Two men were shot during the chaos of demonstrations late Monday and early today near West Florissant and Canfield, police confirmed. Officers weren’t involved in the shootings. There was no immediate information on the identities or conditions of the victims.
Police also confirmed that 31 people were arrested, including some who had come from as far as New York and California.
In an emotional news conference around 2:30 a.m. in the area of the protests, Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ronald S. Johnson said the shootings demonstrate “a dangerous dynamic in the night” in which a few people determined to cause trouble can pull a whole crowd into it.
While he acknowledged there is currently no curfew in place, he urged legitimate protesters come our during the day from now on, rather than at night.
“We do not want to lose another life in this community,” said Johnson.
His comments came after a night punctuated by bottles thrown at police, two fires in the area, and scattered reports of gunfire.
“Our officers came under heavy fire,” said Johnson. He stressed that “not a single bullet was fired by officers.”
Johnson, who was put on charge of security in Ferguson last week under orders by Gov. Jay Nixon, appeared before a table that displayed two handguns that officers had confiscated in an unrelated incident during the night’s strife, as well as a Molotov cocktail.
Johnson said the weapons were confiscated from “violent agitators” who were using other peaceful protests as “cover” to cause conflicts with police.
“This nation is watching each and every one of us,” said Johnson, who was visibly angry and emotional during the news conference. “I am not going to let the criminals that have come here from across this country, or live in this neighborhood, define this community.”
Johnson also lectured reporters at the scene, telling them they were interfering with police and putting themselves in danger by failing to immediately clear areas when asked to by officers. He also implored reporters to “not glamorize the acts of criminals.”
Some reporters at the news conference pushed back, saying he was infringing on their ability to do their jobs by asking them to stay separate from protesters.
3 a.m., Kevin McDermott
OUR EARLIER COVERAGE:
FERGUSON • With armed Missouri National Guard troops posted to area streets for the first time in modern history, violence erupted anew Monday night as protesters hurled bottles at police and fired shots, and officers responded with sound cannons.
“Back off now!” one officer ordered protesters as the conflict escalated shortly before 10 p.m.
Later, police fired tear gas at protesters who defied orders to disperse. Police fired at least three tear gas volleys near the QuikTrip as emergency vehicles sped to the scene. Police also used tear gas to break up protesters near West Florissant Avenue and Northwoods Estates.
“They’re gassing our kids,” one protester shouted.
In front of McDonald’s, a tactical unit removed a driver from his car at gunpoint. Some protesters tipped over portable toilets and dragged them into the streets.
An armored vehicle moved down the street trying to clear the crowd, and some pastors stood with their arms locked trying to restore peace. They helped to move protesters away from the police line.
The confrontation followed a day of dizzying new developments in the Aug. 9 police shooting death of unarmed Michael Brown, 18, and the week of protests, looting and violence that has followed:
• A private autopsy report released Monday morning showed Brown was struck by at least six bullets, including the fatal shot to the top of the head.
• Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon brought in the National Guard early Monday to keep order and protect a police command center. It marks the first time the Guard has been deployed in the St. Louis area to address civil unrest since at least World War II.
• In a national address, President Barack Obama condemned violence by protesters, cautioned against use of “excessive force” by police and urged Americans to “heal rather than wound each other.” Strikingly, his comments on Ferguson were paired with a discussion of the violence in war-torn Iraq.
• Obama said he will dispatch U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to Ferguson on Wednesday to meet with FBI agents and Justice Department personnel conducting the federal criminal investigation into the shooting.
• Scattered arrests continued in the region during the day. They included a photojournalist whose arrest was captured on video and posted online, and Hedy Epstein, 90, a Holocaust survivor and political activist, who was among scores of protesters who converged on Nixon’s downtown St. Louis satellite office at the Wainwright Building.
• In what might be the most fundamental measure of the lack of normalcy, the Ferguson-Florissant School District announced Monday night that schools — their opening already postponed — would stay closed for the rest of the week “to allow needed time for peace and stability to be restored to our community.”
Monday in Ferguson began, as most mornings have for the past week, with local business owners cleaning up debris and assessing damage from the vandalism and looting of the night before.
