Missouri Governor Jay Nixon activated the National Guard late Sunday night to deal with growing violence that has overflowed a midnight curfew for two nights running in the small city of Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis.
“Tonight, a day of hope, prayers and peaceful protests was marred by the violent criminal acts of an organized and growing number of individuals, many from outside the community and state, whose actions are putting the residents and businesses of Ferguson at risk,” Nixon said.
The violence was triggered by an incident on August 9 in which an unarmed black teenager, 18-year-old Michael Brown, was shot and killed by white police officer Darren Wilson.
But what might normally have been a local event has been blown into national prominence, with an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigations, commentary by President Barack Obama at the White House, and an additional probe by the St. Louis County police.
The governor has also provoked the ire of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, all of whom have asked him to rescind the state of emergency — and the curfew — in Ferguson.
The decision to deploy the National Guard was clearly not a frivolous spur-of-the-moment call, however. There had been a steady escalation in the violence in Ferguson, one that was being fed from outside. Protesters were gathering nightly — and during the day — to demonstrate, becoming increasingly violent.
Some of the “protesters” were armed, as police belatedly discovered on Sunday, and one protester shot another Sunday night, forcing security personnel to resort to tear gas and smoke cannisters in order to reach the injured man to get him to a hospital.
Strangely, a Palestinian Arab agitator in Oakland, California mentioned Ferguson while talking to a journalist during a pre-planned blockade against an Israeli-owned ZIM shipping vessel on Sunday.
“On Twitter, we’ve seen people in Gaza tweet to protesters in Ferguson how to cope with teargas,” Mohamed Shehk, media and communications director of the Oakland-based ‘Critical Resistance’ group, told the UK-based newspaper The Guardian on Saturday.
A midnight curfew was slapped on Ferguson Saturday in an effort to get things back under control. Sunday saw churches packed with people praying for the teen and holding memorials in his memory. Among the attendees was police Captain Ronald S. Johnson, also a black man, who told the boy’s family during services at Greater Grace Church, “My heart goes out to you, and I say that I’m sorry. I wear this uniform, and I should stand up here and say that I’m sorry.” He spoke about his own son and about the youth in the neighborhood, speaking with hope for the future and about the need to pray.
The state attorney general, Chris Koster, also came to church at the Greater St. Mark Family Church in Ferguson. “You have lost a member of your community at the hands of a member of my community,” he said. “Not just the Caucasian community, but the law enforcement community. And that is painful to every good-hearted person in this city.”
In churches throughout the city, in fact, there were calls for grace, and calm by spiritual and community leaders alike.
But by nightfall, demonstrators were hurling firebombs (Molotov cocktails) at police and destroying local property as well. The state’s Highway Patrol was brought in to supplement the town’s local police force, but apparently more was required despite a vow by Johnson that his officers would “communicate” rather than resort to tear gas.
At the end, the tear gas was necessary, he said, in order to enable his officers to reach a protester who was shot by an armed rioter. The injured protester is listed in critical condition according to ABC News. A Highway Patrol spokesperson told media seven arrests were made and three people were injured; none were police officers.