An attempt to calm tensions in the wake of the fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown backfired spectacularly overnight when the police chief of Ferguson, Missouri, marched with protesters calling for his resignation.
Appearing in civilian clothes, Police Chief Thomas Jackson triggered scuffles and a standoff in the St. Louis suburb after joining a march late Thursday outside of his force's headquarters. Hours earlier, he'd released a video apology to the Brown family.
Jackson assured protesters that there would be changes in the wake of Brown's killing. "All those things that are causing mistrust are being evaluated and we are going to be making changes," Jackson said.
However, violence broke out seconds after Jackson tried to join the crowd, which included many protesters who were demanding he step down, along with a handful police officers, according to Alderman Antonio French.
"I don’t think he was marching with the protesters more than 30 seconds before the riot cops came out into the crowd and tried to get themselves closer to him and protect him," said French, a St. Louis elected official who has been following demonstrations since the Aug. 9 shooting and who supports calls for Jackson's resignation. "Just them being out there pushing started stuff — it’s a complete misread of the situation. His very presence agitated the crowd."
The chaotic tussle led to several arrests, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Ferguson police did not respond to several calls requesting information about the incident from NBC News. By early Friday, police had declared the protests an "unlawful assembly" and ordered the crowd to leave.
At around 2 a.m. local time (3 a.m. ET), French said a crowd of protesters that had originally included hundreds of people had shrunk to about 100. More than 50 police officers stood in front of the police station.
“Show me what democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like," chanted the crowd standing opposite a long line of police.
The return of violent protests in Ferguson — five people were arrested Tuesday night after a Brown memorial was destroyed by a fire — comes after several weeks of relative calm. Tensions had been easing since the shooting that ignited a week of clashes between police and residents.
The Justice Department is investigating why Brown was fatally shot and allegations of civil rights abuses by the Ferguson Police Department. A grand jury is also deciding whether to indict the police officer who killed Brown on criminal charges. Brown’s parents were in Washington, D.C., on Thursday to ask for a federal review of police misconduct.
The Associated Press and Niven McCall-Mazza of NBC News contributed to this report.