After covering the August 2014 protests in Ferguson, Mo., the Complex News team has spent the last week back in the St. Louis suburb in the lead-up to yesterday's one-year anniversary of Michael Brown's death. Brown's family led a peaceful, 1.5-mile march yesterday afternoon from Canfield Drive, the site where Brown was shot and killed by Darren Wilson, to Greater St. Mark Family Church. But as night fell the mood became more aggressive, with looting beginning at around 9 p.m. and shots fired several hours later in a police-involved shooting. The ensuing chaos was eerily similar to the nights of unrest last year, reinforcing doubt that anything has changed.
St. Louis County police say plainclothes detectives shot 18-year-old Tyrone Harris Jr. after he fired upon them. The family of Harris, however, has expressed doubt about the police's statements. "We think there's a lot more to this than what's being said." Harris Sr. said. At the same time a separate shooting occurred between two groups on the west side of West Florissant Avenue, the St. Louis Post Dispatch reports.
Several Complex staffers were on hand for the day's events. What follows is their account:
After filming during the march the crew returned to Ferguson Avenue and West Florissant Avenue around 10:30 p.m.
Kai Streets, Director: We parked about a half mile away, and we had to cross two barriers of cops. They were just really really nice. They were really concerned. They were like: "You guys be safe out there. What are you guys here for?" We’re here filming. "Just be safe. You guys have a good night."
Ross Scarano, Deputy Editor: We established that we were media.
KS: So the energy from the cops definitely was peaceful. They were really cool. Once we passed the barriers the first building we saw was a tax office. The window was shattered, and we saw a guy run out with this old ass computer monitor, and the wires were connected to a tower. He was basically dragging this monitor and tower combination, just laughing the whole time. "Ha ha ha." We just kept walking. The energy started pretty early as soon as we got there, so we continued to walk.
There’s a parking lot adjacent to the McDonalds. We saw a group of kids kind of getting into it. It wasn’t like a physical fight, but there was some shoving going on. There was a mediator who was like, "Just back up" and pushed them off of each other. We noticed one of the guys in the altercation was wearing red pants, but it’s hard to say. I’m not going to say that that was the guy on the ground from all the pictures who was shot. But I did notice that.
And as we were walking from that scene we overheard someone say: "I saw that man. That’s just a BB gun. Get that out of here." And I didn’t really think anything of it. We just kept walking. I wanted to get away from what was going on right in that area.
RS: There was a line of police. They were all in formation, flanked by one another and preventing people from crossing over, from walking further down West Florrissant Avenue to cross over Ferguson Avenue. Police were silent but standing. Many agitators were upset. They were standing there aggressive. They were yelling. We're not really sure what they were saying, but they were cycling the same issues with the police at large.
We were standing near the line of police and agitators when we first heard the gunfire and ran from the street, through the parking, to the line of cars. And then the police asked us to get behind a second line of police cars that were further back on the street because it was safer back there. They weren't sure of the location of the shooting.
KS: I don't even want to relive this. I could have gotten shot last night. We located a car and kind of dipped behind that car, and as soon as we did that a female cop told us it would be safer to run and hide behind the line of cop cars. I was one of the last ones from our group to run around. We had to run around this Tahoe, I believe. It was right between a tree and line of cars. It was really dark over there as well. I had my camera in my hand and, like I said, I was one of the last ones to get around this corner to get down and in a ducking position.
A cop basically drew his gun on me. He was less than 10 feet away, and he was yelling. He said, "Get from behind that car." I guess it wasn't communicated that the female cop told us to get behind a cop car because that would be safer. People were running in all different directions, so he didn't know who I was or what I had in my hands. He just saw me running behind a cop car. I put my hands up, showed him that I had a camera, and at this time I really don't even know what I was saying. I was really shook just based on the fact that cops kill people, and he was pointing his gun at me. He was walking in a slow pace toward me with his gun drawn.
It was so chaotic I don't even know how it was resolved. I think I saw two people running past him. So he turned around and pointed his gun at them, and I think we was really scared as well because he went from directly walking toward me to pointing his gun at me. That's what I got from this. He kind of scattered after that, so I have no idea where he went.
Brandon Jenkins, Editorial Producer: We were squatted behind the cars for at least 15 minutes. And during the interaction a couple cops checked in. We were straight. They told us if more shots did ring out to get closer to the body of the car and duck low. We kind of started to look over the car and started to see they were moving down toward the middle of Florissant again, the space between the two intersections. I guess they were starting to formulate a crime scene. Eventually another cop came around, and he ordered us to move from that area and go to the Ferguson Market & Liquor up against the brick wall. "That would be your safest bet," he said. "We can't really have you guys here [behind the cars]."
We were looking at the police line at the intersection, and it didn't really have any people there at that point.
RS: They scattered.
BJ: So that was no longer an issue. People were focused on the main area where the shooting took place.
The Ferguson Market & Liquor had been ransacked multiple times last year. At one point Kai was like, "Yo, did you see that guy with the gun?" The guy had a shotgun and also a pistol at the back of his waist. He was an owner or an employee of the Ferguson Market & Liquor. He and another gentleman who wasn't carrying set up shop and literally put down a crate.
RS: He put down a milk crate and sat down on it with the shotgun laid across his lap. It was a defensive position like, "I dare you to come up here."
BJ: He was kind of pacing back and forth when he was standing in front—I guess to let people know he wasn't fucking around. But there were also people from the neighborhood who he was familiar with who were sitting up there with him. Clearly he wasn't in opposition to the whole neighborhood. He just really didn't want anybody to fuck up his store. Their cars were blocking the entrance to the parking lot on West Florissant. They figured it would prevent people from vehicles entering their lot. It didn't stop the cop vehicles because they had all-terrain shit, so they went over the sidewalk. But you could see it was their intent to protect their property.
RS: There was a verbal argument with a guy who was basically arguing nobody should have been out there and that it was irresponsible for people to be out that way. There was a mother who saying she had just got off work, and she had her kid with her. It wasn't her fault she got trapped in this situation. He was berating her for being out.
Sean Stout, Director: What makes the situation so weird is that you don't know who's who. People have various opinions, even if they are part of the greater side. Everyone who's there who's not a cop does not share the same thoughts. The amount of agitators who were there to cause trouble was small. There were people who were upset, but the people who took action and did something violent were a small group. And then there was a lot of fracture amongst the group from people who weren't cops. It was confusing. You could see it on people's faces that some were torn and trying to understand what their next course of action was.
BJ: Three of us were here last year: Cornell [Brown], Sean, and myself. Basically in the same location. It felt pretty odd to see that. Throughout the whole trip we were walking around the same places but felt a different vibe. But last night I ran into Deray (Mckesson), and I was like, "This is a replay." I told him this feels like last year. He was like, "It’s a mirror."
It’s exactly like last year. We were in the same location, the same tension, the same common fight, the same temperature, and people, and some of the same sentiments. There wasn't the same volume of people. I didn’t hear as many "Fuck the police. Fuck the cops." I guess there just weren’t many people, but it felt similar. The cops were a little different than last year. And the people were a little bit different from last year. But here it was, daytime: positive vibes, no violence. Night time: it was like that last year. By the time the sun set and nighttime hit, a different element pops up, and then police presence gets there, and the media stuck around documenting.