FERGUSON, Mo. — A day of civil disobedience that saw several arrests in Ferguson ended Monday with some protesters throwing rocks and bottles at police.
The St. Louis County police said frozen water bottles were thrown at officers, prompting them to order the crowd to disperse or face arrest.
“Safety, our top priority, is now compromised. This is no longer a peaceful protest. Participants are now unlawfully assembled,” the department tweeted. About 23 arrests were made late Monday and early Tuesday, police said.
Police Chief Jon Belmar tried to de-escalate the tension by speaking with some demonstrators, who then moved from the street to the sidewalks.
However, others seethed as word spread that police had arrested a 12-year-old girl. Police contended she was 18, citing her ID.
And so it went, a cat-and-mouse game between protesters and police. Demonstrators took to the streets in spite of a heavy police presence, scurried away, regrouped and returned.
Among the crowd were a handful of heavily armed members of an organization called the Oath Keepers. A man out on patrol described the group as constitutionalists who were hired to protect reporters for InfoWars.com, a website run by radio host Alex Jones, who has questioned everything from the moon landing to 9/11.
State of emergency
Earlier, a top St. Louis 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.
The executive order put Belmar in charge of police operations in Ferguson and the surrounding areas.
On Monday, roughly 200 demonstrators marched from Christ Church Cathedral to the Thomas F. Eagleton U.S. Courthouse in St. Louis. The protesters carried signs, chanted and prayed, demanding that the U.S. Justice Department take action.
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 police spokeswoman Schron Jackson told CNN.
Video posted to social media showed 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.”
Later Monday, another group blocked part of Interstate 70 in Earth City, Missouri. Some held yellow signs that said, “Ferguson is everywhere.”
Protesters held hands and formed a line across the highway. About 20 minutes later, troopers cleared the roadway, walking with protesters toward the shoulder and apparently arresting some in a nearby parking lot.
Shooting suspect charged
Monday’s acts of civil disobedience came after a night of violence that left Ferguson on edge.
Peaceful marches in the St. Louis suburb planned by day on Sunday were shattered that same night when gunfire broke out, sending protesters and police scattering to safety.
An accused gunman, 18-year-old Tyrone Harris of St. Louis, is hospitalized in critical condition and in police custody. St. Louis County police said officers shot the teenager after he unleashed a “remarkable amount of gunfire” at them — a characterization the man’s aunt contends is not true.
Prosecutors charged Harris 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 spokesman Sgt. Brian Schellman said.
Belmar, the chief, said earlier that Harris used a stolen handgun to fire at officers.
Harris is being held on a $250,000 bond, Schellman said.
His aunt, Karen Harris, said the teen attended the protests because he was friends with Brown. Recounting what other family members who were with him described, she said her nephew wasn’t carrying a gun and never fired at police.
He was “running for his life” just like everyone else, she said, when gunshots rang out.
The details of what happened in Brown’s death 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 Justice Department also declined to bring criminal charges, but the feds issued 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.
The 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.
Wilson retired from the Ferguson police.
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.