FERGUSON, MISSOURI – The ongoing violence in Ferguson in the aftermath of the fatal police shooting of an unarmed teenager led to 2 people being shot and 78 people being arrested overnight, Michigan police said on early Tuesday, blaming the violence on "criminal acts by a tiny minority of law breakers."
Captain Ron Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol delivered a press conference on early Tuesday to describe the situation overnight. He said that while the night started off peacefully, 78 people were arrested after chaos broke out at approximately 9:40 p.m. local time. Some of those who were arrested included journalists, as well as people who came from New York and as far away as California.
"More than 200 [protesters] walked towards police officers," Johnson stated, saying that the group of people was loud but not aggressive, so police did not react while other protesters encouraged the group to walk away. Then, bottles were thrown from the middle and back of the crowd, setting off a chaotic situation. "These criminal acts came from a tiny minority of law breakers," he said.
Before the chaos broke out, police officers and protesters shook hands and officers listened to protesters as they expressed their views on the police shooting of Michael Brown, as well as related issues affecting the city. "This was the freedom of expression we are committed to protecting," Johnson said, adding that, during the night, there is a "dangerous dynamic" which allows for a small number of people to encourage violence.
The violence overnight included bottles and Molotov cocktails being thrown, as well as shots being fired and the outbreak of two fires. Protesters were described by the captain as "respectful" and "peaceful," saying that they did not clash with police or throw Molotov cocktails. The people who endanger the lives of others were described as criminals.
The overnight riots resulted in two people being hit by gunfire while a business and an unoccupied residence caught fire. Although police were under heavy gunfire at times, they did not retaliate with gunfire, but did confiscate two guns. A SWAT truck was used in the midst of the situation, however, because the situation had become dangerous and violent at that time, law enforcement officials said.
Due to the dangerous events that took place, "I want to encourage the good people of this area to come out and protest tomorrow during the daytime hours. Make your voices heard where you can be seen," Captain Johnson suggested, hoping to quell the overnight violence that has plagued the city for days, putting it in the world's spotlight.
Among those arrested overnight were at least six journalists, including Getty Images photojournalist Scott Olson and German journalists Ansgar Graw and Frank Herrmann. Officials, defending the arrests of journalists, said that officers cannot be sure who is a journalist and who is not. "In the midst of chaos we have to be safe," they said.
Responding to the arrests, Dunja Mijatović, a representative of the European security bloc OSCE, of which the United States is also a member state, urged law enforcement authorities in Ferguson to respect a journalist's right to freely "cover public events without undue restraints."
Mijatović called on the authorities to "review the circumstances" and "ensure that journalists covering news in Ferguson can work freely and safely." She continued by stating that she understands the sensitive situation, but emphasized the right of media coverage to be taken into consideration. "Journalists should not be intimidated by police," she said.
On August 13, Al Jazeera America's journalist was hit with tear gas while covering the protests and unrest in Ferguson. Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery and Huffington Post reporter Ryan J. Reilly were also among those arrested by local law enforcement. All were quickly released.
The city of Ferguson has been the scene of days of rioting, often at night, since police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown, an 18-year-old unarmed African-American teenager, on August 9. The shooting led to protests in Ferguson, which has a two-third African American majority among citizens but a majority of white police and politicians.
On Monday afternoon, U.S. President Barack Obama publicly commented on the ongoing protests in Ferguson. To help resolve the issues, the President had meetings with Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, U.S. Senators Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill, as well as U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who is due to visit Ferguson on Tuesday after opening an independent federal civil rights investigation into the death of Michael Brown.
In regards to the protests, Obama disapproved of the actions of the group that started looting, carried guns and attacked police officers. "It undermines rather than advancing justice," he said, adding that there is also no excuse for uncontrolled force by the police or actions that deny the right to protest peacefully. "Our constitutional rights to speak freely, to assemble, and to report in the press must be vigilantly safeguarded, especially in moments like these," he said.