St. Louis County, an area that includes the troubled Ferguson, MO., has declared a state of emergency after what began yesterday as a peaceful protest turned violent. Demonstrators peacefully marked the occasion of the one-year anniversary of the death of Michael Brown Sunday but as day turned to night the protest turned to a near riot.
St Louis County executive Steve Stenger made the call, saying the motivation to declare a state of emergency was to try and stem the violence. “In light of last night’s violence and unrest in the city of Ferguson and the potential for harm to persons and property,” Mr. Stegner said in a statement Monday. “I am exercising my authority as county executive to issue a state of emergency, effective immediately.”
The state of emergency gives the police chief greater powers to preserve order and prevent crime. Some rights can are limited in such a state. Mr. Stenger did not rule out the possibility of a curfew being imposed on Ferguson.
Sunday night the most tense part of the evening began at 11:15 p.m. when a fusilade of shots rang out from in back of the main protest group; police believe it was the result of rival groups fighting and 5 men have been arrested and charged in connection with that shooting. While no one was shot in that action, when an unmarked police van pulled up to investigate, with an identifying siren placed on its roof, police say a young man ran toward them and shot at the van and four officers inside.
The man jumped in a vehicle but was forced to pull over when he ran over a spiked belt police put in his path. He shot at police again and return fire hit him. He is Tyrone Harris Jr., 18. Wounded critically, Harris was operated on and survived and has been charged with assault on officers, armed criminal action and one count of shooting a firearm at a police vehicle.
Bail was set at $250,000, cash-only.
His father, Tyrone Harris Sr., said his son was trying to get away when the two rival groups began shooting at one another, Harris Sr. said his son does not posses a gun. A court record found by local media showed that a man with the same name and who was the same age and lived at the same address as Tyrone Harris Jr. was charged last year with stealing a motor vehicle, stealing a firearm and resisting arrest.
A 9mm Sig Sauer pistol was found beside Harris; it was a gun, police said, that was stolen in 2014.
On Monday there were more protests and 57 protesters were arrested for what the U.S. attorney for the eastern district of Missouri, Richard Callahan called “obstructing normal use of the entrances” to a federal building (the courthouse). Protesters had marched on the courthouse and demanded the disbanding of the Ferguson police force. Those arrested were given summonsesand released. Sixty others were arrested for blocking an entrance to a freeway.
Despite the arrests, Callahan said the day’s action was “peaceful.”
St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said that he believes declaring a state of emergency was the right thing to do. “We can’t sustain this as a community,” he said. “It’s untenable at this point.” Last night Belmar noted that the ones who caused trouble were not the protesters but were a different element. He called them “criminals.”
Sunday night there was breaking and entering into businesses in the downtown area of Ferguson, and looting. Some business-owners said on Monday they will do what they have to in order to protect their shops and are themselves standing guard.