FERGUSON, Mo. (CN) – Late-night gunfire Sunday turned a peaceful protest on the first anniversary of Michael Brown’s death into chaos. Officers returning fire from their shot-up police car left one of Brown’s friends in critical condition.
Gunfire began at around 11:15 p.m. between two groups of protesters, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said. One shooter walked across a street and shot at an unmarked police SUV, hitting the grill and window. The four plainclothes detectives in the SUV returned fire, striking the suspect several times.
Belmar did not release the suspect’s name, but the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported it is 18-year-old Tyrone Harris, a 2015 graduate of Normandy High School, from which Brown graduated last year. Harris’ father told the Post-Dispatch that Harris and Brown were close friends.
Harris was out of surgery Monday morning, in critical and unstable condition.
Belmar did not release the officers’ names, but said their experience ranged from six to 12 years and that they would be placed on paid administrative leave until deemed fit to return.
“There is a small group of people out there that are intent on making sure that we don’t have peace,” Belmar said.
It is unclear what sparked the gunfire and police are asking for help.
“We have other individuals out there that are armed right now; they are part of this group,” Belmar said. “We need the public’s help. We can’t do it by ourselves. We need the community out here helping us working with us to identify this and to make this stop.”
Belmar said the suspect’s gun was a stolen 9-millimeter.
The gunfire, which was heavy and lasted around 40 seconds, made protesters sprint for cover and police officers duck behind their vehicles. One woman ran out of her own shoes.
As order was restored, an unidentified black man harangued the crowd.
“I spent 19 years in prison and I came down here to see what’s going on and it still hasn’t changed,” he shouted. “People are blaming it on white cops. We’re doing it to our motherfucking selves!”
More gunshots were fired around 2 a.m. on Canfield Avenue, where Brown was killed. The Post Dispatch reported that one of its reporters covering the protest was assaulted and robbed, and that police fired tear gas or smoke bombs after the 2 a.m. gunfire.
Belmar confirmed that smoke bombs were deployed in the later incident. In a press release, police say two teenagers were walking on Canfield around 2:15 a.m. when they were shot in a drive-by. They both received non-life threatening injuries.
Three officers were injured during Sunday’s protest, two were pepper sprayed by protesters and the other was treated at a hospital after being hit in the face with a rock.
“We can’t afford to have this kind of violence, not only on a night like this, but at any point forward if we want to move in the right direction,” Belmar said.
Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot to death on Aug. 9, 2014, by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, who is white. The shooting sparked nationwide protests and discussion of racism and excessive police force.
The weather Sunday appeared to give police a break, as a downpour with dangerous lightning scattered the crowd at around 7:45 p.m. The rain lasted almost two hours. Many protesters hunkered down under store awnings to wait out the thunderstorm.
The rain failed to cool tempers. Around 9:45 p.m., several dozen protesters blocked West Florissant Avenue, where the shootings took place.
Police formed a line facing the protesters at 10 p.m. Several plastic and glass bottles were thrown at the officers and a group of protesters walked down the police line, telling each officer, “Fuck you.”
The protest scene early Sunday evening before the rain was familiar to the Rev. Stanton Holliday of Alton, Ill. Holliday, 63, was a teenager during the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
“When you say all cops aren’t bad, that’s like saying all street gang members aren’t bad,” Holliday said. “Birds of a feather flock together. There are good cops, but they’re powerless against the bad ones.”
Holliday said the Black Lives Matter movement inspired by the Brown shooting is a movement against institutional racism by police. He said the younger black generation is energizing the movement, just as his generation gave energy to the civil rights movement more than five decades ago.
He said that the violence the Ferguson protests produced in August and November is the only way to produce change.
“If there were no violence and we were just talking about Michael Brown, would you be out here?” Holliday asked reporters.
Holliday said a positive result of the Brown protests is the nationwide movement to put body cameras on police. He said there is a fundamental difference in how blacks and whites perceive violence.
“When white people hear a cop was shot, they have sympathy for him,” Holliday said. “When black people hear a cop got shot, we think we got one of them.”
The same area of West Florissant that was burned and looted in November after a grand jury refused to indict Wilson was the scene of violence earlier Sunday.
A protester was shot in the arm at around midnight on West Florissant. Another protester, 17-year-old Trevion Hopson, was arrested and charged with two counts of unlawful use of a weapon and one count of resisting arrest by fleeing. He is being held on a $100,000 cash-only bond.
A short time later in the same area, the rear window of an unmarked Florissant police car was shot out as it drove along West Florissant.
Police say five total individuals have been arrested during the protests, including Hopson. Jeffrey Pruitt, 27, was arrested for unlawful use of a weapon and Christopher Burns, 18, Mauk Lane, 17, and Freddie Leopold, 21, were arrested for interfering.
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