“At least in Iraq you know who the enemy is,” said Air Force veteran Virgil Smith, 48, of Florissant. He was driving through the area, saw the broken storefront window at Rehoboth Pharmacy on West Florissant and stopped to help sweep up. “Here you never know. They are all blended in with the community.”
The owner, Idowu Ajibola, was doing an inventory. Looters took some pain medication and Xanax, he said. They also stole hair products. Replacing the glass will probably cost $6,000, Ajibola said, “and what they took is probably just 10 percent of that.” He figures they didn’t get more because he had turned off all the security lights inside the store when the rioting began and the looters couldn’t see what was inside.
Sunday night’s violence had been, by most accounts, the worst yet, frustrating officials who have used a series of rotating responses to end looting and violence.
Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ronald S. Johnson, who was put in control of security on Ferguson’s streets last week, blamed a small group of agitators for Sunday night violence that included shootings, Molotov cocktails and looting. He said he believed those who instigated the violence came to what had been a peaceful protest determined to “provoke a response.”
Other law enforcement authorities said three people had been injured in shootings during the night. None of the shootings involved officers, authorities said. Police said seven or eight people were arrested on charges of failing to disperse.
“Based on these conditions, I had no alternative but to elevate our response,” Johnson said, referring to officers’ push to clear the streets hours before the midnight curfew with measures that included the use of tear gas.
As cleanup continued in Ferguson, Michael Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, appeared on ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Monday, where she was asked how peace can be restored in Ferguson. “With justice,” she told the show’s Robin Roberts. Her definition of justice, she said, is arresting Darren Wilson, the officer who shot Brown, “and making him accountable for his actions.”
Nixon announced early Monday that he was eliminating the previous night’s curfew but calling in the Missouri National Guard. It was the latest shift in strategy as officials struggled to maintain security without further inciting protesters.
Last week, Nixon called in the Missouri Highway Patrol to take over security from the St. Louis County Police, on the premise that it would provide a less-militarized police presence, and it appeared to calm tension Thursday night. But the situation deteriorated over the weekend after local authorities identified Brown’s shooter as Wilson and a video was released implicating Brown in a robbery shortly before the shooting.
Nixon said the Guard’s role will be limited to protecting the command center in the Westfall shopping center, formerly Northland, on West Florissant Avenue. Police officials said the center was the destination of protesters who were met with tear gas Sunday evening.
“The Guard will concentrate its resources on carrying out this limited mission,” Nixon said in a statement.
“I join the people of Ferguson, and all Missourians, in strongly condemning the violent acts we saw (Sunday) night, including the firing upon law enforcement officers, the shooting of a civilian, the throwing of Molotov cocktails, looting and a coordinated attempt to overrun the unified command center,” he said in the statement.
“We are all frustrated and looking for justice to be achieved regarding the shooting death of Michael Brown,” he said. “As the dual investigations continue into what happened nine days ago at Canfield Green, we must defend Ferguson from these violent interlopers so that the peaceful protests can operate in peace and the search for answers and justice can continue.”
Peace and the search for answers were themes Obama employed later in the day. He addressed the Ferguson situation in a national speech on the “pair of violent crises” facing the nation, as USA Today put it Monday — the other being continuing violence in Iraq.
“We have all seen images of protesters and law enforcement in the streets. It’s clear that the vast majority of people are peacefully protesting. What’s also clear is that a small minority of individuals are not,” Obama said. “While I understand the passions and the anger that arise over the death of Michael Brown, giving into that anger by looting or carrying guns, and even attacking the police only serves to raise tensions and stir chaos. It undermines rather than advancing justice.”
Obama reiterated the right to peacefully protest without undo restrictions and said that constitutional rights must be vigilantly protected.
Holder, the attorney general, will travel Wednesday to Ferguson to meet with those in the Justice Department who are conducting a separate, independent civil rights investigation into Michael Brown’s death.
Jesse Bogan, Joe Holleman, Margaret Gillerman, Denise Hollinshed, Michael D. Sorkin, Joel Currier, Kim Bell, Lilly Fowler, Ken Leiser, Tim O’Neil, Valerie Schremp Hahn and Chuck Raasch all of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.