A candlelight vigil for a young unarmed black man who was fatally shot by a suburban St. Louis police officer was followed by unrest as crowds looted and burned stores, vandalized vehicles and taunted officers who tried to block access to parts of the city.
Nearly three dozen people were arrested after tensions erupted following a candlelight vigil Sunday night for 18-year-old Michael Brown, who police said was unarmed when he was shot multiple times Saturday in a scuffle with an officer in Ferguson.
The investigation into what led to the shooting was ongoing, but Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson told The Associated Press on Monday that the FBI was taking over the case and that he welcomed the move.
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Streets upended on Sunday night were relatively quiet early Monday, with some debris littering the area but crowds largely dispersed.
St. Louis County police spokesman Brian Schellman said 32 people were arrested for various infractions including assault, burglary and theft. Schellman said two officers suffered minor injuries and that there were no reports of civilians hurt.
Several businesses were looted, including a check-cashing store, a boutique and a small grocery store. People took items from a sporting goods store and a cellphone retailer, and carted rims away from a tire store. Some climbed atop police cars as the officers with riot shields and batons stood stoically nearby, trying to restrict access to the most seriously affected areas.
Deanel Trout, a 14-year resident of Ferguson, said he was convinced the troublemakers were largely from outside Ferguson and that they had used Brown's death and the vigil as an opportunity to steal.
"Most came here for a peaceful protest but it takes one bad apple to spoil the bunch. ... I can understand the anger and unrest but I can't understand the violence and looting," Trout, 53, said.
Tear gas used
St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley said there were no reports of injuries as of about 11 p.m. local time. But there were scattered reports of assaults into the very early morning. Pat Washington, a spokeswoman for Dooley, said tear gas had been used. Authorities would not immediately confirm media reports of gunfire.
"The small group of people are creating a huge mess," Mayor James Knowles said. "Contributing to the unrest that is going on is not going to help. ... We're only hurting ourselves, only hurting our community, hurting our neighbours."
County Police Chief Jon Belmar said that on Saturday, an officer encountered Brown and another man outside an apartment complex in Ferguson. One of the men pushed the officer into his squad car and they struggled. Belmar said at least one shot was fired from the officer's gun inside the police car. Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson said authorities were still sorting out what happened inside the police car. It was not clear if Brown was the man who fought with the officer.
The struggle spilled out into the street, where Brown was shot multiple times. Belmar said the exact number of shots wasn't known and that all shell casings at the scene matched the officer's gun. Police were investigating why the officer shot Brown, who police have confirmed was unarmed.
Jackson said the second person has not been arrested or charged and it wasn't clear if he was armed.
Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson told KSDK-TV there's no video footage of the shooting from the apartment complex, or from any police cruiser dashboard cameras or body-worn cameras that the department recently bought but hasn't yet put to use.
Jackson said blood samples were taken from Brown and the officer who shot him. Toxicology tests can take weeks to complete.
'Don't shoot me' chant
Earlier Sunday, a few hundred protesters gathered outside Ferguson Police headquarters. Some marched into an adjacent police building chanting "Don't shoot me" while holding their hands in the air. Officers stood at the top of a staircase, but didn't use force; the crowd eventually left.
Brown's mother, Lesley McSpadden, said she didn't understand why police didn't subdue her high school graduate son with a club or stun gun, and that the officer involved should be fired and prosecuted.
"I would like to see him go to jail with the death penalty," she said, fighting back tears.
The killing drew criticism from some civil rights leaders, who referred to the 2012 racially charged shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by a Florida neighbourhood watch organizer who was acquitted of murder charges.
"We're outraged because yet again a young African-American man has been killed by law enforcement," said John Gaskin, who serves on both the St. Louis County and national boards of directors for the NAACP.
Ferguson's population of about 21,000 people is almost 70 per cent black. The race of the officer has not been disclosed. He has been placed on paid administrative leave.
St. Louis County Police Department is in charge of the investigation, and Dooley said he will request an FBI investigation. The U.S. Justice Department said Attorney General Eric Holder instructed staff to monitor developments.