News / USA

On the Scene: In Missouri, Ferguson Community Leaders Calm Tensions

  • Civilian peacekeepers join hands to separate demonstrators protesting against the shooting of Michael Brown away from the police in Ferguson, Missouri, Aug. 19, 2014.
  • A Missouri State Trooper talks with protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, early Aug. 20, 2014.
  • Demonstrators protesting the shooting death of Michael Brown rest on a car while holding a sign in Ferguson, Missouri, Aug. 19, 2014.
  • Demonstrators protesting against the shooting of Michael Brown are surrounded by police in riot gear in Ferguson, Missouri, Aug. 19, 2014.
  • Police arrest a man as they disperse a protest in Ferguson, Missouri, early Aug. 20, 2014.
  • Police try to disperse a crowd in Ferguson, Missouri, early Aug. 20, 2014.
  • People are moved by a line of police as authorities disperse a protest in Ferguson, Missouri, early Aug. 20, 2014.
  • Security forces detain a demonstrator during a protest against the shooting of unarmed black teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Aug. 20, 2014.
  • A man is doused with milk and sprayed with mist after being hit by an eye irritant from security forces trying to disperse demonstrators protesting against the shooting of unarmed black teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Aug. 20, 2014.
  • Protesters hold roses as they march in Ferguson, Missouri, Aug. 19, 2014.
Ferguson, Missouri - Wednesday, August 20
Mary Alice Salinas

After nearly a week of violent nightly protests in Ferguson, Missouri, over the shooting death of an unarmed black teen, demonstrators and police may have reached a turning point late Tuesday.

Protesters were holding mostly peaceful rallies throughout the day Tuesday, but they became increasingly agitated throughout the night.

I’ve covered protests and riots before, and I saw that something was about to happen.

And then a group of religious and community leaders emerged from the crowd. One man urged the protesters to move to a different location, a church or some other site.

“We have a place where we can talk. We have a place where we can hear your concerns. We can address all your issues. People there will listen to you. Follow me, follow me," the man said.

A huge part of the crowd, the residents of Ferguson, went with the religious leaders. They were angry, but they followed.

Developments in Ferguson, Missouri

  • U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder arrived in Ferguson, Missouri, to meet with community leaders, FBI investigators and federal civil rights officials on Wednesday to discuss the progress of a separate civil rights investigation into the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

  • A grand jury investigating the shooting is expected to begin hearing evidence on the case. The officer who shot Brown, Darren Wilson, is on paid leave and in seclusion, with Brown's family and supporters calling for his arrest.

  • The 11th night of protests was relatively calm until just before midnight, as police in riot gear ordered lingering demonstrators to disperse, then charged into the crowd to make arrests. Police later said they took 47 people into custody and seized several loaded firearms, but no gunshots were fired.

  • There was no shooting from either side, no tear gas or smoke bombs fired by police, and no Molotov cocktails from protesters, though police doused some demonstrators with pepper spray during clashes that erupted at the end of the night.

Source: Reuters

It was a beautiful thing to see. A lot of the crowd dispersed. Things immediately got calmer.

As I was talking to police, they mentioned how this night was different. They were smiling. They said it was the best night since the protests started.

One of the community organizers stopped by and the police thanked him for his efforts. The organizer replied, “I’m just trying to help the kids.”

How it started

The events in Ferguson began on Aug. 9, when Michael Brown, 18, was shot to death by local police officer Darren Wilson, 28.

Since then, the town has been rocked by violent protests, and images of a heavily militarized police force have shocked the nation and drawn international interest.

The law enforcement presence in Ferguson is amazing.

Officers wear riot gear and carry batons and high-powered weapons. They have armored vehicles and Humvees. Helicopters are flying overhead.

Most of the police presence is found in the "ground zero" area – where most of the protest action happens – on West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson. This area is also about four or five blocks from where Brown was killed.

The police are severely limiting access to the area. All major streets around this area are blocked off. Getting to the area was very difficult even for the media.

On West Florissant, police now require that you keep moving. They won’t allow anyone to be stationary. Even during the day, you have to keep moving.

It’s a strange thing to see, I must say, in a U.S. town even we, the media, are not allowed to stop and talk. We have to keep moving up and down the street.

I was astounded by how limited our movement was and I had to ask, How legal is this?

I spoke with Amnesty International and they said they already have seen what are clear violations of people’s rights of freedom of speech, freedom of association. They said they will continue to monitor the situation.

The Missouri National Guard, which the governor deployed to help handle the unrest, has a very limited role. They are guarding the police command post in a nearby shopping center parking lot.

