Protests in a St. Louis suburb roiled by outrage over the death of an unarmed teen descended into chaos Wednesday night, with riot gear-clad police using tear gas on crowds and officers reportedly coming under attack by thrown bottles.
President Barack Obama was briefed Wednesday night on the turmoil in Ferguson, Missouri, which began as a day of demonstrations but turned violent as darkness fell. Police said 16 people were arrested and two officers sustained injuries over the course of the night, police said bottles were thrown at officers, and a police officer was injured by a brick, NBC station KSDK reported.
A Washington Post reporter and another journalist were arrested by police earlier in the day by officers who ordered everyone out of a McDonald’s restaurant, an arrest the newspaper’s executive editor called illegal and unjustified. Wesley Lowery said he was slammed into a soda machine and arrested after recording officers. Also arrested was Huffington Post reporter Ryan Reilly.
“That behavior was wholly unwarranted and an assault on the freedom of the press to cover the news,” Washington Post Executive Editor Martin Baron said in a statement. “After being placed in a holding cell, he was released with no charges and no explanation. He was denied information about the names and badge numbers of those who arrested him. We are relieved that Wesley is going to be OK. We are appalled by the conduct of police officers involved."
St. Louis Alderman Antonio French was also arrested and charged with unlawful assembly, KSDK reported.
The suburb of 21,000 people has been wracked by protests in the days since Michael Brown, 18, was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer Saturday afternoon. On Wednesday, police ordered crowds to disperse, threatened arrests and deployed tear gas canisters at 9 p.m. local time (10 p.m. ET), after unsuccessful attempts to keep people from gathering in the street near a burned-out convenience store that had been torched in rioting days before, KSDK reported.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon Wednesday night called the situation in Ferguson "deeply troubling."
St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said earlier Wednesday his officers had shown “tremendous amount of restraint” responding to protests over Brown’s death, and said that in some cases officers and police vehicles have been pelted by rocks.
Police on Monday and Tuesday responded with tear gas and in some cases fired “bean-bag rounds” to disperse groups. After mostly peaceful protests Tuesday, a 19-year-old man was shot and wounded by police near the demonstrations after allegedly pointing a handgun at an officer. Belmar said that shooting has not been tied to the protests, but he said officers have been shot at several times since the civil unrest began.
Police say Brown was killed after he and another person got into a “physical confrontation” with a Ferguson police officer at around noon Saturday. At one point, police said, the officer was shoved back into his patrol vehicle, followed by a struggle for the weapon and one shot being fired inside the car. The officer then exited the vehicle and shot Brown several times, police said.
But the friend who said he was with Brown that day, Dorian Johnson, told KDSK that the officer grabbed Brown around the neck, that there was no struggle for the weapon, and that the officer shot Brown as the 18-year-old ran away with his hands in the air to surrender. St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert P. McCulloch, who is investigating the shooting, said his office was interviewing Johnson Wednesday afternoon.