Ferguson unrest: Protesters gather for peaceful demonstration
Controversial Oath Keepers make second appearance at protests
Police outnumbered protesters along West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson on Tuesday night, signaling the demonstrations around the anniversary of Michael Brown's death could be starting to fade.
The crowd of around 100 demonstrators was mostly calm and peaceful. Occasionally a few people would march or chant, but they spent most of several hours milling around and chatting with one another. It was a far cry from the violence and tension that marred the previous two nights.
Larry Miller, 58, organizer of the protest group Ferguson Freedom Fighters, said it was clear the latest round of demonstrations was dying down. He wasn't convinced much had been accomplished.
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"We already know what needs to be happening is not happening," Miller said. "We're still bothered over the killing of Mike Brown because we still need police reform, criminal justice system reform."
A tense moment came Tuesday when a few dozen people briefly blocked traffic. But several officers in riot gear, along with St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar, quickly moved to break it up.
Police said they made no arrests.
The St. Louis suburb has seen demonstrations for days marking the anniversary of Brown's killing on Aug. 9, 2014. Brown, a black 18-year-old, was fatally shot by white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. A St. Louis County grand jury and the U.S. Department of Justice cleared Wilson, but Brown's death spurred a national "Black Lives Matter" movement.
The events had largely been peaceful until Sunday night, when gunfire erupted and 18-year-old Tyrone Harris Jr. was shot by officers after they say he fired at an unmarked police van. Harris is hospitalized in critical condition and has been charged with 10 felonies.
St. Louis County police on Tuesday released a 13-second clip of security camera footage they say shows Harris minutes before he fired at plainclothes officers. The clip shows a person police identify as Harris grabbing a handgun from his waistband and running toward a parking lot, police say in response to the other shots being fired.
Harris' father disputed the police account Monday but declined to discuss his son's shooting Tuesday.
The gunfire and Harris' shooting set the city on edge and had protest leaders worried that tensions would escalate. The St. Louis County executive declared a state of emergency Monday, a move that gave Belmar — instead of interim Ferguson Police Chief Andre Anderson — control of security.
Larger police presence
On Monday night, the police presence was far greater. Officers lined several blocks of West Florissant. Unlike Sunday, there was no gunfire, no injuries and no reports of looting or property damage.
Still though, more than 20 people were arrested. Police never deployed smoke or tear gas, though they were at times pelted with water bottles and rocks.
By Tuesday night, there was far less tension. Police said in a statement that at one point, officers reported rocks being thrown at them. They took no action, and the rock-throwing stopped.
Even when armed members of the Oath Keepers, a far-right anti-government activist group whose presence Belmar has called "both unnecessary and inflammatory," appeared, there was little conflict.
While one member was being interviewed by media, several protesters gathered around and chanted loud enough to drown him out. Later, several Oath Keepers and protesters argued, but eventually shouting gave way to conversation, and the group parted ways with a pat on the back.
John Karriman, an Oath Keepers leader from southwest Missouri, said members plan to remain in Ferguson at least through the end of the week.
Belmar said the de-escalation over the past two nights was largely due to police work that has been learned in Ferguson since last August.
"It comes back to experience," he said. "We look at it as we've seen it before."
County Executive Steve Stenger said the state of emergency could be lifted as soon as Wednesday.