Ferguson Unrest Cools Down Tuesday Following Tense Few Days

White militia group shows up to stir the pot; cops’ Facebook page tries to inflame tensions; cooler heads prevail.
Moses Frenck

The mood in Ferguson, Mo., on Tuesday, the fifth consecutive day of protests marking the one-year anniversary of the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, was significantly different than the unrest during the previous days.

More than 100 protestors had gathered along West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson Tuesday evening, but by midnight “only a few dozen people” remained, according to The Associated Press, which said the protestors gathered earlier “mostly mingled quietly along the side of the road. Some chanted, and a few held signs.”

Ferguson Unrest Cools Down


Police, most wearing riot gear, appeared to outnumber protesters, AP reported, and police said no arrests were made during Tuesday’s protest.

Tuesday was a marked difference from the previous two nights, when news video and images of protesters clashing with police in riot gear, young Black people being arrested by the dozens and smoke bombs filling the air depicted scenes indistinguishable from last year’s unrest following the killing of Brown, who was unarmed, at the hands of former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson.

Events marking the anniversary of Brown’s death had been peaceful until Sunday night, when protests turned violent, some looting occurred and an 18-year-old Black suspect was shot by police after he allegedly fired a handgun into an unmarked police van. Police used smoke to disperse the crowd, and three officers were injured. The suspect, Tyrone Harris Jr., remains in critical condition, according to authorities, who late Tuesday released surveillance video they said shows Harris pulling out a handgun from his waistband.

Earlier Sunday, a post was placed on the Columbia (Mo.) Police Officers’ Association’s Facebook page declaring the anniversary of the shooting death of Michael Brown “Darren Wilson Day,” which further inflamed tensions and was ordered taken down. According to the local ABC affiliate, the post said, “our support for Officer Wilson has nothing to do with race or anything else other than the fact that he was thoroughly investigated, twice, once by the state of Missouri and once by President Obama’s Justice Department, and BOTH investigations found he did NOTHING wrong. … Yet, he lost his job and his career (again…even though he was found to have done nothing wrong.). So, yes, we stand by this innocent, but persecuted officer.”

In a statement, the Columbia Police Department said the post “served to inflame the emotions of some in our community” and that the CPD does not condone promoting “divisive messages in our community.”

On Monday, police presence was far greater, and St. Louis County declared a state of emergency, giving St. Louis County Police — instead of the Ferguson Police Department — control of security.

Monday did not see the violence experienced the previous night, but more than 20 people were arrested overnight into Tuesday. Another 64 people were arrested earlier Monday for blocking Interstate 70 during a demonstration.

Also on Monday, the Pentagon ordered the city of Ferguson to surrender two surplus military Humvees the Defense Department said were not properly acquired. According to the Guardian, a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Public Safety said the Pentagon approved the transfer of two Humvees to Ferguson in June 2013 and then later gave permission for two more. However, a Department of Defense spokesman said the latter two Humvees “are not on the books” and had to be returned because of it.

Tuesday saw a rather surreal scene in which members of an armed militia group calling itself “Oath Keepers” were patrolling the streets of Ferguson wearing bulletproof vests and openly carrying rifles and pistols on West Florissant Avenue.

St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said their presence was “both unnecessary and inflammatory,” though the men, who said they were there to protect businesses from rioting and looters, were largely left alone by police.

Many observers said police would have acted differently if Black protestors were similarly walking down the street holding military-style assault rifles and wearing side arms.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has described the “Oath Keepers” as a “fiercely anti-government, militaristic group” that fears the government could potentially disregard the U.S. Constitution and take away the rights of citizens. However, SPLC does not consider “Oath Keepers” to be a hate group.

The state of emergency was expected to be lifted by Wednesday, depending on how events unfolded on Tuesday, police said.

(Originally published in DiversityInc Aug. 12, 2015.)