What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

How peaceful Ferguson anniversary protests turned violent

Police critically wounded an 18-year-old black man overnight in Ferguson, Missouri, where mostly peaceful protests marked the anniversary of the killing of Michael Brown. Authorities say Tyrone Harris Jr. and others shot at officers, who in turn shot back, wounding Harris. Judy Woodruff learns more from Yamiche Alcindor of USA Today.

Read the Full Transcript

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Authorities in Saint Louis County, Missouri, imposed a new state of emergency today after police critically wounded an 18-year-old black man overnight.

    It happened at the end of protests in the town of Ferguson marking the death of Michael Brown one year ago. Police said a late-night demonstration got rowdy, and Tyrone Harris Jr. and others opened fire on them. They said officers shot back, wounding Harris.

    The incident drew the attention of U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who was at a police convention today in Pittsburgh.

  • LORETTA LYNCH, Attorney General:

    I strongly condemn the violence that was perpetrated against the community, including the police officers, in Ferguson last evening. Not only does violence obscure any message of peaceful protest. It places the community as well as the officers who are seeking to protect it in harm's way.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    There were new protests around Ferguson and Saint Louis today. Some 100 people rallied at the county courthouse. Nearly 60 were arrested.

    I spoke a short time ago with reporter Yamiche Alcindor, who's covering the story for USA Today.

    Yamiche, welcome.

    What is the situation right now?

  • YAMICHE ALCINDOR, USA Today:

    Well, moments ago, several protesters were arrested outside a federal courthouse building.

    And some of them are really people that are really prominent protesters, along with Cornel West. So, right now, they're being processed at that federal courthouse and they're actually facing federal charges. But it's going to be really a $125 fine. They wouldn't really say whether or not it's a misdemeanor or a felony, but of course it's a $125 fine.

    So, it's not — it's still a summons. It's not going to be anything too serious, but this is still part of the Moral Monday that people had here today, where it was really a series of civil disobediences that they wanted to have in coordination and really in memory of Michael Brown.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, this was planned before any of this violence last night? Is that right?

  • YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

    Yes, before any of the violence that happened last night, before any of the looting, before the second police-involved shooting.

    There are people that had already planned to have acts of civil disobedience. They were thinking about the idea that, after Michael Brown's, several people, hundreds of people took to the streets protesting and demonstrating, mostly peacefully. But also of course we remember that burned QuikTrip that really put this whole story on the nation's spotlight.

    So, they were really planning these protests all over the country. And here in Saint Louis, there were several actual acts of disobedience, but the one that I attended today was at the federal courthouse where several members of the clergy got together and were purposefully arrested.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And now we know there is a state of emergency that has been declared in the area as a result of last night.

    But take us back to yesterday. This was supposed to be a day — in fact, it was a day of peaceful protest in memory of Michael Brown. But then what happened last night?

  • YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

    What happened last night was really what happens a lot of times at night in Ferguson when things get bad.

    Usually, what happens in Ferguson, if there is going to be violence, because I should say that there usually isn't violence in Ferguson — I have been here several months — but when there is violence, what happens is that you get to a point in the night where you think, OK, it's time to — I can go home, the crowd is kind of dispersing.

    And then, out of nowhere, that's what happened last night. There was a line of police officers, protesters yelling at them, and then after a while, it kind of just lulled and people were kind of wandering around. I myself was thinking about getting into my car. And then we just heard a barrage of gunshots. It was really the most terrifying moments of my journalistic career.

    I ducked and was trying to run behind cars. Dozens of police officers were also cowering behind their cars. You know the situation is really important and really dangerous when the police are also running and taking fire. And we later learned that a young man was shot, and that it was a police-involved shooting. The police say there was one — there was at first a group of two people shooting and then one of the people that were shooting ran away.

    They're calling him a suspect. And that man ran away. And when police spotted him, he started again firing at the police. That's what police say. And then they also returned fire and this young man was shot.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So there clearly seem to be two sides to the story. The young man's father is saying that he was unarmed. The police are saying they believed he shot at them. So, that remains to be squared away.

    Yamiche, I want to read you something that one of the Saint Louis aldermen, Antonio French, who has been very active in the protest movement, he told a reporter, he said, there is an active protest group, and then he said there are some people who are just waiting for stuff to happen, just sitting back and waiting for an opportunity to, in his words, steal stuff and cause trouble.

    Is that what you're seeing?

  • YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

    That's what I'm observing too.

    I must say that the protesters, the frequent protesters that I have see them, they're well-known faces. They know the police officers. I have been covering this story for more than a year. So, these protesters, not only do they know each other and not only do they how to act peaceably, not only do they how to de-escalate situations, but they also know police officers. And they trust some of these officers.

    And they will walk up to them and say, hey, things are getting out of hand, or I saw an officer mace somebody, we really didn't think that that was appropriate.

    So, really, Ferguson has come a long way since last year. Protesters are really now in some ways, dare I say, friendships with officers. So I think that that's a different — completely different relationship than those people — I don't know if you would call agitators — but there are people that are really there not in any way connected to the memory of Michael Brown, not any way connected to the issues that the protesters are talking about, but really they're just there to cause trouble.

    And these are the people that the protesters don't want to be associated with. And, yesterday, last night, I thought it was really an important moment when Chief Jon Belmar really said during his press conference that these are not protesters, these are criminals.

    And that's a really big deal for the protesters that come out here every night and are peaceful for hundreds of days, when you have the police also differentiating that person.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Jon Belmar, of course, being the Saint Louis police chief.

    Just quickly, Yamiche, based on what you know, what do you expect to happen now?

  • YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

    I really want to say that I expect that people will try to remain as peaceful as possible, that people will really try to see — when they see things escalating, try to alert the police. But that's what they did last night.

    So, I'm really kind of cautious to say what's going to happen tonight because I want to say that things are going to go calmly. But I know that there is still — even with the peaceful protesters, they don't want to be told when to go home. They're really into protesting. They're really into observing their First Amendment rights.

    And that's really important to them, so people are really going to be out there tonight. They are going to be out there late. I imagine they will have a really long night tonight and to stay out probably past 5:00 in the morning, because that's what people do in Ferguson, because even when they're protesting peacefully, they don't go to sleep early at all. They stay out very, very late.

    So I'm really worried though about when the sun sets and these people that don't want to be protesters, that don't want to be peaceful, but these people that really want to break into businesses, whether or not they are going to be back tonight. I have a scary feeling that they might be back tonight. And I think that all journalists and all people that are there are really just trying to be as cautious as we can be to really prepare ourselves for tonight.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    All right, Yamiche Alcindor, reporter for USA Today, we certainly hope nothing happens, but we know, as you said, you will be there if it is. Thank you.

  • YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

    Thank you.

Listen to this Segment

The Latest