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Police fire tear gas as Ferguson protesters defy curfew

© Photo: Joe Raedle / Getty Images North America / AFP | Around 150 protesters defied a police curfew to take to the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, early Sunday, August 17, 2014.

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-08-17

Police in Ferguson, Missouri, said they fired smoke and tear gas early Sunday to disperse protesters, angry at the shooting of a black teenager by a white police officer, after they defied a midnight curfew announced the day before.

“You must disperse immediately,” a law enforcement official warned over a loudspeaker as police slowly moved down the street where dozens of demonstrators remained after the curfew took effect. Officers were equipped with gas masks and full-length shields, standing among armored vehicles.

A short time later, officers began firing canisters toward the crowd. Highway Patrol Spokesman Lt. John Hotz initially said police only used smoke, but later told The Associated Press that they also fired tear gas canisters. He said of police efforts: “Obviously, we’re trying to give them every opportunity to comply with the curfew.”

On Saturday Missouri Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and announced a curfew to go into effect between midnight and 5am local time (0500 to 1000 GMT).

It followed a week of racially charged protests and looting over the August 9 fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, 28, in the suburban St Louis community.

In announcing the curfew, Nixon said that though many protesters were making themselves heard peacefully, the state would not allow looters to endanger the community.

“We must first have and maintain peace. This is a test. The eyes of the world are watching,” Nixon said. “We cannot allow the ill will of the few to undermine the good will of the many.”

Though hundreds of other protesters left peacefully before the curfew, about 150 people remained in the streets, police said.

Some protesters still in the street, under a downpour of rain, were chanting, “No justice, no curfew, no peace”, while others implored the crowd not to move forward towards police.

Witnesses at the scene said they heard gunshots during the confrontation between police and demonstrators after the curfew began, but it could not immediately be confirmed whether any shots were fired.

CNN showed video of some protesters being loaded into vehicles, but a Highway Patrol spokesman said he could not confirm any arrests.

Investigation could take weeks

Earlier on Saturday evening the mood among the protesters on a main road in Ferguson was tense and defiant.

“The curfew is going to make things worse,” said protester Phonso Scott, 24. “I think the cops are going to get violent tonight, but they can’t lock us all up.”

Tensions ran high all week but escalated on Friday evening, pitting mostly black protesters against mostly white police as the demonstrators swarmed through a residential and retail district that has become a centre of the unrest, and some in the crowd looted a handful of stores that night.

Brown’s family and supporters have demanded for days that the officer who shot Brown be held accountable. The US Department of Justice is investigating the shooting for any civil rights violations, and the St Louis County Police department has also launched a probe.

Wilson is a six-year police veteran who had no previous complaints against him, the local police chief has said.

Wilson has been on paid administrative leave since the shooting. St Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch said it could be weeks before the investigation wraps up.

The police version of how Brown was shot differs from witness accounts, including that of the friend who was walking with Brown at the time, Dorian Johnson, 22.

In the police version, after Wilson asked Brown to move out of the road onto a sidewalk Brown reached into the patrol car and struggled with Wilson for the officer’s service gun. Wilson, who sustained a facial injury, then shot Brown a number of times.

Johnson and at least one other witness have said the officer reached out through his car window to grab at Brown and the teenager was trying to get away from the officer when he was shot. Brown held up his hands in a sign of surrender but the officer got out of his patrol car and shot Brown several times, they said.

FBI agents were at the scene of the shooting on Saturday interviewing residents, and civil rights activist Jesse Jackson also visited the site, leading a prayer near a makeshift memorial to Brown just a few feet from where he died.

The Reverend Al Sharpton has said he would lead a rally with Brown’s family in Ferguson on Sunday.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)

Date created : 2014-08-17

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