Ferguson, Mo. — “Hands up. Don’t shoot,” several protesters chanted on Sunday night. One voice shouted in response, “Pants up. Don’t loot.”
The request went unnoticed.
On Sunday night, the most violent night of protests in Ferguson so far, the police were incapable of ensuring the safety of its citizens. Missouri governor Jay Nixon has lifted the curfew that had been in place overnight for several days, and while he’s called on the National Guard to restore order, violence could escalate again tonight.
Residents tell me they fear more violence as a result of the release of an autopsy report that found 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot six times when he was allegedly killed by a police officer last week. This information came out after last night’s violence had begun.
Last night, police shut down West Florissant Street in the direction approaching the protests more than six hours in advance of a curfew imposed by the governor.
By the time most protesters left the frenzy at an afternoon rally held by Reverend Al Sharpton, police were only allowing people to exit, not enter, West Florissant Street. But protesters determined to join the heated protests in the streets found access on foot and in cars regardless of police efforts to stop them. When asked where the people swelling the crowds of protesters had come from, police officers stationed in front of local stores told me they did not know, but thought they had come down the side streets.
The influx of people seemed to raise the intensity of angry protesters. Protesters appeared to shout, “F*** the police,” more frequently than their usual chant, “Hands up. Don’t Shoot.” While some parents brought small children to the rally and were egging them on to flip off police officers, others appeared more restrained.
After hours spent reveling in the streets — drinking, smoking, and taunting police — protesters began to organize a march. Police had shown restraint all night long, but things bubbled up quickly and the altercations between police and protesters escalated faster than they had in previous nights.
Police shot tear gas seemingly indiscriminately, in the direction of any person who did not appear to be one of their own. Parents and children holding hands could be seen running through the streets lifting their shirts over their faces shortly after 9:30 p.m. as gas blocked visibility more than several feet in any direction.
Protesters taunted and then attacked police, and police failed to make an effort to set up a perimeter that could contain the disaster. Whether the National Guard presence will deter violent protesters remains to be seen, but when the sun drops on Monday night, residents should expect the sparks to fly.
— Ryan Lovelace is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.