MISSOURI – Mass arrests
Police detain several protesters in Ferguson
FERGUSON –– About 150 people have been arrested during several days of protests around Ferguson, Missouri, where largely peaceful demonstrations over police shootings of unarmed black men have been punctuated by flashes of violence.
Police said today that 22 people had been arrested overnight in Ferguson and another 63 were arrested for trying to block a highway. Yesterday, 57 people were arrested for passing barricades that blocked a federal court in St Louis.
A state of emergency declared yesterday was still in effect for the Ferguson area, where protesters have been marching and staging acts of civil disobedience to mark the first anniversary of the shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer.
Sunday night’s rallies were marred by violence that included a drive-by shooting and several instances of rocks and bottles being hurled at police. A man accused of firing on police was shot and critically wounded.
After former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson shot Brown a year ago in the city, where the population is predominantly black, a US Justice Department investigation found systemic racial bias among Ferguson officials.
A grand jury cleared Wilson of any wrongdoing in the incident.
Brown’s death prompted greater scrutiny of racial bias within the United States criminal justice system. It also gave rise to the Black Lives Matter movement, which gained momentum after unarmed black men were killed by police in New York, Baltimore, Los Angeles, and Cincinnati.
Today police braced for more protests in Ferguson while some residents expressed frustration over what they see as a persistent cycle of violence and bias.
Ferguson resident Roberta Lynch, 51, who was among demonstrators yesterday evening, said relations between police and
the community had hardly improved over the past year.
“They are doing the same old stuff, taking our rights,” Lynch said. “They need to give us our space.”
The city has said it would abolish several administrative fees that affect low-income people, such as the $25 fee for towing vehicles, and set up payment programs for people having difficulty paying fines for traffic offenses. The city has also said it has made it easier for residents to apply for penalty reductions on fines imposed by city agencies.
By this afternoon there had been no major rallies in the St Louis area, and there was a light police presence on the streets of Ferguson. Work crews were cleaning and repairing a parking lot where a some demonstrators had gathered gravel to throw at police.
Brian Fletcher, a former mayor of Ferguson now on the city council, said he believed that violence the city has seen over the past year was coming to an end.
“If this is the worst that’s going to happen, then we’ll survive,” said Fletcher, standing in the I Love Ferguson store he opened in October to raise money for city businesses and institutions that were damaged in riots last year.
Rallies over the past few days have been mostly peaceful, but late yesterday police carrying shields rushed a crowd of protesters prompting many to scream and run. Protesters who were arrested were suspected of throwing frozen water bottles and rocks at police and other offences, according to the St Louis County Police Department.
St Louis County declared a state of emergency yesterday due to unrest over Ferguson, giving police greater authority
to maintain peace and security.
The declaration came after violence erupted and police critically wounded a man in an exchange of gunfire. Prosecutors charged 18-year-old Tyrone Harris with four counts of assault on law enforcement, five counts of armed criminal action, and one count of shooting at a vehicle. His bond was set at $250,000.
St Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar told reporters police would give protesters leeway to march but said authorities had to maintain public safety.
Protester Rayna Martin, 17, who lives in the neighbourhood where Brown was shot, said police have made violence in her community worse.
“They kill us, they get away with it. It’s crazy,” she said.
Adding to the tension, four white men carrying military-style rifles and sidearms, who said they are part of a group called Oath Keepers, patrolled Ferguson’s streets.
The group describes itself as an association of current and former American soldiers and police who aim to protect the US Constitution. The Southern Poverty Law Centre, a non-profit civil rights organization, has described the Oath Keepers as a “fiercely anti-government, militaristic group”.
The St Louis County police chief condemned their appearance in Ferguson.