While matters were improving in Baltimore, they quickly deteriorated in Ferguson. Wednesday Night resulted in a Code 2000, but ended a little after midnight when protests and some looting died down. The bulk of this post will be in reference to the Code 1000, riots, and three shootings that took place Tuesday Night.
A little house cleaning first:
1.) Since this has come up by some in the Ferguson Twitter Brigade who think they’re clever, if you see a riot shield with the “POLICE” logo upside down, it means that the officer is left handed and has a right handed shield, or vice versa. A lot of shields consist of a single handle on one side and a strap to go over the forearm. There are other that have a plastic C shaped contraption that sits on your forearm as well, but also only have a single handle on one side.
The shield is held with your weak side so that you can, grab, strike, or shoot with your dominant side if necessary without worrying about being hit by thrown debris in the process. Those of us standing in front of the Ferguson PD during the double shooting back in March can appreciate that necessity. Protection is of far greater concern than what direction a logo is facing.
2.) The introduction of the National Guard, curfew, and additional officer manpower has drastically improved the situation in Baltimore. As of Thursday a tenuous peace appears to be holding.
On 04/27/15, Monday Night, State Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal led a small protest in Ferguson blocking W. Florissant near Canfield. A number of arrests were made and the incident was resolved without much fanfare.
The following night, 04/28/15, protests began around 2100 in the same general location. By about 2130, an individual was shot and apparently took refuge in the Chop Suey restaurant just a little south of Canfield, on the east side of W. Florissant. A Code 1000 was called out in reference to the growing crowd that was continuing to build across the street.
I was dispatched directly to the parking lot in question, which was odd since staging for Code 1000’s usually took place either behind the Ferguson PD or at the Buzz Westfall center in Jennings. Regardless, I made my way to the Chop Suey place and after a few tense moments when it seemed like I wouldn’t be able to make it through the sea of cars, I was on scene. A few minutes after I got out of the car, a someone got on the radio and changed the staging location to Buzz Westfall. I laughed to myself and shook my head. It was a little late for me now.
Detectives were roaming the shooting scene behind me and the other officers standing along W. Florissant. There was small trails of blood on the concrete marking the path the shooting victim had taken into the restaurant. Meanwhile, officers were periodically getting rocks, pieces of concrete, and bottles thrown at them. When I first got out of my car, I didn’t take my helmet because all of the Ferguson officers on scene, save for one, didn’t have one. I quickly rethought this decision and retrieved it due to periodic projectiles.
In case I haven’t mentioned it before now, my agency eventually purchased helmets in time for the Grand Jury decision. This is of note because we didn’t have them during the early days, either having to risk injury like the first night, or borrow them from other agencies in the days after. We never did get shields.
A female officer was almost struck by debris as I returned with my helmet. A few other larger chunks of debris struck a pair of Ferguson vehicles running parallel to the road. At least one of the vehicles suffered a cracked window in reference to this barrage. Thrown objects quickly became a regular occurrence consisting of concrete chunks, broken cinder-blocks, rocks, and bottles. Fortunately, there weren’t any Molotov cocktails.
Unfortunately, the source of projectile debris was almost unending. A number of buildings damaged during the Post-Grand Jury riots back in November are just now in the process of being torn down. As a result, construction (or deconstruction rather) debris is prevalent all over W. Florissant. It would seem that an important strategy going forward would be increased pressure on public works people to clean up these roads.
It also quickly became clear that a number of drivers realized that officers on the line weren’t going to be willing or able to chase after traffic offenders which caused some of the most insanely dangerous driving I’ve ever seen, and repeated by the same five or six cars. Some examples:
- -U-turns into traffic while squealing tires as other vehicles swerved to avoid them.
- -Donuts in front of the skirmish line coming close to hitting both police and protesters several times.
- -People riding on the roofs of cars and hanging out of windows.
This behavior continued for the rest of the night. Later on a participating silver sedan peeled out over the curb and blew out both of his back tires. There was rare opportunity for laughter as the vehicle limped away heading North on W. Florissant.
At some point, Elizabeth Vega, who long time readers may remember from a wall-of-text she put in the comments section of an earlier entry on this blog, moved into the middle of the street and started physically blocking traffic with her hands horizontally out. With her hand closest to the rest of the protesters, she motioned for others to follow her. Shortly afterward, the road was blocked by about twenty or thirty people.
