FERGUSON, Mo. — Unrest returned to the streets of this St. Louis suburb early Saturday as hundreds of demonstrators, angered by the shooting death of an unarmed African-American teenager by a police officer, engaged in a standoff with the police that was punctuated by threats and a new round of denunciations of law enforcement practices.
The confrontation, the first serious one since the Missouri State Highway Patrol on Thursday assumed responsibility for security operations here, ended at about 4 a.m. when the authorities, prompted by the gradual dispersal of demonstrators, pulled back to their nearby command post. The Associated Press reported one law enforcement official had been injured overnight.
The unrest capped an extraordinary day of events that has roiled this community since the teenager, Michael Brown, 18, was fatally shot by a police officer last Saturday while walking home from a convenience store with a friend.
On Friday, the police chief of Ferguson, Thomas Jackson, said at a news conference that the officer who shot Brown was Darren Wilson, who has served on the Ferguson force for four years and in another local department for two years and who had no disciplinary charges. Wilson, who is white, has been placed on leave, and his location is unknown.
But the release of his name was overshadowed by the simultaneous announcement that Brown was a suspect in a robbery at a convenience store shortly before his death, leading to questions about timing and motives. Surveillance videotapes released by the Ferguson police appeared to show Brown shoving a store clerk aside as he took a box of cigarillos.
In a later news conference, on Friday afternoon, Jackson said Wilson had not been aware Brown “was a suspect in the case” and instead had stopped him and a companion “because they were walking down the street blocking traffic.”
Brown’s family, their lawyer and others in the community expressed disgust, accusing the police of trying to divert attention from the central issue — the unexplained shooting of an unarmed young man — by releasing the information, which included a 19-page police report on the robbery but no new details about the shooting.
The Highway Patrol officer named to take over security in Ferguson, Capt. Ronald S. Johnson, also expressed his displeasure with how the information had been released. Johnson, who grew up in the area, had been brought in by the governor Thursday to restore peace after days of confrontations between demonstrators and the police in riot gear and military-style vehicles. The captain said he had not been told that the authorities planned to release the video of the robbery along with the name of the officer. But he sought to calm people down, saying, “In our anger, we have to make sure that we don’t burn down our own house.”
Protests on the streets Friday night started peacefully. Cars clogged streets as horns blared and music played. Hundreds of demonstrators clutched signs and chanted slogans, but many others danced to music. On one street, six people danced atop a delivery truck.
Although the police presence was limited, Johnson walked through the community, taking photographs with young children and offering hugs and handshakes.
“I’m pleased with how it’s going,” he said early in the night.
But tensions rose around midnight when the police released a small amount of tear gas as they backed away from the crowd. Some protesters threw rocks and other objects, according to media reports. Some demonstrators fired weapons into the air.
Johnson told The Associated Press that the police backed off to try to ease the tension.
“We had to evaluate the security of the officers there and also the rioters,” he told The AP. “We just felt it was better to move back.”
Using people and vehicles, protesters quickly blocked a major thoroughfare here, prompting the police to return and form a barricade of their own. For a time, the protesters and the police faced off in road. The police urge protesters to go home, and demonstrators, many of them chanting slogans like “We ready for y’all,” approached the officers. Some tossed glass bottles toward the police.
One protester sought to rally others to action through a megaphone, telling them, “You say you’re ready to jam? Let’s jam.”
A police officer repeatedly urged the demonstrators to leave the roadway and avoid coming too close to the police. The official, speaking through an intercom system, warned violators were “subject to arrest and other actions,” and a police helicopter, its spotlight shining, flew over this city of about 21,000.
At times, the police warned, “We don’t want anyone to get hurt.”
Several protesters, as rain occasionally fell, tried to persuade others to stick with their cause amid the warnings.
“It’s going to be a long war,” one young man said to another. “We need to win a few battles.”
As protesters lingered, some stores became targets for looting. Men and women could be seen racing through the aisles of a liquor store and running out with bottles of alcohol.
Many other retailers, though, were left untouched, in part because some demonstrators blocked entrances and windows in a bid to limit looting. Such conduct, they said, diluted the seriousness of the message they were trying to send to the police and the public.
The police took no action to protect the liquor store or apprehend any suspects.
By 4 a.m., the crowd had mostly broken up and the police returned to their command post.
Some journalists covering the event reported being threatened overnight by protesters who thought they might be undercover police officers. In one instance, young men wearing dark bandannas repeatedly struck the windows of a car, ordering a journalist from a church parking lot.
Below are some of the social media reports from Ferguson:
Protestors now turned guards continue to block the entrance of this liquor store. pic.twitter.com/Lk4Fn48ETG— Yamiche Alcindor (@Yamiche) August 16, 2014
Wireless store being looted pic.twitter.com/fxJ6drrkox— Wesley Lowery (@WesleyLowery) August 16, 2014
I don't know how things got this way but tonight was definitely an escalation in tension.— Yamiche Alcindor (@Yamiche) August 16, 2014