TIME Crime

What We Know and Don’t Know About the Michael Brown Shooting in Ferguson

Ferguson Cutraro
Andrew Cutraro—REDUX for TIME A protestor demonstrates in Ferguson, Mo. on Aug. 19, 2014.

There's a lot we know about the death of Michael Brown and its aftermath, but many questions remain unanswered

It’s been 11 days since Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot dead by Darren Wilson, a white policeman in Ferguson, Mo. Since then, the violent protests that followed have drawn national attention and flummoxed authorities and elected officials looking to lower the temperature. But we’re still missing a lot of key facts about the incident and the ongoing investigations. Despite a calmer night on Tuesday, no one knows when the nightly clashes will end.

Here’s a rundown of what we know—and what we don’t—about the turmoil playing out in this St. Louis suburb.

How did Wilson encounter Brown?

Shortly before noon on Aug. 9, Brown walked into Ferguson Market and Liquor, a convenience store on West Florissant Avenue. He was with a friend, 22-year-old Dorian Johnson. At approximately 11:51, according to a police report, an unidentified officer received a call that a robbery was in progress at the store. But the suspect, who a Brown family lawyer has acknowledged “appears to be” Brown from surveillance footage, was gone when the officer arrived.

Minutes later, Brown and Johnson turned onto Canfield Drive, where they came upon a second officer, Wilson, at 12:01 p.m. At that point, Wilson didn’t know Brown was suspected of committing the robbery minutes earlier, according to Ferguson police chief Thomas Jackson. He just saw a pair of people blocking traffic. Ferguson police have provided conflicting reports on whether Wilson received information that Brown was a robbery suspect between the moment that the officer encountered Brown and the fatal shooting.

So what led to the shooting?

It’s unclear and witness accounts differ. What we know is that within about three minutes, Brown was dead of multiple gunshot wounds to the head and torso. Pictures show him sprawled face down in the middle of the street, with a trail of what appears to be blood seeping from his body.

Johnson has said that Wilson ordered them onto the sidewalk and when they didn’t move right away, the office pulled up to Brown. A struggle ensued, and in Johnson’s version of events, Brown was shot from inside the car before they both took off running with Wilson in pursuit. Johnson has said Wilson fired multiple times despite Brown having his hands up.

Other witnesses have provided conflicting accounts, alternately alleging that Brown was shot in the back or while on his knees in a posture of surrender. And Wilson’s version of events is even harder to ascertain, because he’s in hiding: He fled his St. Louis-area neighborhood a few days after shooting and hasn’t spoken publicly. Police have said Brown reached for Wilson’s gun and the shooting occurred during that struggle. It’s unclear why Brown was shot so many times.

Why has it taken so long for details of the shooting to come out?

Wilson’s name was withheld for almost a week out of concerns for his safety. Three dueling autopsies have either been conducted or ordered—the standard one by the local medical examiner, a private one requested by the family, and a third one ordered by federal authorities.

And federal and state authorities have mostly declined to comment on their pending investigations, while leaks have been kept to a minimum, likely to avoid fanning the cycle of violence that has roiled the city’s downtown streets.

Who’s investigating all this?

Multiple authorities at various levels of law enforcement are looking into the shooting. A St. Louis County grand jury is probing the matter. And a federal civil rights investigation is also underway.

Why does violence keep breaking out every night?

It’s instigated by a small faction of what police describe as “agitators.” They mix in with the crowd of peaceful demonstrators, but they’re on the scene to confront cops as much as to mourn Brown. These people are shooting guns, hurling bricks, bottles and Molotov cocktails, and looting and vandalizing businesses. After dark, West Florissant Avenue and the neighboring streets are extremely dangerous, and several people have been shot.

Who’s trying to keep the peace in Ferguson?

On the demonstrators’ side, it’s a diverse collection of pastors, politicians, community leaders, black power groups, and many ordinary citizens who are disheartened by the way in which the violence has subverted the quest for justice. The vast majority of the protesters in the streets are peaceful—at least, until dark.

Riot-gear clad officers from the county and state highway patrol—now backed by the Missouri National Guard—have responded to provocations from protesters with tear gas, flash bangs, and other methods.

What happens next?

A St. Louis County grand jury will begin hearing evidence on Wednesday. But there’s no hard timetable on how long the whole process will take, and it could be weeks or months before the details of the investigation are know, the U.S. Attorney in Eastern Missouri told TIME Tuesday.