'Ground zero'

Many businesses are boarded up along a mile-long stretch of the street. Some have been looted, others are making repairs after being looted, and still others are open, including the market where Brown allegedly stole a box of cigars.

During the International Monetary Fund protests in D.C. in 2000, there were confrontations in the street. In those protests you saw long lines of police and arrests. But those events didn’t have the same level of fear and tension and anger that you see in Ferguson.

I had never seen this level of tension between protesters and police. But last night I saw a break.

The real heroes here are the religious and community leaders. It is clear that they are an important part of the answer to ending this unrest.

Racial divide

The world has slowly become aware of this case, but the buzz in Ferguson was immediate.

On the local level, residents are asking for justice for Brown’s death.

On the national level, the story is generating questions about how the police are reacting to the protesters.

Brown’s killing has also uncovered what has long been at issue in this country – the divide between black and white America, that there is inequality in not only how African-Americans are treated by law enforcement and how they are treated in the justice system, but in job opportunities, poverty, education and housing – a multitude of issues where they are angry, frustrated and fed up.

Ferguson is a predominantly African-American community, unemployment is higher, a disproportionate number of people are stopped by police.

Protesters see this case as a reflection of a deep and profound issue that is beneath the surface of America – and so that’s why it’s resonating throughout the country and even the world.

This case is seen as the springboard for the discussion on this. People are angry and people are frustrated. They’re calling this a struggle that’s not going to go away until these issues are addressed fully.

And they realize this story won't end when we (the media) all go home.

Message from White House

President Barack Obama has asked Attorney General Eric Holder to go to Ferguson on Wednesday, where he plans to meet with community leaders. That is a huge statement from Washington.

It’s a very important signal from the White House - that protesters’ voices are being heard.

Residents are asking for justice in the death of Brown and for racial issues to be addressed.

And we’re being watched all over the world for our response.

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Comment Sorting
by: Ed from: Virginia
August 20, 2014 1:02 PM
Was this a news report or a commentary? This is one of the most simplistic pieces of writing I have ever seen from VOA.

"It’s a very important signal from the White House - that protesters’ voices are being heard."

"Residents are asking for justice in the death of Brown and for racial issues to be addressed."

And the final personal observation of the reporter:

"And we’re being watched all over the world for our response."

Nothing new in this for me -- VOA was late getting to Missouri, and gives us this??

I'll be asking for a refund of my tax dollars that went to pay for this poor reporting.

by: Lawrence Bush from: Houston, Texas
August 20, 2014 10:48 AM
Certainly, I was expecting our president and the federal govt. to enter in, alomg with the political as well as the community leaders, to quell the unrest and calm our people at Ferguson after the shooting incident of the black teen. And that does take place now. What'er is the incident, there should be thorough probe for justice. When the people go calm, it's mandatorily necessary to investigate the shooting incident comprehensively as Brown's family does get justice. Along with the governer Nixon, the Missouri police chief does have a lot of responsibilities in the state probe process. And, as the federal Justice Dept. chief Eric Holder himself is reaching Ferguson, our people that're involved in the current unrest after the shooting incident, must have patience and trust in our judicial system in America and await. The very necessity of the Missouri police at present to not only curb the violent unrest but to get justice to the Brown's family and people, not being repressive only to control the unrest just.

by: eLJAY from: USA
August 20, 2014 10:37 AM

In Response

by: Matthew George from: New Hope, Minnesota
August 21, 2014 12:51 AM
Really? You such a glown. Just keep damn mouth shut if you have nothing to convey. Brown poses no tret to the arresting officer. How will you feel if a black officer killed your father or mother, without justification? I bet that black officer would've been charge with man slaughtered.

by: meanbill from: USA
August 20, 2014 10:26 AM
WHAT made this police shooting of Brown an (18) year old man, who was a petty thief, bully, and criminal, who refused orders to comply with a police officer, assaulted the officer, resisted arrest, and threatened the police officer leading to his death, different from the thousands of criminals deaths by police under the same conditions?...... (Did you say, the color of Brown's skin, and the color of the police officers skin?).

PS;.. The only difference between this police self-defense killing of Brown, an (18) year old petty thief, bully, and criminal, who refused to obey police orders, assaulted the police officer, attempted to escape, and threatened the police officer causing his own death, (was the color of his skin), that drove those of his skin color wild, and wanting revenge....

PS;.. No matter what the protesters or rioters say, it's the color of Brown's skin, and the police officers skin color that's inflames them, and nothing else.... IF nobody knew what color the skin was of the police or the criminal, would the protesters and rioters, be protesting and rioting?..... or would they act like they normally do, when over 14,400 homicides are committed in America every year?..... (It's a racial thing isn't it?).

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