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After A Tense Day In Ferguson, Protests Flare On West Florissant

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Jason Rosenbaum
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St. Louis Public Radio

Police forcibly dispersed dozens of protestors in Ferguson early Wednesday morning after hours of confrontation and the smashing of a window at the Beauty Town shop. Tensions had been running high since Tuesday morning when a memorial for Michael Brown burned down close to where he was killed.

Tuesday evening, Ferguson's city council made changes to its municipal court system in response to criticism that minor offenses were trapping too many poor people and African Americans in a cycle of compounding fines, fees, arrest warrants and jail time. The council postponed action on a proposal to create a civilian police review board in order to allow time for discussion of alternatives with more teeth.

The changes had been proposed as a way to ease tensions between authorities and African-American residents. Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III said he hoped Ferguson's actions would prompt other communities to take similar steps.

The protest on West Florissant Tuesday night was reminiscent of turbulent August nights when scores of protestors clashed with police after a white Ferguson police officer shot and killed Brown, an 18-year-old African-American.

Juan Santos works at Beauty Town, which is located on West Florissant Avenue where most of the protests occurred last month.

“We got a call from the alarm company and they said that the alarm was on,” Santos said. “And we come in and see the window broke.” 

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Credit Jason Rosenbaum / St. Louis Public Radio
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St. Louis Public Radio
A broken window in Beauty Town.

  Santos told St. Louis Public Radio that he didn’t think any merchandise had been taken – adding that the extent of the damage was to the window. This was the third time his window has been smashed since the protests began, he said.

Dozens of people lined up in and around the parking lot of the beauty shop Tuesday night. Police officers from multiple jurisdictions – including Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar and St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson – stood in front of the protestors. And for the next couple of hours, the protestors engaged in often-hostile verbal exchanges with the officers.

After midnight, police shut down the road and dispersed the crowd. They made arrests, but the exact number was unknown as of early Wednesday morning. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that a number of shots were fired, although police didn’t end up pursuing the shooter.

Few were surprised that a confrontation developed after the memorial burned down.

“After the fire this morning, I kind of expected something,” said Heather De Mian, who’s been active in the protest movement. “I don’t know if that’s what spurred this or there were other events that I missed or what.”

Ferguson Township Democratic Committeewoman Patricia Bynes rushed to West Florissant Avenue shortly after a meeting of the Ferguson City Council. She also said she wasn’t surprised that there was a confrontation between police and protestors.

“I know that tensions were already high when the indictment date was pushed back,” Bynes said.

She was referring to the extension of the term of the grand jury that is considering whether to indict Darren Wilson, the officer who shot Brown.

“I know that people were very angry, but at least they had started venting that anger by showing up at [county and city] council meetings and opening themselves up to being educated. But that fire this morning really pushed too many people over the edge.” “So now, we’re back at this physical confrontation stage,” she added.

Umar Lee is a cab driver who has been active in the protests over Brown’s death. He said people who expected nighttime protests to completely disappear were sorely mistaken.

“Everybody wants things to get back to normal. But as somebody said the other week, normal got Mike Brown killed,” Lee said. “This is the new normality in St. Louis. Until you get some institutional and substantive change, this is the new normal in St. Louis.”

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