TIME Crime

Nobody Is Winning in Ferguson

Police Shooting Missouri
Christian Gooden—AP Police stand guard Monday, Aug. 18, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo.

Everyone is being hurt by the tragic events in Ferguson

FERGUSON, Mo. — The death of 18-year-old Michael Brown is above all a tragedy for his family. But in Ferguson, Mo., there is more than enough tragedy to go around. Virtually no one connected to the tumult in this St. Louis suburb—whether by proximity, profession, or ideology; by happenstance or choice—has escaped the nightly clashes without suffering in ways big or small.

When darkness falls, violence rips through a battered strip of downtown and forks into quiet neighborhoods. Families are trapped in their homes as gunshots ring out and cops fire tear gas into apartment complexes. It’s become enough that some people are ready to leave. Anita Matlock, a 20-year-old certified nurse assistant, is breaking her lease at Canfield Green, the beige-and-brown three-story apartment complex that fronts the street where Brown was shot. The early morning hours there are now pierced by volleys of gunfire. “It’s too disruptive,” says her mother, Yvonne Matlock. “She can’t get in. Can’t get out. Can’t sleep.”

Ron Henry, from the nearby town of Florissant, says his fiancée Clarissa and his 3-year-old son, Ron Jr., had automatic weapons pointed at them by police while trying to leave his grandmother’s apartment near the center of the conflict. Their car was swallowed by smoke. “Rioting,” Henry says, “is the voice of the unheard.” But that doesn’t mean he wants to raise his family among it. “Does my three-year old son need to get gassed?” he asked.

The tumult has closed local schools, sending working parents scrambling to make arrangements to watch and feed their children. Last year, 68% of students in the Ferguson-Florissant school district received meal assistance of some kind; this year the program was extended to everyone. The loss of the subsidy stings for residents of a city whose median household income is about $36,000.

It’s been no better for businesses. Stores along West Florissant Avenue, the Ferguson thoroughfare that has been the locus of the riots, have been torched and looted. Many others in town are boarded up; the owner of a fashion boutique spray-painted “OPEN! BLACK OWNERS” onto the wooden planks covering the shop to deter vandals. At the shopping center about a quarter-mile down the road—where Missouri National Guard tanks are arrayed in rows in the parking lot and military observers perch on rooftops— sales have plunged as stores close early to avoid the evening chaos.

For everyone in the area, unpredictable police roadblocks turn driving after dark into a maze without an exit. After midnight, residents can find themselves on the wrong side of police barricades, unable to get home or to work. Even on the most peaceful days since the shooting, the streets are still unruly and chaotic, a cacophony of honking horns, angry shouts and carloads of people hanging out of windows, slinging epithets at police.

The vast majority of the hundreds, sometimes thousands of people protesting each day are law-abiding. But the large community of peaceful protesters, who have thronged the streets for nine days in an effort to bring social change, have seen a heartfelt cause partially co-opted by a small band of what law enforcement officials have described as “agitators.” In the morning, the protesters show up early to sweep the streets of the previous night’s trash. Day and night, they tote signs and chant slogans. On Monday, to comply with a new police edict that prohibited crowds from congregating in one spot, they resorted to walking laps, looping up and down West Florissant for hours, carrying red roses handed out by volunteers and passing out free water when people flagged in the stifling August heat.

For much of the day, community leaders are able to steer protests into sanctioned areas and keep the crowd in check. The challenge comes after nightfall. That’s when a faction of agitators files into the streets. They are there not to protest but to fight. They can mingle with the protesters, cloaking themselves in the crowd and making it hard for police to distinguish the troublemakers from the rest. Many are not from Ferguson. At least 78 people were arrested Monday night, and while most were reportedly from Missouri, some were from places as far-flung as California, New York, and Washington D.C.

According to locals and local enforcement officials, the ranks also include multiple gang members from Chicago and East St. Louis who have forged an uneasy truce to pursue a common enemy. There are young gang members who wrap red bandannas over their mouths, gas mask-wearing anarchists, and communist revolutionaries.

