After a pretty good Thursday night, things got tense on Friday. Cops were guarding some stores, but they were attacked by a few of the protesters and several officers were injured. The police then retreated to a perimeter, which resulted in a situation eerily reminiscent of the 1992 L.A. riots, when the police withdrew from whole areas of the city, leaving residents to fend for themselves.
A bunch of teenagers began looting some of the stores, and Ferguson residents moved to block the looters and protect the stores, essentially providing their own police protection. They weren’t entirely successful and some of the stores were heavily looted. At one point a fire broke out in one store, and residents entered it and used bottles of soda to extinguish it, thus also taking on the duties of the fire department.
(I was watching some live streaming video from a guy with a cell phone, and I got to see one of the young black men guarding a storefront get a call from his mother and then turn the phone over to an Al Jazeera correspondent who had been interviewing him. The correspondent then assured the women that her son was behaving “very responsibly.” The 21st century is a very strange place.)
I’ve since heard that the police retreat was arranged between community leaders and the police commander, but it was weird having cops posted close enough to antagonize people but not doing anything to, you know, fight crime.
Friday, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency in Ferguson, and imposed a curfew from midnight to 5 am. I really don’t understand this police obsession with people being out late at night. First of all, it’s Saturday night, and they want everyone to be home by midnight?
— Lisa Wines (@omyword) August 16, 2014
And are there no night jobs in Ferguson? I know there’s a 24-hour Walmart, but it looks like that’s in St. Louis. Still, there must be gas stations or convenience stores. And of course bars, although police probably consider them to be part of the problem.
Anyway, I followed events on Twitter last night, and the curfew went about as well as you’d expect. Tell the people of Ferguson they have to be off the streets at midnight, and everybody interprets it the same way: There will be a clash between protesters and cops at midnight. It was like the governor had announced the schedule for a sporting event.
Team Black showed up early in the evening, as usual. Community leaders such as Antonio French urged residents to go home before the curfew, as did the New Black Panthers, who also formed a buffer zone at times between protesters and the cops to try to keep things peaceful.
By midnight there were only a few hundred people in the streets, and a large portion of the press was packed into a sort of First Amendment pit at one end of the protest area. A number of reporters had defied the curfew by moving out into the neighborhood, and the folks at VICE News were live-streaming video from their position in the crowd, thus blatantly documenting their disregard for the curfew.
Team Blue took the field shortly thereafter, as rather a lot of cops with riot gear and armored vehicles gathered in front of the journalist holding area. One of the vehicles had a sniper-looking guy on top, although SWAT snipers also function as observers, so this wasn’t necessarily as threatening as it appeared. They began clearing the street with smoke rounds and then, in violation of an earlier promise made by Capt. Johnson, they fired tear gas as well.
No teargas will be fired, no teargas is being fired right now, oh, that was teargas. You cops are not good at the being trustworthy thing.
— Lucy Steigerwald (@LucyStag) August 17, 2014
Afterwards, the police explained that as they closed in, someone in the crowd began shooting — seriously wounding another person in the crowd — and the police used tear gas in response. They were unable to capture the shooter.
The night was pretty much quiet after that. The curfew will be in effect again tonight, so I expect everyone to set it off around midnight again.