Ferguson Continues to Burn: National Guard Called In; More Journos Arrested; Brown Autopsies Released

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A protester stands in the street after police fired tear gas to disperse a crowd Sunday, Aug. 17, 2014, during a protest for Michael Brown, who was killed by a police officer last Saturday in Ferguson, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

A protester stands in the street after police fired tear gas to disperse a crowd Sunday, Aug. 17, 2014, during a protest for Michael Brown, who was killed by a police officer last Saturday in Ferguson, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Editor’s note: Last Thursday, we published an Essential Reader offering background on the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, the militarization of America’s police forces and details of the Michael Brown shooting that were available at the time. But the story continues to move quickly, and there have been a number of developments in the interim, so we’re providing this roundup of stories about what’s transpired since then.

Monday night featured some of the most violent protests to date; The Los Angeles Times reported that at least two people were shot and police made 31 arrests. Police said that among those arrested were people from as far away as New York and California. According to The Huffington Post, a small group threw objects at police while other protesters tried to ease tensions. CNN’s Marc Lamont Hill variously described those throwing objects as “out of towners… from Oakland,” “white  anarchists,” and in another segment, was told that the chaos was set off by two white agitators from Illinois.

Six journalists were arrested or detained on Monday night, according to CNN, bringing the total number to 11 over the nine nights of demonstrations. On Sunday, Mustafa Hussein, a political science student who has been covering the events in Ferguson for an online radio station, captured police threatening to shoot him on video. MSNBC’s Chris Hayes reported that police had threatened to mace him and other reporters.

On Sunday, a private autopsy conducted on Michael Brown’s remains was released to the public. According to The New York Times, the autopsy revealed that Brown was shot “at least” six times, including twice in the head. According to the report, “One of the bullets entered the top of Mr. Brown’s skull, suggesting his head was bent forward when it struck him and caused a fatal injury.” This might be consistent with eyewitness reports that Brown was shot while trying to surrender, and on Monday lawyers for the Brown family called for officer Darren Wilson’s arrest based on the report. But Fox News reports that the coroner who conducted the autopsy, Michael Baden, “said he had not concluded whether the fatal entry wound’s position meant Brown was surrendering to Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson when he was killed.”

On Monday, The Washington Post reported that the St. Louis Coroner’s Office had completed its autopsy. Two anonymous sources “familiar with” its findings told the Post that Brown had marijuana in his system at the time of the shooting. The Post reported that protesters, “expecting that Brown would be potentially vilified by the results of a drug test,” insisted that Darren Wilson, the officer involved in the shooting, should be required to submit one as well. A third autopsy will be conducted by Pentagon medical examiners on behalf of the Department of Justice.

Tim Bross reports for Bloomberg News that a grand jury will convene on Wednesday to investigate Brown’s death. It’s unclear how long the proceedings will take or how many witnesses will be called to testify, but Darren Wilson will be afforded an opportunity to tell his side of the story.

Attorney General Eric Holder will travel to Ferguson on Wednesday to meet with FBI investigators. Amanda Taub reported for Vox that 40 FBI agents are on the ground in Ferguson. The Department of Justice is also looking into whether Brown’s shooting constituted a civil rights violation.

Meanwhile, Chris Geidner reported for Buzzfeed that Amnesty International “has taken ‘unprecedented’ action to deal with the situation in Ferguson, Missouri, by sending resources the human rights group has never before deployed inside the United States.” Amnesty has a team of 13 observers on the ground in Ferguson. Reuters reports that UN Secretary Ban Ki Moon released a statement on Monday calling on “authorities to ensure that the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression are protected.”

Tensions in Ferguson have been rising since last Thursday, when a “change of tactics” led to a peaceful night of demonstrations. That evening, Captain Ron Johnson of the Missouri State Highway Patrol became a hero to many by walking with the protesters in Ferguson. John Swaine reported for The Guardian that “a carnival-like demonstration filled the center of the city” after Captain Johnson took command.

On Friday evening, that calm was broken by looters. Members of the community tried to defend the stores, as police held back. On Saturday, Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and announced that a curfew would be in effect in Ferguson between midnight and five AM. The curfew appears to have aggravated tensions — as some people had predicted when it was announced — and there was chaos on the streets on Saturday and Sunday nights.

Earlier Friday, Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson held a press conference ostensibly to reveal the identity of the officer who shot Michael Brown. But reporters were puzzled when, after naming Wilson, a six-year veteran of the force, as the officer responsible for Brown’s death, Jackson handed out a detailed incident report about a “strong-arm robbery” at a convenience store and said that Brown was the prime suspect. It later turned out that Brown had allegedly stolen a box of cigars and pushed the storekeeper on his way out.

As John Hancock reported for The Kansas City Star, the release sparked outrage in the community, as it was perceived as an attempt to smear the shooting victim. “That outrage,” wrote Hancock, “grew later in the day after Jackson admitted that the officer — 28-year-old Darren Wilson — was not aware that Michael Brown was a robbery suspect at the time he encountered Brown and a companion. They were stopped, Jackson said, ‘because they were walking down the middle of the street blocking traffic.'”

Later in the day, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon and Highway Patrol Captain Johnson distanced themselves from the release. “I would have liked to have been consulted,” said Johnson, noting that the information’s release ratcheted up tensions in the community. On Saturday, CNN reported that the Department of Justice had objected to the release of a surveillance video of the robbery, claiming that it was both prejudicial and irrelevant to the shooting. They also worried that it would spark additional unrest on the streets of Ferguson.

On Monday, Jay Nixon ordered the Missouri National Guard to help maintain order in Ferguson and lifted the curfew. According to The New York Times, the Guard’s role will be limited, and Highway Patrol and local law enforcement will continue to take the lead in policing the crowds.

New York Times columnist David Carr noted that social media like Twitter propelled what might have been a small local story to national prominence.The Hollywood Reporter looks at how the different cable news networks have covered the unrest. And a poll released Monday by the Pew Research Center found that while blacks and whites are viewing the events through starkly different lenses. That finding confirms Julia Ioffe’s anecdotal reporting about the views of people living in predominantly white suburbs of St. Louis.

For more background and links to earlier stories about the recent events in Ferguson, check out our Essential Reader.

Joshua Holland was a senior digital producer for BillMoyers.com and now writes for The Nation. He’s the author of The Fifteen Biggest Lies About the Economy (and Everything Else the Right Doesn’t Want You to Know about Taxes, Jobs and Corporate America) (Wiley: 2010), and host of Politics and Reality Radio. Follow him on Twitter: @JoshuaHol.
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