The violent faction has repeatedly derailed the demonstrations, despite the efforts of peaceful members of the crowd. Each night the struggle starts again. On Friday, the peace held until the early morning hours, when the fighters began looting businesses, hurling Molotov cocktails and setting fires. On Saturday, as time ticked away toward a midnight curfew, the peacekeepers roamed the crowd, imploring people to go home. Those that stayed were bent on conflict. “We ready to die,” one shouted as the gas came out. “They armed. We armed. Let’s do this!” said another.

Monday night brought an eerie calm to the streets. It was shattered around 9:30 p.m., when a clutch of agitators surged toward a police line, hurling glass bottles and plastic containers of water at officers. Police gathered their riot gear and put on their gas masks, readying for battle. Community leaders pleaded for the cops to hold off and confronted the provocateurs, linking their arms to form a human barricade between the crowd and the police. “Why are you doing this to us?” one peacekeeper screamed. It was a remarkable scene that seemed to defuse the situation.

A few minutes later someone threw a bottle, and the ritual chaos was unleashed.

As difficult as it is for the peaceful protesters, the skirmishes are no easier for police. Flat-screens around the U.S. have been flooded with images of armored trucks, riot-gear-clad police toting rifles, and clouds of gas. But those images rarely capture the chaos that precedes it.

Surveilling the streets of Ferguson is a chaotic job, marred by the mismanagement of the city police, jurisdictional tangles, hostile crowds, and tactics that seem to change nightly. The cops have been thrust into the impossible position of trying to balance intense political scrutiny with their mandate for public safety—and they are forced to carry out under the klieg lights of the national media, amid chaotic street fights.

“The situation, as volatile as it is, it doesn’t make a difference what decision you make. It will be wrong,” says one St. Louis County officer, who was not authorized to provide his name, as he patrolled a darkened street on Monday night, past graffiti scrawled on cement blocks that read “NO MORE PIGS.”

After heavy criticism for the military-style response by local law enforcement, the Missouri State Highway Patrol took control of the scene Thursday and adopted a laissez-faire approach. Riots broke out the next night. Police did little to stop the looting—partly on the advice of community leaders, who believed interceding could result in more violence. The next day, many protesters said they believed the hands-off treatment that allowed the rioting was a set-up to sully the crowd’s image.

The police are “working valiantly to protect the public, while at the some time preserving citizens’ rights to express their anger peacefully,” said Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, a Democrat. “As we’ve seen over the past week, it is not an easy balance to strike. And it becomes much more difficult in the dark of night, when organized and increasingly violent instigators take to the streets intent on creating chaos.”

The protests are fueled by a deep distrust between the community and the cops. It is hard to find a black man or woman at the nightly gatherings who does not have a story about experiencing some manner of racial profiling, intimidation and even brutality at the hands of police. “Black people want retribution,” says James Davis, 45.

The police—most of whom had absolutely nothing to do with Michael Brown’s death—have their own loyalties and grievances. “We’re all gangs,” says one police officer of the factions in Ferguson. “We’re in a gang too, just because of the uniform we wear.”

Meanwhile, the residents of Ferguson, weary of the nightly battles, are starting to worry what it will all yield. “It would be an injustice in his name to go back to the violence,” says Lacy Raye of St. Louis. “We just have to turn it into a positive. I think this will change everything, if we can put it in a positive light. But I don’t know.”

TIME Crime

Violence Flares Anew in Ferguson Despite National Guard

A man is detained after a standoff between protesters and police on Aug. 18, 2014 in Ferguson, Mo.
Charlie Riedel—AP A man is detained after a standoff between protesters and police on Aug. 18, 2014 in Ferguson, Mo.

Protesters and police once again trade volleys of bottles and tear gas

Updated 8:24 a.m. ET

The deployment of the National Guard and the lifting of a curfew failed to prevent another night of violent clashes between protesters and police in Ferguson, Mo., late Monday night, as a day of almost eerie calm soon gave way to a night of mayhem and chaos. Protesters overpowered more peaceful demonstrators at about midnight and threw bottles at police, who responded with tear gas, as multiple gunshots were heard ringing out in this St. Louis suburb. Authorities later said 31 people were arrested.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon had hoped the National Guard, along with President Barack Obama’s repeated pleas for calm, might finally defuse the situation in Ferguson, which has been rocked by racial tensions ever since the killing of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer on Aug. 9.

“Let’s seek to heal, rather than to wound each other,” Obama said in his latest remarks on the crisis Monday.

