Fire breaks out at Michael Brown memorial, Ferguson activists demand Darren Wilson arrest
A window was smashed as a crowd filled the streets late on Tuesday evening in Ferguson, Missouri, hours after a fire destroyed a makeshift memorial honoring the black teenager killed last month by a white police officer, officials said.
One window was smashed at a beauty products store and a crowd formed in an area that has seen racially charged protests and bursts of violence after the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, State Highway Patrol spokesman Al Nothum said.
Gunfire erupted in the area and a crowd swelled to as many as 200 people, with at least three arrests made in the early hours of Wednesday, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper reported.
At times chants of “Fight Back” and “Arrest Darren Wilson” could be heard among the crowd, local CBS broadcaster KMOV-TV reported.
One of the newspaper’s photojournalists said on Twitter that rocks and bricks were thrown at police, and posted a photo of two men being arrested.
Nothum said he had no reports of looting at the beauty store, but witnesses said otherwise on social media. An image showed St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar and Missouri State Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson were on the scene wearing bullet proof vests.
Earlier on Tuesday, an early morning fire destroyed a makeshift memorial that was erected in a grassy area alongside the road where Brown died. A larger memorial, which runs down the center lane of the road, was untouched by the blaze.
Still, neighborhood residents who have been protecting and building on the memorials since Brown was killed Aug. 9 were angered by the damage, and some were accusing city officials of not working hard enough to put the blaze out.
The cause of the fire was unknown, said Police Chief Tom Jackson in a statement. A police officer was first on the scene and tried to put out the fire but failed. That officer alerted the fire department, which extinguished the blaze, Jackson said.
Mayor James Knowles III said that the fire was small and possibly started accidentally. Candles were mixed in with stuffed animals and other items on the site. Still, he said, it is “a horrible thing to happen to a memorial meant to commemorate Mr. Brown’s life. It is going to be hurtful to many people.”
Knowles said he is worried that community unrest could again spiral out of control.
“Tensions are running high,” he said. “We’re taking it very seriously.”
Also Tuesday, the city said a festival planned for this weekend would be postponed indefinitely due to safety concerns.
“This is just a very unsecure event,” Knowles said. “We want to make sure everybody is safe.”
Ferguson, a community of about 21,000 mostly black residents, has been embroiled in protests since Brown was shot by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson after Wilson asked the teen to move out of a street where he and a friend were walking. In an ensuing altercation, Brown was shot multiple times.
Protests have persisted in and around Ferguson since Brown’s death. And protesters have pledged continued civil unrest until Wilson is arrested and charged in Brown’s death. Many have called for Knowles to step down as mayor and for the firing of Jackson as well.
City leaders met with residents Monday night to discuss complaints about alleged discriminatory policing and an unjust court system. Many more public meetings are planned over the next several weeks.
“We are trying to be responsive… sensitive to their feelings,” Knowles said. “People want to be able to see change and move forward.”
On Thursday, Michael Brown’s parents and civil rights leaders are planning a press conference in Washington to reiterate demands that the Justice Department take over the investigation into Brown’s killing and bring charges against Wilson.
(Reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City and Eric M. Johnson in Seattle)