We always joke about the media canard that violent protests are “mostly peaceful,” but who in their right mind could actually run with that after Monday’s night’s mayhem in Ferguson?
Thousands of people rallied late Monday in U.S. cities including Los Angeles and New York to passionately — but initially peacefully — protest a grand jury’s decision not to indict a white police officer who killed a black 18-year-old in Ferguson, Missouri.
They led marches, waved signs and shouted chants of “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot,” the slogan that has become a rallying cry in protests over police killings across the country.
Activists had been planning to protest even before the nighttime announcement that Officer Darren Wilson will not be charged in the shooting death of Michael Brown.
The racially charged case in Ferguson has inflamed tensions and reignited debates over police-community relations even in cities hundreds of miles from the predominantly black St. Louis suburb. For many staging protests Monday, the shooting was personal, calling to mind other galvanizing encounters with local law enforcement.
Police departments in several major cities said they were bracing for large demonstrations with the potential for the kind of violence that marred nightly protests in Ferguson after Brown’s killing. Demonstrators there vandalized police cars, hugged barricades and taunted officers with expletives Monday night while police fired smoke canisters and pepper spray. Gunshots were heard on the streets.
But police elsewhere reported that gatherings were mostly peaceful immediately following Monday’s announcement.
Then the violence began.
Shortly after 1:30 a.m., St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar spoke with reporters at a press conference after a night of looting and burned-out businesses after the grand jury announcement. He said he was grateful nobody was killed but disappointed at the amount of damage in the Ferguson area.
“What I’ve seen tonight is probably much worse than the worst night we ever had in August, and that’s truly unfortunate,” he said.
He said that there was basically “nothing left” along West Florissant between Solway Avenue and Chambers Road. “Frankly, I’m heartbroken about that,” he said.
Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson said, “We talked about peaceful protest, and that did not happen tonight. We definitely have done something here that’s going to impact our community for a long time…that’s not how we create change.”
You can help create “change” by acting like humans beings. Here also was a failed prediction by the Mayor of St. Louis.
The city’s mayor said he expects mostly nonviolent protests in the days after a grand jury announces whether it will indict the Ferguson police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, but he also expects police will make arrests.
In a public letter to the city’s board of aldermen, Francis Slay said he expects arrests for “low level municipal violations,” though he thinks the vast majority of demonstrators will be nonviolent. In his letter, he also laid out the basic principles he expects local law enforcement to follow during protests.
Protests haven’t been limited to Ferguson, where Brown, an 18-year-old, unarmed black teenager, was killed on Aug. 9. Officials are preparing for further demonstrations in the coming days across the wider St. Louis metropolitan area.
Mr. Slay said he would request 400 National Guard soldiers to be deployed alongside local police officers to protect “citizens and their homes and businesses.” Those officers will wear normal uniforms unless they are threatened, and if they don protective gear it “is not to intimidate peaceful protesters.”
Reality has a curious way of interrupting fantasy, huh?