And for much of the day, it appeared as though tensions were cooling. Police had cordoned off parts of the downtown area and were allowing people to peacefully protest, and demonstrators marched up and down the streets with an air of positivity. But the peaceful demonstrators, who have lamented their violent counterparts keeping the town in the national spotlight, were met by a younger, rowdier group at about midnight. A human chain of peaceful demonstrators—including pastors and community leaders—briefly kept the more raucous protesters at bay, with the help of a line of police in tactical gear.

But as the protesters threw glass bottles at police, the police responded with tear gas. And the night once again devolved into the dispiriting spectacle of protesters throwing bottles, police pointing their guns or firing tear gas — in some cases from the open windows of unmarked white minivans, protesters scrambling away, and authorities rounding up people for arrest.

State Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson later said his officers had come under heavy attack, including gunfire, but said “not a single bullet was fired by officers,” Reuters reports.

It remained unclear if National Guard troops were at the scene of the latest violence; some reports indicated they were, but the authorities on site appeared to be the state troopers Nixon previously brought into to take control of the situation, along with other local officers. Authorities on the scene said the National Guard was providing operational backup at a police command center nearby, and officials had previously made clear the Guard’s mission would be limited in scope.

“I’ll be watching over the next several days to assess whether it’s helping rather than hindering progress in Ferguson,” Obama said Monday of the National Guard presence.

Shortly before midnight, much of the main downtown thoroughfare where clashes were taking place was sealed off.

With reporting by Robert Klemko/Ferguson, Mo.

TIME Crime

Ferguson Community Sees a Double Injustice

Ferguson Lowenstein
Jon Lowenstein—Noor for TIME Protestors look on during a peaceful demonstration on Florissant Ave. in Ferguson, Mo. on Aug. 16, 2014.

A largely peaceful group of protesters worries that incidents of violence will thwart a just cause

Some of them arrive not long after daybreak, bagging trash and sweeping broken glass and spent casings from streets bearing scars of the previous night’s battles. Others arrive toting crates of bottled water and burgers to hand out to their neighbors, or grill hot dogs for police in a gesture of peace. Still others bring young children, who scrawl hopeful messages on the sidewalks outside a torched store in brightly colored chalk.

Most of the residents of Ferguson, Mo., have been trying, in ways big and small, to advance two conflicting goals over the last nine days. One is the momentum of their protests over the shooting of an unarmed teenager, Michael Brown, on Aug. 9. The other is good public order. And if the outside world has seen the unrest in Ferguson as a stand-off between militarized police and occasionally violent protesters, many of Ferguson’s residents see themselves caught between the competing injustice of those two forces.

The job for Ferguson’s peaceful residents got harder overnight Sunday, as violence once again broke out after dark, punctuating a week marked by mayhem. At least two people were shot. Brawls broke out between what locals said were rival gang members toting guns. Shortly after, a protest march toward a police command center led officers to hurl tear gas, kicking off a frenzied scene. People hurled Molotov cocktails, shot at police and looted businesses.

There is no doubt that some of the people gathering on the streets of Ferguson are looking for confrontation. But the vast majority of the hundreds of protesters who have massed all week have been boisterous but peaceful. Dozens interviewed said they were voicing fury over what they believe is a long-standing pattern of police intimidation, profiling and brutality in a community that is two-thirds black but run by white cops and white politicians. The cops in riot gear and armored trucks this week merely extend a pattern of racial profiling, marked by slurs and random traffic stops over the years, these residents say. “You sort of get numb to it,” says Laroyce Mills, a demonstrator from nearby Jennings.

A recent report substantiates the claim that blacks are targeted more often by a Ferguson police department that is more than 90% white. The 2013 report by the office of the Attorney General of Missouri, found a pattern of racial profiling in Ferguson: blacks are far more likely to be stopped than whites; cops are nearly twice as likely to search blacks than others when they stop them; and they are a third less likely to find contraband when they do.

The violence that has overtaken the peaceful protests is just as frustrating to many in Ferguson. Much of it has been caused by people who gather under the pretext of Michael Brown’s death, then exploit the unrest as an opportunity to create mayhem.

