Protests in Ferguson, Missouri, continued on Wednesday night, despite a massive police presence deployed to quell the crowds. Large groups of local residents and journalists gathered during the day as SWAT teams and tactical police grew in number, with both sides staying long after sundown. Police issued several requests to the protesters to disperse before dark, but defiant crowds intent on continuing their vigil refused to yield, despite being warned repeatedly to turn off cameras and return to their homes.
A heavy police presence, unsurprisingly, did not have the desired effect of placating those gathered to protest excessive use of police force. The unrest in Ferguson started after a police officer fatally shot Michael Brown on Saturday. Brown’s defenders say he was unarmed at the time. The escalation of the security situation, in tandem with the Ferguson police refusing to name the officer who allegedly shot Brown or release the report on the incident, has further inflamed tensions. The officer in question is understood to have been placed on paid administrative leave. The death of Brown kicked off violent reactions in the area, with stores looted and at least one building entirely burned out. The incident was initially seen as a race issue in a town with a population that’s more than 60 percent black and has 53 police officers, 50 of whom are white. The heavy-handed police response, in which another person was shot, has seen people of all colors joining the protests, now largely focused on excessive use of force by law enforcement officers. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder responded on Wednesday, saying that the Civil Rights Division and FBI would be opening a joint federal civil rights investigation into the shooting.
As darkness fell on Wednesday, what was already a highly tense situation took on an even more sinister tone, with police advancing toward protesters through clouds of gas. Police demanded repeatedly that journalists and amateurs turn off their cameras and stop recording, and pursued small groups of protesters into residential areas.
Christina Coleman, a reporter for a local NBC affiliate, was among those caught in the clouds of tear gas the police used in an attempt to clear the assembled crowd. St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar was quoted as saying earlier in the day that tear gas was the only means he had available to disperse the protesters.
Before sunset, reporters on scene had tweeted pictures of the heavily militarized police units deployed in the area. Ryan Reilly, working for The Huffington Post, posted the below picture during the afternoon. Reilly was subsequently arrested, along with Wesley Lowery, a reporter for The Washington Post, as the police moved to clear a McDonalds restaurant. Lowery later posted a video of his arrest.
Police also used rubber bullets, creating scenes reminiscent of recent revolutions in the Middle East. Journalists gathered evidence of non-lethal munitions used by the police. The tweet below shows a tear gas canister and 60-caliber Stinger cartridges, described in the manufacturer’s literature as a “crowd-management tool” and “pain compliance rounds.”
As the scuffles continued into the night, the “don’t shoot” motto of the past few days became more of a genuine plea than a protesting slogan. We’ll leave it to the students of Howard University, who posted the image of the day in a show of solidarity with those affected by the shooting and its aftermath, to have the final word.
Read more on the militarization of America here.
More from Ferguson: