At least one person was shot by police when gunfire erupted late Sunday in the Missouri town marking the one-year anniversary of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown’s fatal shooting by police.
St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar told reporters early Monday that a man aged around 20 was in critical condition after a “remarkable” exchange of gunfire with plainclothes officers in Ferguson, Missouri.
Belmar said that while uniformed officers were deployed to monitor businesses following protests and reports of looting, four plainclothes officers were tracking an individual they suspected was armed. The man opened fire on the officers who were in an unmarked car, according to Belmar. He said the officers returned fire and pursued the man on foot. The suspect opened fire again and officers fired back, Belmar said. Four officers are on administrative leave.
“They were criminals — they weren’t protesters,” Belmar said, calling the tragedy “avoidable” for a community still struggling to rebuild from the often-violent aftermath of Brown’s death. “This didn’t have to happen,” he said. “People in our community… worked too hard for this to happen… This really is an impediment to positive change.”
Belmar said two other shootings — which didn’t involve officers — had been reported early Monday morning. Tear gas was used before dawn to disperse protesters on West Florissant Avenue — the frontline in the often violent demonstrations that rocked Ferguson in wake of Brown’s death.
Ferguson had marked the grim anniversary earlier on Sunday with 4½ minutes of silence at 12:02 p.m. — to remember the 4½ hours that the 18-year-old’s body was left in the street on Aug. 9, 2014.
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As a torrential downpour later hit Ferguson, umbrellas sprouted and protesters gathered at Ferguson and West Florissant avenues despite police warnings to disperse or face arrest. County police said they were being pelted by objects Sunday night. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported late Sunday night that an ambulance was seen leaving the scene.
Brown had just graduated from high school and was planning to go to trade school to study to become a heating and air conditioning technician before he was killed. Relatives and friends described Brown as a quiet, gentle giant who stood around 6-foot-3, weighed nearly 300 pounds. But police said Brown stole items from a convenience store and shoved the owner who tried to stop him on the morning of Aug. 9, 2014. Moments later, he and a friend were walking on Canfield Drive when Wilson, who is white, told them to move to the sidewalk.
That led to a confrontation inside Wilson’s police car. It spilled outside, and Wilson claimed that Brown came at him, menacingly, leading to the fatal shooting. Some witnesses claimed Brown had his hands up in surrender. Federal officials concluded there was no evidence to disprove testimony by Wilson that he feared for his safety, nor was there reliable evidence that Brown had his hands up in surrender when he was shot.
The shooting sparked nightly protests in Ferguson for weeks. The unrest was reignited in November when a St. Louis County grand jury determined that Wilson had done nothing wrong. He resigned days later.