A few minutes later, we moved to push them back across the road. On our way back, the debris increased again. As I got within a few feet of the east side curb, a red sedan responsible for some of the exhibitionist driving swerved at me causing me to go for my gun. It over-corrected and screamed into a donut toward the protesters. Once it completed several revolutions it made another illegal U-Turn nearly striking more cars. I continued backing up during this time and fortunately didn’t have to finish drawing my gun.
One of the individuals standing across the street from us was a protester on a bullhorn, who I believe was Bishop Derrick Robinson, the young self proclaimed religious leader who was in the news for speaking with Jeffrey Williams after he was arrested for shooting at us back in front of the Ferguson PD in March. Robinson kept running his mouth that, “This all goes away when y’all indict Darren Wilson!” To be sure, this was not the only reference to Mike Brown and he is still the focus of these protests contrary to media insistence otherwise.
Anyway, as we stood on the line, the rocks continued from across the street, one striking the officer immediately to my right. He was able to point out his assaulter, and the pair of us started heading down the road parallel to the protester who was doing the same realizing that we spotted him. As we prepared to cross the street after him, we glanced back up the road toward the skirmish line and realized that there wasn’t anyone else following us. If we were going to go get him, we were going to have to go alone, which meant that it wasn’t going to happen.
Protesters in Ferguson have routinely swarmed officers attempting to make arrests and the targets of those arrests. They have actively prevented us on numerous occasions from locking up the worst offenders. This tactic even occurs in reference to actual designated arrest teams consisting of more than two officers and with the protection of the skirmish line close by. Two of us, by ourselves, would never make it through the throngs of people to even get close to our target and would probably be assaulted from any one of our blind spots in the process.
Of course, this activity by itself, is a crime known as “interference in an arrest”. It adds even more doubt to the “peaceful” protester narrative and associates even larger numbers of people with violent activity beyond even tacit approval. In the end, we returned back to the line.
Interestingly, only a handful of Muni’s responded to Ferguson’s call for a Code 1000. A significant number of other agencies simply refused to send people despite having the manpower to do so. Asking around afterward, rumor had it that a number of local mayors and chiefs were now refusing to send manpower to Ferguson. The universally cited reasons for this refusal revolved around officers and their bosses being tired of having their hands tied within Ferguson and spending nights sitting at a command post not responding to calls, or simply staffing a skirmish line, standing around, while legitimate crime takes place elsewhere.
They weren’t wrong in that organization/utilization of manpower has been terrible. Though it’s a little ironic that the Muni’s are refusing to help out in Ferguson, when many of these same agencies are the greatest at risk for an unjustified police shooting or use of force resulting in unrest guaranteed in the current climate. I’ve always subscribed, as many officers do, to a golden rule of assisting other agencies. I help others in their time of need, on one hand because it’s the right thing to do, and on the other because I hope that should I need assistance myself down the road, they will reciprocate.
St. Louis County also didn’t initially respond either. I was on scene for about an hour before a Ferguson supervisor got on the radio and asked if the County had anyone en route. The dispatcher asked what our location was… as if there was any reason why our location would have changed from the first time a Code 1000 was called. There were a lot of rolled eyes and scoffs from those of us on the line who were getting periodically pelted with debris at a rate that seemed to be increasing. A little while later, a County supervisor got on the radio and said that they had officers and tactical teams en route with a short ETA.
I refrain from criticizing the County on this simply because the older Ferguson sergeant with the gray mustache who I referenced in my Blog entry, “Shots Fired, Officer Down” was in charge of the scene until St. Louis County got there. I never even spoke with him once I got there. I basically just got to play catch up with the other line level Ferguson officers present. For this reason, I’m not sure if he adequately communicated to the County what he needed or if the County was holding back. I suppose anything is possible.
As soon as County pulled up, the Ferguson sergeant started instructing his officers to get ready to leave because they were turning over command and pulling out from the area. What this meant for the rest of us Muni officers present, we didn’t know, and the Gray Mustache was moving around too much for us to stop him and find out. Even his own officers weren’t really sure what to do, glancing around at each other confused.
Finally, I went up to one of the new County arrivals and asked what they thought we should do since we were part of the original Ferguson Code 1000. They recommended heading back to Buzz Westfall so that we could check in with the County for the first time that night. I laughed and started to head that way. Naturally it was at that point, that the earlier order to pull out was unceremoniously rescinded and we were back on the line.
The sight of the new arrivals caused a larger part of the crowd across the street to start moving south on W. Florissant in the direction of the McDonalds at Ferguson Ave. County had us regroup and form a line down the road along Ferguson Ave blocking all traffic up W. Florissant. Once we had enough manpower in place to make sure that traffic behind us stayed blocked, we started to progressively move north.
