FERGUSON, MISSOURI —
The central U.S. city of Ferguson, Missouri remained under a state of emergency Tuesday after a second night of violence marking the first anniversary of the shooting death of an unarmed black man by a white police officer.
Police said they arrested about two dozen protesters in the St. Louis suburb after demonstrators pelted them with rocks and bottles.
"We continue to support free speech, but agitators who ignore orders to disperse risk arrest," police said in a tweet.
The tumultuous scene on Ferguson's streets, with mostly black protesters clashing with police equipped in riot gear, was further complicated by the appearance of a new group, white militiamen calling themselves Oath Keepers and wearing bulletproof vests and carrying rifles and pistols.
The anti-government activist group said it was in Ferguson to protect businesses from rioters and looters, but St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said their presence was "both unnecessary and inflammatory."
As night fell Monday, dozens of protesters repeatedly defied police orders to stay off the street and stopped traffic on West Florissant Avenue, the scene of riots and looting over the last year.
As further unrest marked the anniversary of the shooting death of Michael Brown, some in the crowd, not far from the spot where he was shot, felt the awareness stemming from that incident has empowered them.
“They say what we are doing is excessive, but the death of Mike Brown brought an issue that has been swept under the rug to the light, so I like it, it’s powerful,” said a former Ferguson resident who goes by the name Mal Stiff.
“A lot has changed in the minds of the people like the minds of the activists, the protesters, the people who are really down with change. A lot has changed with them, like a lot of us have been awakened in a way we couldn't even have imagined,” said St. Louis resident Tiffany Shawn.
But for as much change as Shawn welcomes, she said some things have stayed the same.
“Not a lot has changed with how the police are reacting to us, and are behaving with us. Not a lot has changed when it comes to that,” she said.
Beefed up police presence
The beefed-up police presence in Ferguson came one night after officers shot and seriously wounded an 18-year old suspect they say opened fire on them, leading to charges against the suspect and a state of emergency declared in St. Louis County to stem further violence.
Those on the ground in Ferguson for another night of protests shrugged off those concerns.
“Violence is going to happen, I don’t want to minimize it at all because it’s a problem, no one agrees with it, but it happens regardless,” Shawn said.
“When you have a body of people this large, there are bound for there to be people who don’t like each other,” Stiff said.
In the face of flying water bottles and rocks, police moved quickly to keep large numbers of protesters from filling the streets and stopping traffic, something they accomplished on a busy highway earlier in the day.
“This is a lot milder than last year, I mean last year it was unexpected, it was a larger body of people, so the outcome was a little more dramatic. This is more positive than last year, it’s more powerful,” Stiff said.
Police have appealed for calm as more protests are expected.
The 18-year old suspect wounded Sunday was identified as Tyrone Harris Jr. He was among among six who fired shots during Sunday's protest, which until that point had been a peaceful street demonstration commemorating the year-ago killing of Brown. He was killed during a heated street confrontation with officer Darren Wilson who months later was cleared of wrong-doing.
Harris's father, Tyrone Harris Sr., said he believed his son, a friend of Brown's, was unarmed and called the police version of Sunday night's violence "a bunch of lies."
Police Chief Belmar said detectives had been tracking a man they feared was armed and he was then involved in an exchange of 40 or 50 shots between two groups of people, before shooting the officers' vehicle.
"They were criminals. They were not protesters," Belmar said of the groups that exchanged shots. "Protesters are people that are out there that are talking about a way to effect change, whatever that may be. That is not what is happening here."
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch strongly condemned the violence.
"Not only does violence obscure any message of peaceful protest," Lynch said, "it places the community, as well as the officers who seek to protect it, in harm's way."
The demonstrations that followed Brown's killing in August 2014 threw the St. Louis suburb into the national spotlight and sparked calls for better treatment of minorities by police.