Tensions subside after peaceful Ferguson protests

Alan Scher Zagier
Associated Press
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Ferguson, Mo. — Tensions briefly flared then subsided late Saturday night and early Sunday in Ferguson as nightly protests continued two weeks after a white city police officer fatally shot an unarmed black 18-year-old.

Police reported only a handful of arrests, and traffic flowed freely along the West Florissant Avenue commercial corridor near the suburban St. Louis apartment complex where Ferguson officer Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown six times in the middle of the street on Aug. 9.

But once again, peaceful daytime protests gave way to angrier shouts and more defiant marchers as night fell — including some who argued angrily with one another. But well past midnight, there were no sign of police riot gear, tear gas or armored vehicles that marked earlier street skirmishes in the first week after Brown’s death.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon reiterated his support Sunday for sticking with the St. Louis County prosecutor, who has convened a grand jury to begin hearing evidence and to decide whether to indict the officer. The federal government also has launched its own investigation into the shooting.

“He was elected overwhelmingly by the people a number of times. He’s been through a lot. Certainly, with this level of attention, I think everyone will work hard to do their best work,” Nixon said of St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

On Saturday afternoon, a diverse group of protesters — many of them children — marched peacefully alongside community activists and uniformed police as calm largely prevailed for a fourth straight day in north St. Louis County.

“I think some of the frustration is dying down because more information is coming out,” said Alana Ramey, 25, a St. Louis resident. “I think there is more action going on. People are being more organized and that is helping.”

The protesters included a dozen students and recent graduates of Harvard University who arrived in Ferguson after a 20-hour drive. They chatted amicably with Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, who commended their passion and encouraged them to remain civically active.

“When we go back to our communities, there’s a Ferguson near us,” said the Rev. Willie Bodrick II, 26, of Roxbury, Massachusetts, a youth minister and recent graduate of Harvard Divinity School.

The images of well-armed suburban police officers confronting protesters in Ferguson with tear gas and rubber bullets after the Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown by Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson prompted widespread criticism of how local law enforcement agencies have used federal grants to obtain military gear from the Pentagon. President Barack Obama ordered the White House to conduct a review of those programs after calling for more separation between the nation’s armed forces and civilian police.

About 10 miles south of Ferguson, supporters of Wilson rallied Saturday at a sports pub owned by the family of Mark Rodebaugh, a 21-year veteran of the St. Louis police department. Rodebaugh said he wanted to have the event because Wilson’s name has been “dragged through the mud.” He said it felt good to see supporters who weren’t officers or relatives of officers.

“We’ve got a hard job to do,” he said. “We want people to know they shouldn’t give up on law enforcement.”

Wilson, who has been on paid administrative leave, has not spoken publicly since the shooting and Associated Press reporters have not been able to contact him.

Normandy High School, which Brown attended, observed a moment of silence Saturday morning at the start of a home football game.

“This is something we shouldn’t forget,” said Donald Vaughan Cross, 77, a Hanley Hills resident whose grandson played for the opposing team. “This is something that should be on the minds of everybody — young ones and old ones. And the old ones like myself, we remember. It’s still going on. When is it going to stop? When is it going to end?”

Associated Press reporters Alex Sanz in Ferguson and Sara Burnett in St. Louis contributed to this report.

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