Hours after Gov. Jay Nixon of Missouri imposed a midnight-to-5 a.m. curfew on Saturday in this small city, a group of protesters defied the order and violence flared briefly on Sunday morning, a week after demonstrations erupted over the killing of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer.
A clash between the protesters and dozens of police officers in riot gear began less than 30 minutes after the curfew took effect and ended about 45 minutes later with the arrest of seven people, all charged with “failure to disperse,” officials said.
The protesters had moved toward the officers — some of whom rode in armored vehicles — and chanted: “We are Mike Brown! We have the right to assemble peacefully!” invoking the name of the 18-year-old who was shot and killed by the Ferguson officer.
“You are violating the state-imposed curfew,” a police officer told the demonstrators as rain, heavy at times, passed through the area.
Protesters tossed at least one bottle rocket, the police said, and at the apparent sound of gunshots from a restaurant at the end of one street, demonstrators scrambled to safety.
Despite an earlier pledge by Capt. Ronald S. Johnson, the state Highway Patrol commander who is overseeing security in Ferguson, the police eventually began firing smoke grenades and some tear gas.
At a news conference about 3 a.m. on Sunday, Captain Johnson explained that some tear gas had been used because the police had learned that armed men were inside a barbecue restaurant. One man with a gun had moved to the middle of the street, Captain Johnson said, but escaped. Another man, who was not identified, was shot by an unknown assailant and taken by companions to a hospital, where he was reported to be in critical condition. A police car was fired upon, the captain added, but it was not immediately clear if it was hit.
As the news briefing ended, Captain Johnson was asked whether the curfew would continue, but he did not answer.
The initial curfew announcement came at another news conference, on Saturday afternoon, when Governor Nixon declared a state of emergency here.
“This is not to silence the people of Ferguson, but to address those who are drowning out the voice of the people with their actions,” Mr. Nixon, a Democrat, told reporters and residents at a church in Ferguson. “We will not allow a handful of looters to endanger the rest of this community. If we’re going to achieve justice, we must first have and maintain peace.”
Mr. Nixon added: “This is a test. The eyes of the world are watching.”
The announcement prompted cries of protest and anguish from some members of the public who attended the news conference, with many of them arguing that a curfew would lead only to new confrontations. Some people begged to be able to go into the streets to try to calm any violence, but Captain Johnson said the curfew would be put in place and enforced.
“We won’t enforce it with trucks, we won’t enforce it with tear gas, we will enforce it with communication,” Captain Johnson said. “We will be telling people, ‘It’s time to go home.’ ”
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Mr. Nixon’s announcement, at the Greater St. Mark Family Church, near the site of the unrest, came a week after the death of Mr. Brown, who was shot by Officer Darren Wilson, a six-year police veteran. The police said that Mr. Brown had been stopped for walking down the middle of the street and that a scuffle had ensued, ending in gunfire; other eyewitnesses have disputed that account.
At times during the news conference on Saturday, Mr. Nixon and Captain Johnson both appeared chagrined by the spectacle, the governor curtly telling one prospective questioner, “I’ll let you yell at me next.”
Mr. Nixon described the looting and violence as the work of an isolated few, but emphasized that a curfew was necessary to restore order in a community where residents have complained that basic services, like summoning an ambulance through a 911 call, have been disrupted.
The curfew came under quick attack from some people in the church and from protesters whom Captain Johnson credited with assisting the police in maintaining order.
“Right now, I want to make sure that my people don’t get hurt tonight,” said Malik Z. Shabazz of Black Lawyers for Justice. He said his group would bring a lawsuit challenging the treatment of Ferguson residents by the police in the initial days of turmoil.
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SOURCE: NY Times
Julie Bosman, Alan Blinder