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Peaceful Protest Against Police Brutality Turns Into Night Of Violence

Rachel Lippmann
St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 7 a.m. Monday
The situation in Ferguson has settled down following a night of destruction.
There is no more systematic looting, but small groups are still casing stores, according to St. Louis County Police spokesman Brian Schellman.
"When it happened, it happened very quickly."
Around 300 officers were involved in the response as the violence spread quickly into nearby communities including Jennings and possibly Dellwood.
It could turn out to be one of the most violent nights in recent St. Louis history.
"I've been a policeman for 12 years, all with the St. Louis County Police Department. I haven't seen anything remotely close," said Schellman.

What was supposed to be a peaceful protest against police brutality in Ferguson Sunday night turned into a night of violence in the area.  

The march and vigil were the latest in a series of gatherings following the shooting of Michael Brown on Saturday afternoon. The crowd that gathered near the site of the shooting, in the Canfield Gardens apartment complex, was large but peaceful. Community leaders called for a boycott of Ferguson businesses, and collected money to pay for Michael Brown's funeral.  

As the march began up to West Florissant, a main street in Ferguson, state Senator JamilahNasheed tried to lay the groundwork.

"I repeat, this is a very peaceful protest," she said. "Our fight will be in the courts."

Credit (Rachel Lippmann/St. Louis Public Radio)
Protesters on West Florissant surround a Ferguson cop car with their hands up, chanting, "hands up, don't shoot." Looting broke out shortly afterward.

The marchers, who numbered close to a thousand, approached a line of police officers with their hands up chanting, "hands up, don't shoot." A small group began throwing rocks and bottles at the line of officers, and at least one person launched a flare. 

When police cars moved in to clear the crowd from West Florissant, some of the marchers kicked the cars and threw rocks at the windows, despite shouts from march leaders and older protestors to stop. When the police pulled back, to cheers from the crowd, the looting began.

As one young woman walking along the street explained it, "if they hadn't shot the kid, we wouldn't be doing this."

A QuikTrip in the 9400 block of West Florissant was the first target. Protestors threw bricks and bottles at the window, and began taking anything they could. Reports said employees had to flee the store. Videos and photos posted later to social media showed the store burning to the ground. Graffiti, much of it vulgar and directed against the police, appeared on the QuikTrip and on a highway divider. 

Credit (Rachel Lippmann/St. Louis Public Radio)
A QuikTrip at 9402 West Florissant was looted and burned to the ground in the violence.

A liquor store up the block was also looted, and a dumpster behind there set ablaze, and gunfire mixed with fireworks and the sound of breaking glass. One man who started yelling at the looters to stop breaking windows was called a snitch, and older protestors who tried to calm the crowd were ignored. Even County Executive Charlie Dooley was ignored.

The looting spread well beyond the boundary of Ferguson. As it did, a phalanx of police responded from departments across the region, including the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, St. Charles and the state Highway Patrol. The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department alsohelped cover policing duties for North County departments that responded to the looting.

On Twitter Nasheed, who helped lead the march, called what happened later unreal.

Organizers have called for an additional protest later this morning at the Ferguson police department. The St. Louis County branch of the NAACP, which has called for a federal investigation into the incident, is hosting a public meeting to "provide insight on how to heal our community." It will take place at 6:00 Monday night at the Murchison Tabernacle CME church on Natural Bridge.

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

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Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.