Ferguson vehicles sitting side by side with the County’s BearCat (MRAP) armored car in the center moved forward at a “walking pace” while we walked in a line immediately behind it. This tactic was used as mobile cover from thrown objects and as such, the cars in front repeatedly took thrown objects as did the other officers on the skirmish line. I am a fan of this tactic.
Meanwhile, County began giving verbal commands over the loud speaker saying some variation of the familiar, “This is an unlawful assembly. If you do not leave you will be subject to arrest, to include the possibility of chemical munitions.”
After a few tense moments by the ruins of a structure next to McDonalds that was clearly the source of a great deal of the thrown debris, the crowd backed up a bit. Then, the group consolidated into a larger mass taking up the middle of the road and marching toward us. There were somewhere between one hundred-and-fifty to two hundred people there at that point.
Tef Poe was somewhere on my side of the line and took offense to one of the other officers near me ordering the crowd to go home. He started screaming, “Fuck you! This is our home! You go home!” I bit my tongue to keep from yelling back reminding him that he’s not from Ferguson. He’s from Pinelawn and even has “Tef Poe Day” designated for him by that city government. Of course, he didn’t let reality get in the way when he wrote an article for the RFT titled, “Tef Poe on Ferguson, My Hometown.” In case you were wondering, he was not wearing a cardigan on Tuesday night like he did in Geneva.
In the meantime, a significant volley of thrown objects caused the demonstrator group to separate a bit in order to avoid being struck by their own friendly fire, but the group reformed a little ways further down the road almost in line with Canfield. We held our ground at that point and they stayed put about a hundred yards up the road.
It wasn’t long after that, when a set of about twelve gunshots pierced the air causing the group to scatter, though it did not fully disperse. Another volley of gunfire followed and we took cover behind the cars in case it was directed at us. Radio traffic indicated that someone had been shot on the scene and was transported to a nearby house. I read in the paper the next day that a second individual was also shot during these barrages of gunfire and was transported by private vehicle to the hospital. In other words, that makes three people shot in total Tuesday night during the chaos.
Someone further up the road, an unmarked car I believe but am admittedly not sure, had eyes on the shooter who was still heading North on W. Florissant on foot. County had the BearCat and Tactical Team go to arrest this individual and did so without incident. The crowd had cleared out enough in reference to all the gunfire that they were able to drive through.
However, upon their return, the protesters had started to reform and there was a percussion ensemble of pings and thuds as objects struck the vehicle. It sounded like a car driving through a hail storm. One of the projectiles damaged the windshield of the BearCat. Fortunately, the Tactical Team was able to make it through without anyone getting hurt.
After that, the crowd continued moving a little ways up the road toward Northwind Estates and the ruins of the old QuikTrip long since burned down. We watched as the remaining protesters set fire, first to a trash can, followed by a port-a-potty, and then other miscellaneous objects they stole from adjacent yards creating a bonfire in the middle of West Florissant.
Meanwhile, other individuals began looting a few local stores, particularly those in Dellwood. A few officers who were not on the skirmish line were sent after the looters while we remained on W. Florissant near Canfield watching the impromptu bonfire from afar. I tried to get a picture of it but it would only show up as an orange blur on my phone. Fortunately, the Ferguson Protesters took their own pictures, apparently proud of their work (pictured above).
Supposedly there were a few attempts at setting fire to homes in the area by lighting various adjacent bushes and trees with torches formed out of the bonfire. However, these attempts were fortunately short lived since they didn’t have any accelerant giving more credence to the notion that the bonfire was in fact impromptu.
A little while later, once the crowd had dispersed, a lone individual came out into the road and tried to put the fire out unsuccessfully with a fire extinguisher. I didn’t know it at the time, but this individual was apparently St. Louis City Alderperson Antonio French. You can decide for yourself whether or not to give him credit for trying to put the fire out a little too late after the fact or condemnation for standing around with the crowd that set it in the first place.
The fire department with protection from the County Tactical Team eventually went up and put out the fire once it seemed like everyone had left. The fire department’s ability to do douse the flames without incident was evidence that the unrest that night was coming to an end. We were at this post on the line for about two hours until the code 1000 was canceled and we were allowed to head back to venue.
This marks the third shooting scene I’ve personally been to since March, representing six victims who have fortunately survived. To be sure, shots fired calls have been far more prevalent than shootings. Outside of the range, you know how many shots I’ve fired over the course of my career? Zero.
It represents quite the disparity when considering bullets flying through the air in my general vicinity.