FERGUSON, Mo. — A day of anger over a fatal police shooting of an unarmed black man in suburban St. Louis turned to mayhem as people looted businesses, vandalized vehicles and confronted police who sought to block off access to several areas of the city.
The tensions erupted after a candlelight vigil the night of Aug. 10 for 18-year-old Michael Brown, who police said was shot multiple times the previous afternoon after a scuffle involving the officer, Brown and another person in Ferguson, a predominantly black suburb of the city.
Afterward, a convenience store was looted. Several other stores along a main road near the shooting scene were broken into, including a check-cashing store, a boutique and a small grocery store. People also took items from a sporting goods store and a cellphone retailer, and carted rims away from a tire store.
TV footage showed streams of people walking out of a liquor store carrying bottles of alcohol, and in some cases protesters were standing atop police cars or taunting officers who stood stoic, often in riot gear.
Other witnesses reported seeing people vandalize police cars and kick in windows. Television footage showed windows busted out of a TV station van.
Police were having a hard time catching looters because crimes were happening at several locations in Ferguson and spilling into neighboring communities,
Mayor James Knowles told KTVI-TV. It wasn’t immediately clear how many arrests were made. Authorities set up some blockades to try to keep people from the most looted areas.
While St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley said that there were no reports of injuries as of about 11 p.m., there also were scattered reports of assaults into the early morning. Pat Washington, a spokeswoman for Dooley, there was one instance she knew of in which tear gas was used. There were scattered media reports of gunfire but authorities did not immediately confirm any.
“Right now, the small group of people are creating a huge mess,” Knowles told KTVI-TV. “Contributing to the unrest that is going on is not going to help. … We’re only hurting ourselves, only hurting our community, hurting our neighbors. There’s nothing productive from this.”
As the investigation of Brown’s death progresses, “we understand people want to vent their frustrations. We understand they want to speak out,” Knowles added. “We’re going to obviously try to urge calm.”
Earlier in the day, a few hundred protesters had gathered outside Ferguson Police headquarters. At one point, many of them marched into an adjacent police building, some chanting “Don’t shoot me” while holding their hands in the air. Officers stood at the top of a staircase, but didn’t use force; the crowd eventually left.
County Police Chief Jon Belmar said the shooting occurred after an officer encountered two people — one of whom was Brown — on the street near an apartment complex in Ferguson.
Belmar said one of the men pushed the officer back into his squad car and a struggle began. Belmar said at least one shot was fired from the officer’s gun inside the police car.
Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson said authorities were still sorting out what happened inside the police car. It was not clear if Brown was the man who struggled with the officer.
The struggle spilled out into the street, where Brown was shot multiple times. Belmar said the exact number of shots wasn’t known, but “it was more than just a couple.”
He also said all shell casings found at the scene matched the officer’s gun. Police are still investigating why the officer shot Brown, who police have confirmed was unarmed.
Jackson said the second person has not been arrested or charged. Authorities aren’t sure if that person was unarmed, Jackson said.
Jackson told KSDK-TV there’s no apparent video footage of the shooting from a nearby apartment complex, or from any police cruiser dashboard cameras or body-worn cameras that the department recently bought but hasn’t yet put in use.
Jackson said blood samples have been taken from Brown and the officer who shot him, with those toxicology tests generally expected to take weeks to complete.
Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, said he had graduated from high school and was about to enter a local college. She said she doesn’t understand why police didn’t subdue her son with a club or Taser, and she said the officer involved should be fired and prosecuted.
“I would like to see him go to jail with the death penalty,” she said, fighting back tears.
The killing drew criticism from some civil rights leaders, who referred to the 2012 racially charged shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by a Florida neighborhood watch organizer who was acquitted of murder charges.
“We’re outraged because yet again a young African-American man has been killed by law enforcement,” said John Gaskin, who serves on both the St. Louis County and national boards of directors for the NAACP.
St. Louis County Police Department is in charge of the investigation, and Dooley said he will request an FBI investigation. The U.S. Justice Department said Attorney General Eric Holder had instructed staff to monitor developments.
The race of the officer involved in the shooting has not been disclosed. He has been placed on paid administrative leave.
By Jim Salter. AP writer Jim Suhr in St. Louis contributed to this report.