FERGUSON, Missouri — A day of peaceful vigils to mark the one-year anniversary of Michael Brown’s shooting death turned ugly late Sunday night when protesters threw rocks and bottles at officers, and police critically injured a man who they say fired at them.
The unidentified man in his 20s was undergoing surgery early Monday morning.
He unleashed a “remarkable amount of gunfire” against the officers using a stolen handgun, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said.
Belmar descried the attacks on the officers, saying they are hindering the city’s progress.
“We cannot continue, we cannot talk about the good things that we have been talking about, if we are prevented from moving forward with this kind of violence,” Belmar said.
The four plainclothes officers involved in the shooting have between six to 12 years of experience, he said. They have been placed on administrative leave.
Belmar said those resorting to violence are not protesters.
“Protesters are people who are out there to effect change,” Belmar said. There were “several people shooting, several rounds shot.”
Peaceful vigil, then chaos
The one-year anniversary observations of Brown’s shooting death by a white Ferguson police officer started off peacefully Sunday.
But the suspect’s gunfire shifted the focus of the events. When officers first saw him, he was allegedly exchanging gunfire with an unknown person. Detectives in an unmarked car turned on their emergency lights and pursued him, only to be shot at, according to Belmar.
“Detectives then exited the vehicle at which time the suspect turned and began firing rounds at the detectives, who began firing at the suspect,” the St. Louis County Police Department said in a statement.
He continued firing until officers struck him multiple times, Belmar said.
The sounds of gunshots were sporadic.
Some rang out as reporters were talking to Ferguson’s acting police chief, Andre Anderson. A startled Anderson continued speaking with a steady burst of gunfire in the background. Crowds scattered.
Elsewhere, several objects were thrown at police and some businesses damaged, the St. Louis County Police Department said. At least two unmarked police cars had bullet holes on them.
Authorities tried to restore order. Police, with helmets and shields, pushed crowds back and called in tactical units. Some residents held on to their children and watched.
“Multiple shots fired in Ferguson,” the St. Louis Police Department tweeted. “Please leave the area of Ferguson and West Florissant.”
West Florissant Avenue is where Brown was shot.
The details of what happened on August 9, 2014, and the days of protest that followed have become a polarizing topic in Ferguson and America as a whole.
Brown’s killing by officer Darren Wilson sparked outrage and protests nationwide against what some described as racial bias by the police.
A grand jury didn’t indict Wilson and the Justice Department also declined to bring criminal charges.
The killing sparked weeks of protests that at times intensified into street fires and looting of businesses. Police fired tear gas in response, sparking more tensions.
Wilson retired from the Ferguson Police Department.
But protesters — many of whom are skeptical of the local and federal inquiries into the case — point to the concrete examples of police misconduct exposed in the wake of Brown’s death. The case also led to new policing strategies, including police body cameras that have injected truth into areas where there was once only debate.
‘Pray for peace’
Amid the chaos early Monday, some appealed for calm.
“Please pray for peace in Ferguson tonight and forever,” Danny Takhar tweeted. “And the police department really needs to look at what they did last year and today.”
Others posted a video of what they described as a victim of the shooting in Ferguson, lying on the streets bleeding.
“Please get him some help! He’s bleeding out,” a voice said off-camera.
Overnight Saturday, a teenager was arrested and charged with two counts of unlawful use of a weapon and one count of resisting arrest, the St. Louis County Police said in a statement. The victim, 22, was transported to hospital with nonlife-threatening wounds.
But throughout the day Sunday, peaceful vigils marked Brown’s death. Attendants observed four and half minutes of silence. Brown’s body lay on the street for four and a half hours after he was shot.
Events highlighting what’s described as a day of civil disobedience are planned for Monday. In the past, such events have included blocking highways and shutting down big businesses across St. Louis County.
As Sunday night gave way to Monday, police and protesters faced off in a tense standoff on West Florissant Avenue,
Then came the shooting.