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Curfew Imposed In Ferguson Midnight To 5 A.M. After Night Ends In Tear Gas And Looting

Drummers attract a crowd during sixth night of demonstrations in Ferguson.
Durrie Bouscaren
St. Louis Public Radio

(Update: 3:53 p.m. Saturday) Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon on Saturday declared a state of emergency and said a curfew would be imposed in Ferguson from midnight to 5 a.m.

He made the announcement with Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson and several other officials at a tumultuous news conference at Greater St. Mark Family Church. Nixon has put Johnson and the patrol in charge of maintaining order in Ferguson, which has been at the center of unrest since a police shooting last Saturday killed 18-year-old Michael Brown.

"The tragic shooting death of Michael Brown one week ago today - and the events that followed - left a family grieving the loss of a son, a community wracked by fear and unrest, and an entire world looking for answers and justice," Nixon said.

But in addition, the governor said, "If we are going to achieve justice, we must first have - and maintain - peace."

From the audience, some residents shouted questions that challenged how the investigation of Brown's death has been handled.  Their concern was less on looting, and more of what they viewed as a lack of justice.

Others said they were ready to help keep order in Ferguson, where looting early Saturday morning marred hours of what had been peaceful protests Friday night.

Johnson and Nixon said the curfew was needed because of a few lawbreakers who marred peaceful protests.

"I share their frustration and their conviction that we cannot allow the ill-will of the few to undermine the goodwill of the many, while putting the people and businesses of this community in danger," the governor said. "If there was an easy way to separate those who hurt from those who help, we would. But it’s hard, and especially at night we can’t."

Nixon said the curfew would continue until nightly order has been restored. The boundaries of the curfew were not immediately clear; a spokesman for the governor's office said the specifics would be left up to the Highway Patrol.

Nixon said the situation was a test of whether the cycle of fear can be broken, in Ferguson and in general. "The eyes of the world are watching," he said.

Protests on Friday were peaceful "except for a very few" people, Nixon said.

He added, "We cannot allow the ill will of a few to undermine the good will of many."

Statements of officials were interrupted several times with questions and statements shouted from the audience. U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, at one point said he agreed with some of the concerns expressed, including concerns about the St. Louis County Prosecutor's office.

Earlier today, county prosecutor Robert McCulloch told St. Louis Public Radio that a grand jury would begin to meet about the case "in days" -- before the investigation is complete -- and would be expected to continue for a some time as more evidence comes in.

Highway Patrol Capt. Johnson gave some detail about how events unfolded Friday night. He said an armored vehicle was sent in to the area where peaceful protest was taking place to assist three officers who had injuries and needed to get out of a parking lot. This led to a tense situation with demonstrators, and one officer threw a canister of tear gas, Johnson said.

(End update)

Demonstrators and authorities in Ferguson had hoped for a peaceful night Friday. But near midnight, tensions developed into a standoff between protestors and police. A handful of people began breaking into stores on West Florissant Avenue, but police held back.

Videos posted to social media showed protestors standing in front of businesses, telling looters to leave. Some wore bandanas over their faces and gathered in front of the boarded-up windows of Ferguson Market & Liquor, where police say Michael Brown stole cigars before he was shot and killed.

The convenience store became a target after Ferguson police released surveillance camera footage allegedly showing Michael Brown stealing cigars the same day he was shot and killed. The incident occurred before Brown and a friend were stopped by Officer Darren Wilson, and police confirmed Officer Wilson had no knowledge of the robbery when he stopped Brown.

Brown’s parents called the release "a deliberate assassination of his character," intentionally timed with the release of the officer’s name.

After taking control of security in town, Missouri State Patrol Captain Ron Johnson met with protestors throughout the day Friday to hear resident concerns and ask for calm. Hundreds gathered at the burned-out shell of the QuikTrip gas station Friday afternoon, holding signs and passing out barbeque ribs as passing cars honked in support.

“This is beautiful. This touches my heart, to see this many people come together. Not just black people, to see this many people come together for a just cause, it’s beautiful,” said Talia Dowdy of Jennings.

The protest also drew high-profile figures including the Rev. Jesse Jackson and 1st-district Congressman Lacy Clay, who promised a push in Washington to increase the racial diversity of law enforcement.

“It needs to be a reflection of the community they serve. They are sworn to serve and protect,” Clay said into a megaphone, as protestors and reporters huddled around.

“This is about addressing the issues that have inflicted so much pain on this community.”

Protestors braved the rain outside the QuikTrip gas station that burned Sunday night.
Credit Durrie Bouscaren / St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Public Radio
Protestors braved the rain outside the QuikTrip gas station that burned Sunday night.

Friday afternoon, Ron Johnson of Missouri State Highway Patrol asks protester to keep the peace in Ferguson over the course of the night.
Credit Durrie Bouscaren / St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Public Radio
Friday afternoon, Ron Johnson of Missouri State Highway Patrol asks protestor to keep the peace in Ferguson over the course of the night.

The Missouri High Patrol has planned a press conference for Saturday, but details were unavailable at 4:30 a.m

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.