted in unison "Move back! Move back!" as they marched down the street, clearing the area. People ran or got into their cars to drive away.
Here's a video of the police forcing Daily RFT to leave the scene:
Further down Florissant, several young people -- possibly teenagers -- ran across the street to a T-Mobile store in the Target shopping center. Glass was broken and more looting took place. Cops were all around: The Target parking lot was used as a staging area for the police. But they didn't move in until most of the looters had already left.
Two young men stood on a sidewalk, taking in all the commotion.
"They're not doing it smart. We're supposed to be down at the courthouse or downtown protesting with signs out there," one of the men said. "But it's not everybody that's doing this. There's some people doing it the right way. So when you all see this, just don't jump and make a decision. There's some real people out here that's trying to do it the right way. And there's some other people taking advantage and doing it wrong. There's really good people out here."
For more about Michael Brown, read our interview with his family.
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E-mail him at Ray.Downs@RiverfrontTimes.com.
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