FERGUSON, Mo. — Missouri Governor Jay Nixon called in the National Guard in the early hours of Monday morning after another night of protest descended into chaos with reports of gunfire, looting and Molotov cocktails. The latest clashes came as word began to spread through this St. Louis suburb that Brown was shot as many as six times, including twice in the head.
Nixon said the National Guard was necessary "in restoring peace and order" to a suburb that has shaken with violence for more than a week. Considering, though, that police here have armed themselves with equipment more reminiscent of the military than small town cops, the National Guard may not be a huge change. Whether protesters will dare to hurl rocks and Molotov cocktails, at the Guards as they did on Sunday night according to the police, remains to be seen.
Many of the young men who have taken to West Florissant Avenue to express their distrust and disdain of law enforcement had not yet heard the autopsy reports. Their rage will only intensify as the details are shared but when they return to the streets later today they will have a new, more formidable, adversary.
When The New York Times’ story on Brown’s autopsy dropped after 9 p.m., West Florissant Avenue was smoldering with anger caused by the teen’s death, and was once again joined by tears that came from round after round of tear gas fired by police. Law enforcement did issue warnings before firing Sunday night, which were for the most part ignored as they have been all week. There is a sense here that this is a last stand for a mostly black community that feels marginalized and brutalized by a mostly white police force. Simply put: Many here feel this is their ground. And they are not simply going to stand by and watch it be overrun by representatives of an organization responsible for what is considered here to have been a brutal and brazen daylight murder. For the past week and for the foreseeable future, Brown has become a legend.
“This is my motherfucking hood!” a man screamed as other residents attended to a woman who had injured her foot running from swirling tear gas smoke.
Residents and protesters have learned to prepare. As they walked toward the QuikTime gas station, burned beyond repair in last Sunday’s looting, they pulled bandanas over their faces and slipped on goggles to protect their eyes. There are constant questions: “Are you guys OK?” “Everyone over here all right?” “What happened?” There are innumerable statements and wishes: “Fuck the police!” “No justice, no peace!” And as goodbyes are shared, “Be safe.”
For many of the black residents of Ferguson, this is a police state in a city that already had a contentious relationship with law enforcement. Now, the real military is coming.
That decision may lift pressure from the shoulders of Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, who has led security efforts since being called in after police and protesters clashed Wednesday, drawing much of the national attention and media that have taken over what is, in relation to the larger metropolitan area, an absolutely minuscule portion of land.
Johnson has been a relatively popular figure here, joining protesters in marches and walking up and down Florissant in an attempt to curry favor and support. A native of the area, Johnson has tried desperately to calm tensions here both in person and during media appearances. Prior to his arrival, there were virtually no efforts made to reach out to citizens and protesters. But when night falls, Johnson resumes his role as general of a force that continues to include officers from the St. Louis County and Ferguson police departments. If the captain could speak as honestly and forcefully as he did today at a church rally for Brown, the protesters might be less keen to riot.
“My heart goes out to you and I say I’m sorry,” he told the assembly at the Greater Grace Church. “I wear this uniform and I should stand up here and say I’m sorry.”
No such admission has not come from Thomas Jackson, the Ferguson police chief. He apparently defied the wishes of the Justice Department when he released surveillance footage that allegedly showed Brown robbing cigars from a gas station hours before he was shot. Jackson later admitted the officer who shot Brown, Darren Wilson, didn't know Brown was a robbery suspect when their altercation began.
Sunday night went much the same as Wednesday. When the police made their first major attempt to clear Florissant, many vehicles remained in the area, causing a chaotic traffic jam as an officer demanded over a bullhorn “Disperse now or you will face arrest or other actions.” Those in vehicles didn’t really have anywhere to go, but thanks to residents who directed traffic were able to clear the area fairly quickly. After that it was only those on foot who remained, daring police to come further. They did. Bit by bit. Sending protesters and residents racing northward while tear gas canisters chased not far behind.
The fleeing crowds included journalists documenting the situation. While the relationship between the two groups has been tense at times, that wasn’t the case on Sunday night. “Don’t let that shit run you off,” a resident said to a photographer as tear gas was fired in.
After a week of men, women and children staring down officers in battle gear, some of the protesters have started to speak in a martial tone. “This isn’t a defeat,” said one man near the QuikTrip gas station. “This is a tactical retreat.”
Later on Monday, it appears, the real military operation will begin.