Follow the Soapbox
 
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New York Times
By ALAN BLINDER and TANZINA VEGA
AUG. 18, 2014

  FERGUSON, Mo. — Gov. Jay Nixon announced early Monday that he would deploy the Missouri National Guard to this St. Louis suburb, ratcheting up efforts to quell unrest that has paralyzed the city since an unarmed black teenager was killed by a white police officer.

Mr. Nixon said in a statement that he chose to activate the National Guard because of “deliberate, coordinated and intensifying violent acts.”

“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,” Mr. Nixon said.

The governor’s decision came after the worst night of violence since the unrest began.
On Sunday night, hours before the start of a second day of a mandatory curfew that the governor had ordered, police officers came under assault from gunfire and firebombs and responded with their largest show of force so far.


Using a barrage of tear gas and smoke canisters, and firing rubber bullets and deploying hundreds of officers in riot gear to sweep the streets of protesters, the law enforcement officials had the situation largely under control by the time the curfew began at midnight.

Protesters said that the police acted without provocation. But at a news conference about an hour into the curfew, Ronald S. Johnson, the Missouri State Highway Patrol captain brought in by the governor to take over security here, blamed “premeditated criminal acts” that were intended to provoke the police.

“We had to act to protect lives and property,” he said.

Captain Johnson said that some demonstrators throughout Ferguson had opened fire on the police, hurled firebombs and looted and vandalized businesses.

It appeared that an attempted attack by some protesters on the shopping center the police have used as a command center prompted the most severe response from the authorities.

Captain Johnson said that at 8:56 p.m., hundreds of protesters had descended upon the area of the command post. Soon, he said, “multiple Molotov cocktails were thrown at police.” The police responded with tear gas.

The captain said that after that episode, the police had received reports that a McDonald’s restaurant had been seized by the demonstrators. Meanwhile, police officers were being targeted with bottles, Captain Johnson told reporters.

“Based on these conditions, I had no alternative but to elevate the level of our response,” he said.

A spokesman for the Highway Patrol said the authorities had made seven or eight arrests, and Captain Johnson said he believed three people – none of them police officers – had been injured in the outbreak of violence.

The violence occurred along West Florissant Avenue, one of the city’s main streets, near an area that the police had partitioned for the news media, and within two blocks of where Michael Brown, the unarmed black teenager, was killed on Aug. 9.

On Monday, administrators of the Ferguson-Florissant School District, as well as nearby Jennings, again delayed the start of classes. The protests have “contributed to concerns we have about children walking to school or waiting for buses on streets impacted by this activity, debris on the roads that could impact transportation, and continued disruption affecting our students and families in the area,” the Ferguson-Florissant district said.

Key Smith, 46, a veteran who served in Iraq, said that he, his wife and their 7-year-old son had traveled from Fort Valley, Ga., to attend a church rally to honor Mr. Brown and that they were caught up in the violence as they were trying to get home.

“I just came out to see a peaceful rally,” Mr. Smith said. “It takes away from his death, his memory.”

Mr. Smith said he did not blame the police for their response. “You have to disperse the crowd if the crowd gets wild,” he said. “This is getting out of hand. It’s kind of sad that it’s come to this. If you really want to hit them in the right way, get out there and vote.”


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Officials extended the curfew for another night and said they would decide each day whether to continue to enforce it.

Earlier Sunday, well before the unrest of the night, civil rights organizations called on Governor Nixon to rescind the state of emergency and the curfew in Ferguson.

The American Civil Liberties Union, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the N.A.A.C.P. Legal Defense Fund said in a statement that the governor’s action “suspends the constitutional right to assemble by punishing the misdeeds of the few through the theft of constitutionally protected rights of the many.”

“We need more protest, expression, discussion and debate — not less,” the statement said.

In St. Louis, about 100 people turned out in a show of support for Officer Wilson, according to local news media reports.

In churches here, the calls for calm continued.

At the Greater St. Mark Family Church in Ferguson, the state attorney general, Chris Koster, said he came to pray and grieve. “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.”


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He said he feared that the armored vehicle the police used on West Florissant Avenue was a symbol of the armor that had grown between the black community and law enforcement.

“This week is a 50-year flood of anger that has broken loose in this city, the likes of which we have not seen since Dr. King was killed,” he said, referring to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “And I am sorry that I have not done more from the law enforcement community to break down that wall of anger, that wall of armor.”

At the Sunday morning service at New Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church, about 40 people gathered. Jaquan Vassel, 24, the church deacon, played a video on a screen hanging above the pulpit that he had seen the night before on his Facebook feed. In it, two black men were reading from the Book of Psalms during a protest on West Florissant Avenue. “I commend them for trying to look to God,” Mr. Vassel told the congregants, “but you hear the anger in their voices.”

“They are angry at the police officers,” he added. “We have to show them how to forgive, just like God forgave us.”

Forgiveness was also emphasized by Alonso Adams Jr., the assistant pastor of the church, who spoke after Mr. Vassel. “How many of us have killed people with our lips?” he asked. “How many brothers and sisters, white or black, have we defamed with our words?”

Mr. Adams acknowledged the anger toward the police, in particular toward Officer Wilson. But, the pastor added, “If he came into this church this morning and asked Jerusalem to forgive him, how many of you would offer up your arms?”

And later at Greater Grace Church, where cars were lined up for at least a mile, the Rev. Al Sharpton called the killing of Mr. Brown “a defining moment on how this country deals with policing and the rights of its citizens to address how police behave in this country.”

Mr. Sharpton recalled Marlene Pinnock, a black woman who was assaulted by an officer in Los Angeles this summer; Eric Garner, a black man in Staten Island who was put in a chokehold by an officer and who later died; and the death of Mr. Brown, saying: “We have had enough.”

One woman in the crowd raised a handwritten sign that equated the Ferguson Police Department with the Ku Klux Klan.

Mr. Sharpton admonished the crowd not to loot in Mr. Brown’s name. “We are not looters,” he said. “We are liberators.”



 


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