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Tear Gas Again Disperses Crowd in Ferguson, Some Arrested

Dale Singer | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 9:41 a.m. with release of Antonio French:

Police moved to end an evening of confrontation Wednesday, beginning about 9 p.m. to disperse the crowds and end the demonstations along West Florissant in Ferguson.

Among those arrested through the evening were reporters from the Washington Post and Huffington Post. They were released without being charged. St. Louis Alderman Antonio French, who has been a constant presence and source of tweets about the protests, also was arrested, according to his wife. He was released this morning.

Governor Jay Nixon's office announced that he would visit the area Thursday.

In a statement Wednesday night, he said:

“The worsening situation in Ferguson is deeply troubling, and does not represent who we are as Missourians or as Americans. While we all respect the solemn responsibility of our law enforcement officers to protect the public, we must also safeguard the rights of Missourians to peaceably assemble and the rights of the press to report on matters of public concern.

“I have been closely monitoring the situation and will continue to be in communication with local leaders, and I will be in north St. Louis County tomorrow. As Governor, I am committed to ensuring the pain of last weekend’s tragedy does not continue to be compounded by this ongoing crisis. Once again, I ask that members of the community demonstrate patience and calm while the investigation continues, and I urge law enforcement agencies to keep the peace and respect the rights of residents and the press during this difficult time.” 

The police clearing action began Wednesday evening with high-pitched sounds coming from police vehicles. Officers in riot gear advanced slowly and ordered the crowd to disperse and go home. That was also when the police launched a second volley of tear gas, which was intense enough to send many of the crowd scrambling. The move followed what appeared to be a plastic water bottle thrown by a member of the demonstration toward the police line.

This seemed to be the culmination of an evening of confrontation that began at about 5:45 p.m.,when  armored vehicles from St. Louis County police pulled up on West Florissant and a line of police with batons and shields stood between the vehicles and the protesters. Police got on a loud speaker and said, "You must disperse immediately or be subject to arrest. Return to your vehicles. Return to your homes."

Some protesters shouted, "We're not going anywhere." But eventually they did. Several protesters, including  state Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, were sitting in the street. Protest organizers carried some of them to a nearby parking lot.

By 7 p.m., two groups of protesters were holding competing rallies. North of the QuikTrip, which has become the ground zero of the protests, people congregated for a more religiously oriented protest, complete with music. Around 7 p.m., that rally ended as people went along with the police request to end demonstrations and rallies before dark.

Credit Dale Singer | St. Louis Public Radio
State Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal (center) and others "sit down for Michael Brown" on West Florissant in Ferguson Wednesday.

Some of those from the disbanded protest joined the group by the QuikTrip, swelling the number to what appeared to be 200 or 300 people. Many in the crowd taunted the police. As the crowd tried to provoke the police, St. Louis Alderman Antonio French and Chappelle-Nadal tried to calm the crowd down.

For the most part, the crowd seemed spirited but not necessarily menacing. One of the more popular chants from the crowd: "Indict, convict, put killer cops in jail; the whole damn system is guilty as hell." Another: "Police, go home, you're blocking the street."

By about 8:40 p.m., though, the taunts became more than verbal and someone in the crowd of demonstrators tossed a bottle at the police. That's when the police responded by tossing cannisters of gas toward the crowd and telling them to move back and go home. It was not initially clear it was tear gas, as the gas seemed to dissipate quickly.

The second volley of tear gas, at about 9 p.m., was much more intense and caused many to leave, though some remained milling around. Some of the cannisters landed in a nearby residential neighborhood.

After being hit with tear-gas, this reporter left the scene.

Dale Singer began his career in professional journalism in 1969 by talking his way into a summer vacation replacement job at the now-defunct United Press International bureau in St. Louis; he later joined UPI full-time in 1972. Eight years later, he moved to the Post-Dispatch, where for the next 28-plus years he was a business reporter and editor, a Metro reporter specializing in education, assistant editor of the Editorial Page for 10 years and finally news editor of the newspaper's website. In September of 2008, he joined the staff of the Beacon, where he reported primarily on education. In addition to practicing journalism, Dale has been an adjunct professor at University College at Washington U. He and his wife live in west St. Louis County with their spoiled Bichon, Teddy. They have two adult daughters, who have followed them into the word business as a communications manager and a website editor, and three grandchildren. Dale reported for St. Louis Public Radio from 2013 to 2016.