Following last year’s protests in Ferguson, Americans have realized there’s a problem with policing throughout the US, says civil rights activist DeRay McKesson. The anti-police-brutality movement has grown very powerful.
A man has been critically injured by police as gunfire erupted after the memorial marches dedicated to the anniversary of the killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson. The 18-year-old was shot dead by a white police officer a year ago.
According to civil rights activist DeRay McKesson, police “have killed eight people here and paralyzed one other person since last August.” Texas college football player Christian Taylor became the latest unarmed black man to die at the hands of a white police officer.
Meanwhile, roaming the streets, armed to teeth with semi-automatic assault rifles and handguns are members of the Oath Keepers militia, formed of former and current law enforcement and military officers. At least four members of the ‘Oath Keepers’ arrived in Ferguson on early Tuesday and began patrolling the West Florissant Avenue, walking through the crowds of protesters gathered there for a ‘day of civil disobedience’ following the anniversary of the killing of Michael Brown.
The Oath Keepers were wearing military harness, bullet-proof vests and are armed with AR-15 assault rifles. Videos and pictures posted online show that the Oath Keepers spotted at the rally were all white. Allegedly, they have an agreement with police not to walk through the ranks of law enforcement, according to a reporter. They are also cited to “be on the protesters’ side.”
The appearance of heavily-armed white men stirred unease on the part of the civil rights activists from the Black Lives Matter movement, heavily represented at Ferguson protests.
“Why are there men with guns and the police are doing nothing?” prominent activist Kayla Reed demanded on Twitter.
The anniversary of Michael Brown’s death turned very violent on Sunday evening, when tensions escalated after a fierce shootout took place close to the rally, with about 20 shots fired in a short period of time. As a result an 18-year-old Tyrone Harris Jr., allegedly a friend of Brown, was shot by police. Another person was wounded.
Police regains control
As another protest in the beleaguered town of Ferguson began to turn rowdy, Jon Belmar was among the first to confront protesters. Wearing neither a helmet nor a shield, the St. Louis County police chief strode directly toward demonstrators, telling them to get out of the street and urging calm.
“They’re not going to take the street tonight,” Belmar told a reporter standing nearby. “That’s not going to happen.”
Things turned dangerously violent over the weekend when shots rang out and an 18—year—old black suspect was shot by police after he allegedly fired a handgun into an unmarked police van. Police used smoke to disperse the crowd. Three officers were injured.
The scene was markedly different on Monday, after St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger declared a state of emergency, a move that gave Belmar — instead of city police authorities — control of security.
This time, the police presence was far greater. More than 20 people were arrested. Police never deployed smoke or tear gas, though they were at times pelted with water bottles and rocks. Reaction from protesters was mixed.
Some praised Belmar’s actions, but others, like Ferguson resident and military veteran Hershel Myers Jr. criticized the police response as aggressive and unnecessary. He said Ferguson, not county police, should have been in charge.
“This is treatment we’ve been putting up with forever,” Myers said. “It’s always St. Louis County pushing us around and making up rules.”