How can police keep people safe when their very presence incites fury and rioting?
That's the problem Ferguson faced as a seventh day of rage sparked by the killing of unarmed eighteen-year-old Michael Brown brought more riots, looting, militarized police and tear gas to this typically quiet suburb. As rioters broke into Ferguson Market and Liquor (where Brown allegedly stole cigars before he was shot by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson), Feel Beauty Supply, a meat market and an electronics store, peaceful demonstrators were quick to guard businesses themselves, putting their bodies between the smashed storefronts and looters with covered faces.
Except for a tear-gas canister thrown at the beginning of the rioting before midnight, police held back, following cues from community leaders trying to negotiate peace with angry rioters.
Peaceful protests in Ferguson had quieted down Friday night, leading many of the community leaders and journalists who've spent a chaotic and exhausting week on the scene to go home or spend time with loved ones. But the peace broke at Ferguson Market, where an angry crowd of about 200 rioters surrounded officers protecting the store, according to media interviews with Missouri State Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson and St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar. Police used tear gas to disperse the crowd and remove officers behind the line set up at West Florissant and Ferguson avenues.
It became so clear the awfulness of the situation. Communities need police. But here & now, the slightest police presence enrages people.— Antonio French (@AntonioFrench) August 16, 2014
All of a sudden, tempers flared again when a large group of protestors confronted officers in front of a liquor store pic.twitter.com/QBMiWdqYqU— Joel D. Anderson (@blackink12) August 16, 2014
JUST IN: Tear gas fired at protesters in #Ferguson. Our photojournalist reports it was brief and seems to have calmed situation.— Rob Edwards (@RobertDEdwards) August 16, 2014
They said as police and the tanks were DRIVING AWAY they shot tear gas into the crowd, "Like a big fuck you," they said. #Ferguson— Antonio French (@AntonioFrench) August 16, 2014
Protesters regrouped in the street, kneeling with backs to police and linking arms. Two of the well-known faces keeping peace in the conflict -- Alderman Antonio French and activist Anthony Shahid -- convinced the crowd to hold off as they conferred with Johnson, according to French. Officials agreed to hold back and to stop shouting orders through a bullhorn, which seemed to incite more anger from demonstrators, if the protesters moved their line away from police and back toward Ferguson Avenue.
holy shit that hurts they threw tear gas and drove off in the tanks— Amy K. Nelson (@AmyKNelson) August 16, 2014
We went back. It took some speeches, 1-on-1 conversations, some hugs, some gentle pushes, even a line of interlocked arms to move them back.— Antonio French (@AntonioFrench) August 16, 2014
Suddenly, the sound of breaking glass signaled a new round of looting, starting with Feel Beauty Supply and spreading rapidly to about five businesses in the area. For the first time since Sunday night, looters filled their arms with beauty products, electronics, alcohol, food and whatever else they could carry.
The line did get back to Ferguson Ave, where it stayed the rest of the night. Objective #1: Avoiding another violent confrontation— Antonio French (@AntonioFrench) August 16, 2014
Someone just kicked out window if beauty supply store https://t.co/vczIcD3HWz— Wesley Lowery (@WesleyLowery) August 16, 2014
Snapped this from Marcus Dipaola's camera: looters taking huge saw pic.twitter.com/dpKxanqBJY— Conetta (@BmoreConetta) August 16, 2014
Anyone who has watched night after night of unrest in Ferguson could have expected to see riot police descend on the looters in full force, as they have on protesters for several nights. Instead, something amazing happened:
Smashed window pic.twitter.com/Gf75zONkj1— Ryan J. Reilly (@ryanjreilly) August 16, 2014
After door window broken, lines in front of it so no one can loot https://t.co/K1VhlWo8Lf— Wesley Lowery (@WesleyLowery) August 16, 2014
Protesters block looters. https://t.co/1lJIQCm6UQ— Antonio French (@AntonioFrench) August 16, 2014
Young brothers trying to protect the store. pic.twitter.com/c6599l2wfJ— Jamilah Nasheed (@SenatorNasheed) August 16, 2014
A man with a megaphone demands that the news media get the story right... That the group of men are protecting the store from looting.— Byron Tau (@ByronTau) August 16, 2014
Many watching the looting began to question why police, especially new leader Johnson, weren't stopping looters.
I'm really proud of those who ran to block looters. They tried to redirect back to the chant "Hands up! Don't shoot!" pic.twitter.com/dARQl1xTyx— Antonio French (@AntonioFrench) August 16, 2014
Someone pls explain the lack of police action drn looting. Is it better to risk damage and theft than hurting ppl during a confrontation?— Valerie Schremp Hahn (@valeriehahn) August 16, 2014
Where is Capt. Ron Johnson right now? #Ferguson— Gloria Lloyd (@glorialloyd) August 16, 2014
French had an answer for them:
#ferguson where is capt Johnson?— paul hampel (@phampel) August 16, 2014
I want to be clear: Police not coming in at this point -- even with the looting -- was a good thing. It would've gotten very violent.— Antonio French (@AntonioFrench) August 16, 2014