As protests continued over the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown at police hands Wednesday night, officials in Ferguson have not even released the name of the officer who fired the fatal shots. Police have insisted they are committed to self-improvement and racial justice, as residents testify at local fora that they are exhausted and fed up by the harassment and racial profiling that plagues the majority-black town with a majority-white police force. Police shouted over the megaphone, “Your right to demonstrate is not being obstructed,” according to some accounts. But overnight Wednesday, a stark picture emerged of residents chanting and screaming (some bottles were reportedly thrown but did not hit officers), as cops treat them as if they were at war. The violence culminated with an announcement Thursday morning that Gov. Jay Nixon (D) will likely be relieving the St. Louis County police of their duties. Here’s how police have been conducting themselves:
Rampant deployment of rubber bullets, tear gas and smoke bombs, including on private homes
To look at images of Ferguson Wednesday night is to look at a fogged-over landscape reminiscent of a war zone. Tear gas was so ubiquitous that reporters said they could not go from the police station on one side of the town to their cars on the other because of tear gas en route. Officers reportedly marched down streets ordering protesters to leave as they fired tear gas. As they did this, they fired tear gas into the backyards and homes of individuals who stood on their own property with their hands up, according to the Riverfront Times. Other videos depict police dispersing crowds with round after round of tear gas and smoke bombs at protesters singing and chanting, without regard for private property. The Guardian reports that officers continued to deploy tear gas late Wednesday night even as crowds ran away and exhibited no visible aggression, hitting vehicles as the people inside tried to escape.
Among the other tactics officers repeatedly used were rubber bullets and a high-pitched siren to drive away protesters. The guardian observed one individual with the “hands up, don’t shoot” refrain that has come to define the protesters shot several times with rubber bullets by officers before he fell to the ground. When he did, several officers pounced on him, according to the Guardian.
Pointing rifles directly at crowds from on high
Town protests errupted over one police officer’s deadly use of a gun. But that hasn’t stopped police dressed in riot gear and riding around town in tanks from pointing their guns — automatic rifles, shotguns, and pistols — directly at crowds of protesters on high, dressed in helmets and military garb. May of these officers stood in lines across facing protesters, even in broad daylight, and even as the media recorded.
Forceful suppression of the media
Attempts to quiet the media hit their pique Monday night, when officers arrested two reporters who were sitting in a McDonalds. According to accounts from the reporters — Ryan Reilly of the Huffington Post and Wesley Lowry of the Washington Post — the two were in the McDonalds charging their electronic equipment when police came and said they were shutting down the McDonalds. The reporters began to pack up their stuff, but before they could do so, they were handcuffed and hauled into a police car. Reilly said the officer rammed his head against a glass door before sarcastically apologizing. Lowry said he was accused of resisting arrest even after he dropped his things, voluntarily put his hands behind his back, and affirmatively told the officers he was not resisting. After his body was rammed into a vending machine, Lowry said he told the officers in the car this would appear on the front page of the Washington Post, to which an officer responded that he would be in a jail cell. The two were held for about 15 minutes in a holding cell before the chief called for their release.
This incident came after days of reports of media suppression. Many have reported that police repeatedly told them to turn off their cameras or blocked reporters from taking their camera positions.
Reporters from Al Jazeera that the Guardian described as “highly visible” were attempting to record a segment when a gas cannister was thrown directly at them, prompting them to flee. According to photos disseminated on Twitter, officers disassembled their abandoned video equipment after the reporters fled. Others say they were turned away from even entering Ferguson. And St. Louis Dispatch photographer David Carson said he was ordered to leave the scene and threatened with arrest.
Arrests And Escalation Of Force
Including the two reporters, at least ten people were arrested, police told the Guardian. Among them was Antonio French, a St. Louis Alderman who has been disseminating around-the-clock Twitter updates that provided among the most detailed and invaluable information from Ferguson. French told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch police dragged him from his car Wednesday night but “gave him no documentation that says why he was arrested.” “Inside that jail is nothing but peacekeepers,” French told the Post-Dispatch. “They rounded up the wrong people … reverends, young people organizing the peace effort.”
Lowry reported that while he was in the police van, another man was held who screamed, “I can’t breathe! Call a paramedic!” for at least 15 minutes. Lowry said he asked if the police were going to help him and officers insisted he was fine. And in the police car that transferred him to jail was a woman wearing a collar that identified her as a member of the clergy who sang hymns on the ride to the police station.
On Wednesday, police issued a memo asking residents to protest and assemble only during the daylight hours. During a tense press conference with Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson Wednesday afternoon, Jackson insisted the memo was merely a request, that there was no curfew and protesters were free to peacably assemble as they wished.
State Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, who has been an active participant in the protests, asked Jackson for assurances that she would not be gassed anymore. “I hope not,” Jackson replied repeatedly, acknowledging that Chappelle-Nadal had said nothing wrong. Jackson later said he would likely ratchet back the use of force in the coming night. But it was hours later that police tactics escalated. Later that night, St. Louis County police chief Brian Schellman told the Guardian that he didn’t know whether gassing would be necessary again Thursday night. “Our commanders are definitely going to review and see if we can do something better,” he said, but added that the officers “acted with great restraint.” That particular department will likely not be gassing Thursday night after all, as reports suggest it will be relieved of its duties.