FERGUSON, Mo. (CN) – Violence escalated in Ferguson, Mo., on Sunday as protesters fired guns and threw Molotov cocktails at police, who responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and smoke bombs, while behind the scenes, local, state and federal officials took aim and fired – at one another.
Sunday night’s violence was the worst yet. It began just before 9 p.m., as protesters approached the shopping center police have been using as a command post. Police responded to “multiple Molotov cocktails” with tear gas, the Highway Patrol captain in charge said. Hundreds of officers had the streets cleared by the time the recently declared curfew began at midnight.
The week of violence has spurred some nasty political infighting in Missouri.
Gov. Jay Nixon’s decision on Thursday to turn over street security from the St. Louis County Police Department to the Missouri Highway Patrol seemed to work that night.
Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, an African-American native of the area, and his crew of African-American officers managed to turn nights of violent protests into a street party, and the crisis seemed to be over.
But Nixon’s decision did not please St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch, the man in charge of the investigation of the police shooting of the unarmed Michael Brown. McCulloch called Nixon’s decision to replace local police with the Missouri Highway Patrol illegal and disgraceful.
“Nixon denigrated the men and women of the County Police Department and what they’ve done,” McCulloch said Thursday.
McCulloch, who like Nixon is a Democrat, disagreed with the kinder, gentler approach promised and delivered by the Capt. Johnson.
“I have great respect for Capt. Johnson,” McCulloch said. “And I hope I am wrong but I think Nixon’s action put a lot of people in danger.”
That drew battle lines, with McCulloch and Police Chief Jackson on one side, and Gov. Nixon, Capt. Johnson, Congressman William Lacy Clay and St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley on the other.
Clay, D-St. Louis, called for a federal takeover of the investigation, stating: “You’re not going to get a fair trial in St. Louis County with this scenario.”
Dooley questioned McCulloch’s objectivity and called for a special prosecutor to handle the investigation.
Thursday night was peaceful, but on Friday, Ferguson Police Chief Jackson released a police report that accused 18-year-old Michael Brown of robbing a convenience store just before he was shot on Aug. 9. Brown’s shooting by a Ferguson police officer set off the protests. Jackson also released shots from a store security video that appeared to show Brown roughing up a store clerk.
The police chief released that information without informing Capt. Johnson that he was about to do it.
Violence flared again on Friday and Saturday, with protesters angry that Jackson was denigrating the man who had been shot.
“I would have like to have been consulted,” Johnson said on Friday after the police chief released the police report and video.
“I really can’t tell you about the timing. I saw it on the news like everybody else,” Johnson said.
Friday night’s violence started with a bottle being thrown at police. Again, several stores were looted before peaceful protesters stepped in to stop it.
Johnson blamed the release of the video for the Friday-night violence.
“We talked all day about the release of this videotape from the Food Mart,” Johnson said shortly after the violence was quelled early Saturday morning.
“We had concerns that this would happen. So I would not be honest if I said I was surprised by the activity around the Food Mart today.”
Friday night’s violence spurred Gov. Nixon to impose a curfew for Ferguson from midnight to 5 a.m., effective immediately on Saturday.
Violence broke out shortly after the curfew took affect at midnight that night. Seven people were arrested and one person was shot.
Also Saturday, the U.S. Department of Justice said it had asked Ferguson police not to release the video, because it would cause more unrest in the community, according to The New York Times.
A Justice Department official told the Times that the release of the video “occurred over the objection of federal authorities.” The official told the Times that federal investigators had the video and had no plans to release it.
Then the worst violence yet erupted Sunday evening.
An autopsy of Michael Brown showed that he was shot at least six times, including twice in the head, the New York Times reported on Sunday. All the shots were on the front side of his body.
And early Monday, Gov. Nixon said he would send the Missouri National Guard to Ferguson, because of what he called “deliberate, coordinated and intensifying violent acts.”
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