Protests related to the killing of an unarmed 18-year-old by police in a St. Louis suburb turned violent Sunday night, overwhelming law enforcement authorities and leading to thousands of dollars in property damage and stolen goods.
The initially peaceful protesters had assembled to demand that the Ferguson police officer who shot Michael Brown — who, despite being unarmed, was deemed a lethal threat by law enforcement officials — be relieved of duty and prosecuted.
Riverfront Times provides some background on the incident:
On Saturday at about noon, Brown was walking with a friend on the 2900 block of Canfield Drive when they came across a Ferguson police officer. Accounts differ about what exactly happened, but Brown ended up lying face down in the street in a pool of blood, shot repeatedly by the officer, a six-year veteran who has yet to be identified. Brown did not have a weapon. Witnesses at the scene told the media that Brown had his hands in the air when he was shot — some described the shooting as “execution style.”
At a press conference on Sunday morning, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar gave the (very brief) official version of what occurred, accompanied by Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson, who did not speak. St. Louis County is in charge of the investigation. Here’s what Belmar told reporters: “One of those individuals at the time came in as the officer was exiting his police car. Allegedly pushed the police officer back into the car where he physically assaulted the police officer. It is our understanding at this point in the investigation that within the police car there was a struggle over the officer’s weapon. There was at least one shot fired within the car after that. The officer came back out of the car, he exited his vehicle and there was a shooting that occurred where the officer in fact shot the subject and the subject — they were fatal injuries.”
The story is a familiar one. As is the civil unrest that often follows when communities feel that one of their own has been killed, or suffered lesser abuses, at the hands of authorities.
Civil unrest and violence go hand in hand. And as emergency responders become overwhelmed — as they did in St. Louis this past weekend — the inaccurate assumption that the safety and property of individual residents is of primary concern to authorities quickly erodes.
Here, courtesy of the weekend violence in St. Louis, are two news reports that illustrate what happens when residents make the decision to actively defend (or not) their property.
A report reflecting the decision to trust the authorities to handle the situation via a Los Angeles Times report on the incident:
Workers hustled to replace Zisser Tire’s signature wraparound windows with plywood as evening approached. Looters broke into the store and stole tire rims from the showroom — each of them single display pieces for four-piece sets — and video captured one person using a rim to smash out each of the windows. Looters also entered the back of the store, broke into a gold Escalade and destroyed the dash.
Dennis G. Ferguson, a salesman for the store, told The Times that he had called the owner and debated bringing rifles down to the store as the looters worked their way down Florissant Avenue. Ultimately he decided against it. It was “too dangerous,” he said.
Another employee said that even after workers had arrived at the store Monday morning, a stranger came in and stole an iPad from the counter. Police caught him.
Now, from Riverfront Times, a report about on property owners who actively defended their assets:
Nobody is robbing St. Louis Ink Tattoo Studio anytime soon. Or County Guns, for that matter.
The two north county businesses share a storefront in a Florissant strip mall less than ten minute drive from the epicenter of last night’s riots in Ferguson. After nightfall, what began as a community’s peaceful demonstration against the Ferguson Police Department’s shooting of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown turned increasingly violent. Crowds plundered a QuikTrip and burned it to the ground, and local news began reporting brazen raids on other stores in the area.
After hearing of the roving bands of looters, Mike Gutierrez knew he had to protect his tattoo shop. He brought a posse with him, including Adam Weinstein, owner of County Guns, who was acutely worried about criminals getting their hands on his merchandise.
“We didn’t want them coming in here and then running around with a bunch of free guns,” Weinstein told Daily RFT when we arrive at the store around 12:30 a.m. this morning. Weinstein was outfitted with an assault rifle, pistol and tactical vest. Gutierrez cradled his own rifle in his hands.
Gutierrez, Weinstein and their group arrived to find thieves tearing through a Dollar General in the same strip mall that houses their business. Weinstein says the looters attempted moving toward the shop, but were scared off by the guns. Then the police arrived.
“There were like two SWAT vans, two dozen cop cars,” said one woman. The cops apparently checked out the situation and then tore off to some other crisis.
Bottom line: A little deterrence and self-defense can go a long way.