U.S. News

08.16.14

Looting, Clashes Shatter Uneasy Calm

Ferguson, Mo., had returned to a state of wary unease but early morning looting is likely to inflame things.

FERGUSON, Mo. — A man with a red bandana over his face loaded liquor bottles into a plastic bag early Saturday behind the counter of Ferguson Market and Liquor.

"Y'all don't think the police are going to come, do you?"

The answer was no. Officers from multiple law enforcement agencies had left the area of the store after another lengthy protest over the death of unarmed teen Michael Brown, who died after being shot by a cop in Ferguson, Missouri last Sunday. The store—named Friday as the location of a robbery that Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson said Brown carried out—remained vulnerable to looters as 5 a.m. came and went.

The past two nights of protests were peaceful following Gov. Jay Nixon's orders that the St. Louis County Police Department be relieved of their duties as head of security after days of clashes that have seen dozens of arrests and the firing of tear gas, rubber bullets and flash grenades. The demonstrations on Thursday and Friday were calm mainly thanks to Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, tapped by Nixon to lead police efforts here. Johnson, the MSHP and several other police organizations still working to deescalate the situation here were nowhere to be found as masked looters—mostly young men—had their way with the store. 

"Don't take a picture of me," one said.

It was a clear sign that after nearly a week of unrest, the anger local police hoped would abate with the release of the name of police officer who shot 18-year-old Michael Brown to death on Sunday remained.

Ferguson police officials on Friday released the name of the officer—Darren Wilson—who allegedly shot Brown to death in a disputed altercation, which has sparked almost a week’s worth of riots and disturbance in this St. Louis suburb and laid bare fault lines of race, police power and the worth of the lives of young black men in the United States.

But it was a matter of one step forward and two steps back. After the police released Wilson’s name, they also released photos they said showed Brown had robbed a nearby convenience store of a pack of cigars before Wilson stopped and ultimately killed him.

This post-mortum attempt to paint Brown as a suspect angered the mostly black community of Ferguson. It was further exacerbated when Jackson said Wilson knew nothing of the alleged robbery.

That puts the community and police back at square one, with the original story of Brown being stopped for jaywalking returning to the center of the controversy. That could result in an increased amount of anger on the part of protesters who, as they have for the last six days, gathered Friday night in front of the QuikTrip gas station destroyed in Sunday night’s looting to voice their dissent.

Johnson said the plan for Friday was the same as Thursday: let the protesters do their thing. 

“We’re going to have a good time tonight,” Johnson told CNN’s Don Lemon. The crowd around the pair cheered at Johnson’s statement.

Given the looting early Saturday morning, those words could come back to haunt him and the community.

"Y'all don't think the police are going to come, do you?"

About 1 a.m. reports of tear gas being fired by police began surfacing on Twitter. By 4 a.m., after police left the area, the lights were on inside the store and looters took their bounty. Boxes of Swisher Sweets, the same cigars Brown is accused of stealing, littered the floor. Liquor bottles clanked as raiders loaded them into bags. And a digital ringing, possibly from a security mechanism on the destroyed front door, made for an eerie background of white noise as young men with bandanas went about their business.

Earlier on Friday, Jay Kanzler, an attorney for the family that owns Ferguson Market and Liquor, the site of Brown’s alleged robbery, confirmed that theirs was the convenience store where police say Brown committed the robbery. The St. Louis County Police Department, the same organization relieved of its duties by Nixon after a national uproar following clashes with protesters Wednesday night, collected surveillance footage from the store Friday afternoon. The move was officially an execution of a search warrant filed Friday. The store remained closed, an employee there said. 

“Many of the customers know the owners of the market on a first name basis and vice versa,” said Kanzler. “Ferguson Market’s owners and employees, like everyone in this community, is saddened by what happened and wants to see this matter resolved on a peaceful basis and let justice take its course.”

By 6 p.m. yesterday, a crowd of hundreds had gathered and around the market. More than a dozen police cars were in the parking lot.

Dennis Banks,  a Chicago comedian who works under the pseudonym Felonious Munk and who had come to take part in the protests, said the release of surveillance photos depicting a man police said was Brown accosting a store employee during the alleged robbery was unnecessary and did more harm than good.

“Is this something they’re doing pre-trial to taint a jury?” Banks speculated. “While that might work on a jury, it’s not working for the people out here. From last night’s almost festive mood it has shifted to a lot of angst and a lot of anger.”

Rumors have been circulating all week that Brown had stolen a pack of cigars from a convenience store not far from the Canfield Green Apartments where he lived. Brown’s friend, Dorian Johnson, has repeatedly said the pair were stopped for jaywalking. The only thing that both sides agree on is that an altercation ensued, and Brown was shot multiple times. The number of bullet wounds is a matter of contention here. On the streets of Ferguson residents say Brown was shot as many as 10 times.

“Where are the pictures that show the commission of the crime?” said a woman who only identified herself as Ms. Jourdan. “What is this showing to the public and to the media? Why didn’t that packet include the picture of him laying down in the street in his own blood?”

Perry Jackson scoffed at the idea Brown stole anything, and said the young man’s life was worth far more than the cheap cigars many have speculated were the item he may have taken.

A 45-year-old Ferguson resident, Jackson said he knows at least one thing that will happen in the coming weeks.

“You know they’re going to come out and say he had marijuana in his system,” Jackson said. “Just like they did with Trayvon Martin.”