“These people are not protestors. This is something different and it has little to do with #JusticeForMikeBrown,” tweeted Antonio French, a St. Louis alderman and community leader who has emerged as an important mediator. French and others believe the provocateurs are doing damage to a heartfelt cause. The images of looting and rioting threaten to rob Ferguson’s peaceful majority of political sympathy. They may stoke racial tensions even further, undercutting the message of the protests.

The peaceful majority are trying to assert control. On Friday night, as looters ransacked and set fire to businesses, groups of locals gathered in a line in front of shops to stand watch and prevent further destruction. On Saturday, in the tense hours preceding more post-midnight clashes, there were more people working the crowd and urging it to keep the peace than bad actors who ultimately helped shatter it. In interviews, many residents suggested the rioters were largely out-of-town troublemakers—from East St. Louis, or maybe Chicago; no one really knew—who jumped at the chance to confront police.

“There are a small percentage of people who are being inflammatory, and that’s not what we’re about,” says Paul Muhammad of nearby Florissant, Mo., who wore a black t-shirt advertising his unofficial “Peacekeepers” group, which worked the crowd Saturday night urging young demonstrators to heed the state-imposed curfew.

With about an hour before that curfew, a cluster of men huddled in a strategy session in a McDonald’s parking lot, debating the best way to disperse protesters. They knew part of the crowd was bent on confrontation. But they wanted to reach some of the angry young men who were convinced that to obey a curfew would be to negate the purpose of the protests.

People like Mark Lollis, 29, a student from Nashville, Tenn., who drove to Ferguson with friends to join the protests. The clashes are “an extreme action for an extreme action,” he told TIME. Later, he was reportedly one of many demonstrators to confront and shout at police.

The response to Brown’s shooting has drawn people from all walks of life to West Florissant Avenue, from the monks who gathered at the scorched QuikTrip convenience mart to political figures like Jesse Jackson to professionals for whom the gritty thoroughfare offers a stark juxtaposition from their everyday world.

One of them was Byron Strong, Sr., a black financial adviser who grew up in the area but has left it behind for a more prosperous suburb. “I’m in a coat and tie every day, so I’m not the kind of guy the cops tend to pull over,” Strong says. Saturday was his first night at the demonstrations, and he confided that he didn’t especially want to come. But there he was, standing under a gas-pump overhang for shelter from the driving rain, next to his teenage son, Byron Jr., a high-school football player with a build similar to Mike Brown.

“I just hope,” Byron Jr. says, “that justice comes at the end.”

TIME Crime

Ferguson Explodes Again

Ferguson Lowenstein
Jon Lowenstein—Noor for TIME A protestor holds a sign that reads "stop killing us" amid clouds of tear gas in Ferguson, Mo. on Aug. 17, 2014.

Violence between police and groups of people defying a state-imposed curfew broke out early Monday morning.

Updated, 6:32 a.m. E.T.

Violence erupted once again in the troubled city of Ferguson, Mo., as multiple gunshots were fired and police launched dozens of tear gas canisters and a main thoroughfare became a battle zone. At least two people suffered gunshot wounds. Several others were arrested, and the violent night ended with Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon deploying the National Guard to Ferguson.

The city’s school district said all schools would be closed Monday, “due to continuing unrest in some areas of Ferguson, and in the interest of the safety of students and families.”

It was the second night of a state-imposed midnight curfew designed to quell the unrest that has enveloped this St. Louis suburb since Aug. 9, when Michael Brown, a black teenager, was shot to death by Darren Wilson, a white police officer. But trouble flared hours before the deadline Sunday.

By around 8 p.m., groups of teenagers began fighting near a convenience store that has been a gathering point during the week-long protests. Witnesses reported seeing guns, and people began sprinting away from the area. Multiple peaceful demonstrators told TIME that the perpetrators were rival gang members who were not part of the protests.

At 8:25, police received reports of a shooting on West Florissant Ave., according to Missouri State Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson, the head of the police response. A minute later, shots were fired down the street. Two minutes after that, reports came in of multiple people with guns.

As police began gathering tactical equipment, a crowd of about 300 protesters began a planned march toward the staging area police have set up in a shopping center about a half-mile south. As the crowd approached, police in three armored vehicles sped toward them, stopping about 10 feet away.

“Disperse immediately,” an officer in the lead vehicle announced.

When none in the crowd did, police launched about a dozen tear gas canisters, sending the bulk of the protesters back down Florissant Ave. or ducking into nearby neighborhoods. Several stragglers were arrested at the scene.

