Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon signed an executive order early Monday morning authorizing the deployment of National Guard units to the town of Ferguson amid continued public protest and outrage spurred by the killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black man, by a Darren Wilson, a white police officer, on August 9.
In a statement, Nixon said the soldiers were now necessary to 'restore peace and order' and protect residents from 'the violent criminal acts of an organized and growing number of individuals' who have emerged growing community protests that have forcefully challenged a pattern of police violence in the St. Louis suburb while gaining national attention.
Following more than a week of growing protest, a nightly curfew was imposed Saturday by the governor's office which served to fuel dissent and anger as residents and others said their right to peaceable assemble and voice their grievances were being attacked.
On Sunday, the results from a private autopsy performed on Mr. Brown confirmed that the young man had been shot six times, twice in the head. The Department of Justice is among those now investigating the events that led up to the shooting.
Monday morning's announcement by the governor came directly after the most violent confrontations to date between people in the street and police officers, hundreds of whom patrolled downtown Ferguson in riot gear on Sunday evening.
Despite the midnight to 5 am curfew, a large public protest was staged during the evening by Ferguson residents, joined by others who who travelled in order to voice their concern over the pattern of police violence against members of poor and minority communities nationwide.
Associated Press video:
Video footage of the march showed people marching with their hands up, shouting what's become the protesters mantra: 'Hands Up, Don't Shoot.' Later, the marchers can be seen dispersing and turning back as tear gas cannisters were fired from a line of police officers.
According to some reports, the demonstration turned violent when provocateurs in the crowd threw Molotov cocktails and attempts were made to overrun local businesses as well as the police command center located at an area shopping center. Gunshots were also reported coming from the crowd.
However, aspects of those reports—many of them based on comments from police officials—were disputed by other witnesses. As the Guardian reports:
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Police launched their first barrage of gas and smoke at about 9pm on Sunday after fearing an advance on their command post – in a mall carpark just south of the centre of the clashes – by a largely peaceful protest march, according to [Stae Highway Patrol Capt. Ron] Johnson. He said several molotov cocktails were thrown by those taking part in the march, which included children.
This was sharply disputed. “You need to pull these officers back,” Renita Lamkin, an episcopal pastor who has been trying to control the protests, told a police chief by phone, as teargas fell on the march. “There were no molotov cocktails,” she said.
An unrelated shooting about 20 minutes later outside a branch of McDonalds prompted a stampede of people down West Florissant Avenue, the main road where conflict has flared since Brown was killed. Almost immediately, police deployed more gas and smoke grenades.
“That stuff doesn’t feel good,” said West, 23, who had tears streaming from his eyes. He said his throat was burning, adding: “You really feel like you’re going to die.”
According to the Huffington Post reporters on the scene, families who came out to march in solidarity with the people of Ferguson were caught off guard as violence took over the protest:
Cassandra Roberts from Richmond Heights, Missouri, came out Sunday night because she thought it was going to be peaceful and she would be able to march in solidarity without any problem.
She said she knew there was a problem when she started seeing everyone running. She went down on her knees and raised her hands in a "don't shoot" motion, but she quickly realized there was a bigger issue and she was being tear-gassed.
"I literally see these little things like, bop bop bop, and smoke is coming up. I got so choked up," said Roberts. "I couldn't even gather myself. I was so mixed up in the smoke. ... It took one of the McDonald's employees to pull me up out of the smoke. My eyes were wide open and I couldn't see a thing. They had to throw milk and water in my eyes. I didn't come down here for this."
Candice Dotson and her 11-year-old son were going back to their car when they were caught up in the beginning confrontations. She wanted to go home, she said, because the crowd was starting to get rowdy, but she never expected to be tear-gassed.
"It was horrible. There were little bitty kids in strollers. He's okay, but he's scared out of his mind," she told The Huffington Post.