FERGUSON, Missouri — The atmosphere was tense but the air was clear Tuesday night as clergy members, volunteers, elders and activists helped police keep peace —and the tear gas in its canisters — in this simmering suburb outside of St. Louis.
“I believe there was a turning point made,” said Capt. Ronald Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol, which is charged with keeping the peace in Ferguson.
It has not been an easy task. Violent clashes between cops and protesters have flared numerous times since Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen, was fatally shot on Aug. 9 by Officer Darren Wilson, a white cop. The teen’s death was a catalyst for racial tensions in a community with a long and bitter history between black residents and a mostly white police force.
Johnson said 47 people were arrested during Tuesday’s protests, most on charges of refusing to disperse. Three handguns were confiscated. Johnson blamed most of the violence on “outside agitators,” and praised local residents for demonstrating peacefully.
St. Louis County Police Department is also trying to bolster the narrative that the violence is due to outside rabble-rousers. On Tuesday afternoon, authorities released a report showing that 93 percent of those arrested during the previous night came from outside town, and more than a quarter of them are from another state.
Police sought to shut down the protests shortly after midnight, when Johnson says glass and plastic bottles were thrown at police by agitators who “hid behind the media for safety.” Johnson said officers deployed a “very limited” amount of pepper spray.
Though it was Brown’s death that triggered the protests, the thousands of demonstrators who have gathered here for the past 11 days are also angry about how they say they’ve been treated by police in their respective communities. As they marched through the city on Tuesday, protesters chanted: “Here’s your peace! We want justice!”, “No justice, no peace! No racist police!” and the refrain that has come to symbolize the tragedy, “Hands up! Don’t shoot!”
Today will be another important milestone in the case, when a St. Louis grand jury will be presented with Brown’s death and have to determine how, if at all, to charge Wilson in the incident. Some predict the protests could again get dicey if the officer is not arrested.
“I just pray that this goes the way it’s supposed to go,” said Justin Danley, 31, of Ferguson. “People are already angry. We’ve humbled ourselves to be peaceful. If they say he’s not going to be prosecuted, that means he’s getting away with murder. With that happening, it’s all bad.”
Attorney General Eric Holder is also scheduled to arrive today for an update on the Department of Justice’s independent inquiry into the Brown killing.
Brown’s funeral is scheduled for Monday.