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Tensions Flare Again, But Police Maintain Peace In Ferguson Overnight

Joseph Leahy / St. Louis Public Radio
A demonstrator lunges at a riot police line in Ferguson Tues. after getting pepper sprayed.

After more than a week of nightly violence in Ferguson, increased restraint by protestors and police paid off Tuesday night. Though police arrested 47 people and peppered sprayed one man, the night’s demonstrations ended without the use of tear gas, rubber bullets or gunfire.

Despite calls for demonstrators to disband before dark by Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, who is overseeing security in Ferguson, hundreds gathered along both sides of West Florissant Avenue  just south of the QuikTrip that was looted and burned a day after a Ferguson police officer shot and killed Michael Brown Aug. 9.

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Credit Joseph Leahy | St. Louis Public Radio
Though much of the night was calm, the police were ever present.

“Tonight we saw a different dynamic,” said Johnson. “Protest crowds were a bit smaller and they were out earlier.  We had to respond to fewer incidents than the night before. There were no Molotov cocktails tonight,” he said.

Johnson attributed the calmer evening to the organization of volunteers, activists, clergy members.

“They walked, they talked with people, they urged order, calm and peace,” said Johnson at press briefing around 2 a.m. Wednesday.

But north St. Louis County native Alina Miller said the police also did a better job Tuesday night with a less aggressive showing of force.

“I think it’s great that they’re on the ground and in their regular uniforms, instead of in their tanks,” she said. Police SWAT teams and armored vehicles were in the area, although they were largely kept out of view for most of the night.

The police’s earlier ban on static assembly in the area resulted in protesters marching along the sidewalks and shoulders of the road between Ferguson Avenue and Canfield Drive. At about 9:30 p.m. police began parking cruisers along the east side of West Florissant Avenue to keep the crowds off the street.

Tuesday’s march culminated with a prayer as demonstrators gathered near the media’s designated staging area. Community members seemed pleased with the perception of a peaceful outcome.

Yet, just after midnight a small handful of protesters remained agitated. Initially sitting, they stood, began taunting police, and one member of the group threw a water bottle toward the officers before running. The protester was pursued by police and arrested.

Following this arrest, police surrounded the group of media and protestors and began moving them down West Florissant Avenue toward Ferguson Avenue.

Specific teams of police officers would at intervals enter the crowd to isolate confrontational individuals. Protesters and media were eventually shuffled to the West Florissant parking lot at McDonald's.

The evening’s events closed as media were allowed to return to their cars or were ushered to a news briefing given by Capt. Ron Johnson. “Over the past 10 days the men and women of law enforcement and the people of Ferguson have gotten to know better and understand one another,” Johnson said. “It makes me proud every night as I see more and more police officers and residents interacting and smiling,” he said.

A large group of demonstrators was expected to convene at 9 a.m. Wednesday outside the St. Louis County Justice Center in Clayton.

Meanwhile, as U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was preparing to visit the area, The New York Times reported, “Mr. Holder and top Justice Department officials were weighing whether to open a broader civil rights investigation to look at Ferguson’s police practices at large, according to law enforcement officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal talks.”

Man killed in the city

On Tuesday, police officers in the city of St. Louis shot and killed a man who they said had threatened them with a knife.

Police say Kajieme Powell took merchandise from a convenience store on Riverview Boulevard at McLaran Avenue. Employees of the market and of a nearby store called 911. Police say that Powell came at them with a knife raised.

St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson came to the location and promised a prompt investigation. He said, “I’m the chief for the entire community, so we are open and transparent.” Following standard protocol, the two officers involved have been placed on administrative leave.

The store is less than four miles from the site in Ferguson where an unarmed teenager was shot and killed by a police officer on Aug. 9. With Michael Brown’s death in mind, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay immediately informed the U.S. attorney’s office of the shooting and said he had spoken to leaders in the African-American community in person and on the telephone.

While a number of people gathered at the store into the night, no significant trouble was reported.

St. Louis Public Radio's Rachel Lippmann reported from St. Louis.