FERGUSON, Missouri — As police rounded up protesters at a federal courthouse in St. Louis on Monday, a top county official declared a state of emergency, saying violence had marred demonstrations marking the one-year anniversary of Michael Brown’s death.
“The recent acts of violence will not be tolerated in a community that has worked so tirelessly over the last year to rebuild and become stronger,” St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger said in a statement.
Overnight unrest in Ferguson created “the potential for harm to persons and property, ” the statement said. The executive order puts St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar in charge of police operations in Ferguson and the surrounding areas, Stenger said.
Stenger’s order came as roughly 200 demonstrators marched from Christ Church Cathedral to the Thomas F. Eagleton United States Courthouse in St. Louis. The protesters carried signs, chanted and prayed and demanded the Justice Department take action, according to CNN affiliate KTVI.
At the Old Courthouse in downtown St. Louis, protesters hung a banner from two balloons. It read, “Racism still lives here #fightback.”
Police arrested 56 people at the courthouse demonstration, St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department spokeswoman Schron Jackson told CNN.
Video posted to social media showed police officers arresting several prominent protesters, including activist and intellectual Cornel West, who was also arrested during an October protest at the Ferguson Police Department.
One of those protesters, Johnetta Elzie, who has been a mainstay of the demonstrations and goes by Netta, tweeted minutes before her arrest, “If I’m arrested today please know I’m not suicidal. I have plenty to live for. I did not resist, I’m just black.”
Shooting suspect charged
The arrests came shortly after the St. Louis County Police Department announced it had arrested a teenager who police shot after he unleashed a “remarkable amount of gunfire” on officers during Sunday’s protests in Ferguson — a characterization the man’s aunt contends is not true.
Prosecutors have charged Tyrone Harris, 18, of St. Louis with four counts of first-degree assault on law enforcement, five counts of armed criminal action and one count of discharging a firearm at a motor vehicle, St. Louis County Police Department spokesman Sgt. Brian Schellman said.
Belmar said earlier that Harris used a stolen handgun to fire at officers.
Harris is being held on a $250,000 bond, Schellman said. He remains in critical condition at a hospital, police said.
Harris’ aunt, Karen Harris, said her nephew attended the protests because he was friends with Brown. Recounting what other family members who were with Tyrone Harris said, the aunt said Tyrone Harris wasn’t carrying a gun and never fired at police.
Rather, he was “running for his life,” just like everyone else, when the gunshots were fired.
Peaceful vigil, then chaos
The anniversary observations of Brown’s shooting death by a white Ferguson police officer started off peacefully Sunday.
Vigils honored him throughout the day. Attendees observed four and a half minutes of silence to signify the four and a half hours Brown’s body lay on the street after the unarmed black teen was shot last year.
But the new gunfire shifted the focus Sunday night.
When officers first saw the suspect, he was running away after exchanging gunfire with an unknown person, police said.
Some gunfire rang out as reporters were talking to Ferguson’s acting police chief, Andre Anderson. A startled Anderson continued speaking with a steady burst of gunfire in the background. Crowds scattered.
Detectives in an unmarked SUV turned on its emergency lights and pursued the suspect, only to be shot at, according to Belmar. The bullets hit the vehicle’s hood and windshield several times, Belmar said.
As the detectives got out of the car, the suspect allegedly turned around and fired again.
Then he ran toward a fenced area, where he continued firing — until officers struck him multiple times, Belmar said.
The four plainclothes officers involved in the shooting have between six to 12 years of experience, he said. They have been placed on administrative leave.
“We cannot continue, we cannot talk about the good things that we have been talking about, if we are prevented from moving forward with this kind of violence,” Belmar said, adding that those resorting to violence are not protesters.
“Protesters are people who are out there to effect change,” he said. There were “several people shooting, several rounds shot.”
Night turns tense
By Sunday night, police presence had turned heavy, and rumors about the shooting flew.
Police and protesters faced off in a tense standoff on West Florissant Avenue, not far from Canfield Drive, where Brown was shot.
Several objects were thrown at police and some businesses damaged, the St. Louis County Police Department said. A journalist was attacked and robbed in a parking lot. Three St. Louis County police officers were injured: One was struck in the face by a brick, while two others were pepper-sprayed.
Police, with helmets and shields, pushed crowds back and called in tactical units.
“We’re ready for what? We’re ready for war,” some in the crowd chanted.
In a separate incident early Monday, a man wearing a red hooded sweatshirt shot two teens, 17 and 19, in the chest, the St. Louis County Police Department said.
Both were hospitalized with injuries not considered life-threatening, authorities said.
The teens were walking on a sidewalk near where Brown was killed a year ago.
‘Pray for peace’
Amid the chaos, some appealed for calm.
“Please pray for peace in Ferguson tonight and forever,” Danny Takhar tweeted. “And the police department really needs to look at what they did last year and today.”
Others posted a video of what they described as a shooting victim in Ferguson lying on the streets bleeding.
“Please get him some help! He’s bleeding out,” a voice said off camera.
The details of what happened on August 9, 2014, and the days of protest that followed have become a polarizing topic in Ferguson and America as a whole.
Brown’s killing by Officer Darren Wilson sparked outrage and protests nationwide against what some described as racial bias by the police.
A grand jury didn’t indict Wilson, and the U.S. Justice Department also declined to bring criminal charges, but the feds did issue a report that found the Ferguson Police Department and the city’s municipal court had engaged in a “pattern and practice” of discrimination against African-Americans, targeting them disproportionately for traffic stops, use of force and jail sentences.
Brown’s killing sparked weeks of protests that at times intensified into street fires and looting of businesses. Police fired tear gas in response, sparking more tensions.
But protesters — many of whom are skeptical of the local and federal inquiries into the case — point to examples of police misconduct exposed in the wake of Brown’s death. The case also led to new policing strategies, including the introduction of police body cameras.