Ferguson Protesters Protect Stores from Looters, Riots As Police Hold Back

Tear gas fired in Ferguson. - Danny Wicentowski
Danny Wicentowski
Tear gas fired in Ferguson.

How can police keep people safe when their very presence incites fury and rioting?

That's the problem Ferguson faced as a seventh day of rage sparked by the killing of unarmed eighteen-year-old Michael Brown brought more riots, looting, militarized police and tear gas to this typically quiet suburb. As rioters broke into Ferguson Market and Liquor (where Brown allegedly stole cigars before he was shot by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson), Feel Beauty Supply, a meat market and an electronics store, peaceful demonstrators were quick to guard businesses themselves, putting their bodies between the smashed storefronts and looters with covered faces.

See all Riverfront Times coverage on Michael Brown and Ferguson.

Except for a tear-gas canister thrown at the beginning of the rioting before midnight, police held back, following cues from community leaders trying to negotiate peace with angry rioters.

Peaceful protests in Ferguson had quieted down Friday night, leading many of the community leaders and journalists who've spent a chaotic and exhausting week on the scene to go home or spend time with loved ones. But the peace broke at Ferguson Market, where an angry crowd of about 200 rioters surrounded officers protecting the store, according to media interviews with Missouri State Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson and St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar. Police used tear gas to disperse the crowd and remove officers behind the line set up at West Florissant and Ferguson avenues. Protesters regrouped in the street, kneeling with backs to police and linking arms. Two of the well-known faces keeping peace in the conflict -- Alderman Antonio French and activist Anthony Shahid -- convinced the crowd to hold off as they conferred with Johnson, according to French. Officials agreed to hold back and to stop shouting orders through a bullhorn, which seemed to incite more anger from demonstrators, if the protesters moved their line away from police and back toward Ferguson Avenue. Suddenly, the sound of breaking glass signaled a new round of looting, starting with Feel Beauty Supply and spreading rapidly to about five businesses in the area. For the first time since Sunday night, looters filled their arms with beauty products, electronics, alcohol, food and whatever else they could carry. Anyone who has watched night after night of unrest in Ferguson could have expected to see riot police descend on the looters in full force, as they have on protesters for several nights. Instead, something amazing happened: Many watching the looting began to question why police, especially new leader Johnson, weren't stopping looters. French had an answer for them:

Follow Lindsay Toler on Twitter at @StLouisLindsay. E-mail the author at [email protected].

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