Police said the incident caused them to launch the tactical operations. The result was complete disorder, as officers in armored trucks, gas masks and riot gear drove up and down the street, using tear gas and flash grenades in an attempt to disperse the crowd. A McDonald’s was overrun, Johnson said, forcing employees to lock themselves in a storage room. Police were shot at, and targeted with Molotov cocktails and bottles, in what Johnson called “preplanned criminal acts.” Multiple businesses were looted.

The total number of injuries to members of the crowd was not available, but no officers were injured.

TIME Crime

Ferguson Erupts Again as Protests Turn to Violence

Ferguson Lowenstein
Jon Lowenstein—Noor for TIME Protestors help a man who was injured by tear gas thrown by police after refusing to disperse after the midnight curfew in Ferguson, Mo. on Aug. 17, 2014.

Demonstrators defied a state-imposed curfew, triggering skirmishes that critically wounded one man and left seven others arrested

Violence flared again overnight in Ferguson, Mo., as a state-imposed midnight curfew drew protests and then running clashes between dozens of people and heavily armed police. The skirmishes left one man in critical condition with a gunshot wound and seven others arrested.

In a lengthy standoff that stretched deep into the early morning hours, police hurled smoke bombs and tear gas at protesters who defied calls from community leaders to comply with the curfew and occupied a main thoroughfare in this St. Louis suburb. Ferguson has seen sustained demonstrations in the week since Michael Brown, a young resident, was shot to death by a Ferguson police officer.

The gunshot wound victim was transported to a nearby hospital in critical condition, said Ron Johnson, the Missouri State Highway Patrol Captain presiding over the operation. The seven people arrested were charged with “failure to disperse,” he said.

The confrontation began shortly after 12:30 a.m. on Sunday morning, just hours after Missouri Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and imposed a midnight-to-5 a.m. local curfew in an effort to curb the chaos that has roiled Ferguson in the wake of Brown’s death.

Advancing in riot gear, with gas-mask clad officers and armored tanks, police attempted to disperse the small crowd as a defensive measure, Johnson said. Police received reports that armed protesters had holed up in a barbecue joint on West Florissant Avenue, the business strip that has hosted rolling protests, including multiple nights of looting, Johnson said.

In addition, Johnson said police received intelligence that at least one person had climbed onto the roof of the restaurant, while another brandished a handgun in the middle of the road. Some also hurled bottles.

Fearing for the safety of officers, Johnson said, police deployed smoke canisters and tear gas to clear the street before and during their advance. Plumes of smoke wafted into the air, stinging the nostrils and eyes of reporters huddled off the street, between the protesters and police.

A police patrol car was fired upon during the standoff, Johnson said, but no officers were injured and it is unclear whether the vehicle was struck. Multiple gunshots were exchanged during the roughly two-hour operation, though it was not immediately clear who had fired them.

The deployment of tactical weaponry was “not related to the enforcement of the curfew,” Johnson told reporters in a 3 a.m. news conference at the police operational command center in a nearby shopping strip. The response to the threat was “proper,” he said, but added: “I was disappointed.”

Many members of the community tried to prevent the blowup, which was the latest setback for a town trying to move beyond unrest. The vast majority of the crowd, hundreds strong, that initially gathered were peaceful. As on Friday, the clashes were caused by a small faction who had vowed all day to defy the curfew. As the clock ticked toward midnight and the specter of mass arrests and violence loomed, a tense and frenzied scene unfolded.

Police quietly stood sentry in front of the thoroughfare’s shops. Pastors and community leaders huddled in the parking lot of a McDonald’s, debating the most effective way to convince peaceful demonstrators that the wisest course of action was to obey the curfew and return the next day. A state senator with a megaphone loudly urged the crowd to scatter. Legal advocates passed out sheets of paper containing instructions and contact information in the event of mass arrests. People arranged several cars into a makeshift barricade in the middle of the street in an attempt to block a small, restive group from advancing on the police line several hundred yards away.

“We have to regulate ourselves, police ourselves,” said Paul Muhammed, one of several community leaders who appointed themselves unofficial “Peacekeepers,” wearing black T-shirts bearing the word and urging compliance with the governor’s order.

Whether it was the community push or the drenching rain, the crowd thinned considerably as it approached midnight. In the end, only about several dozen protesters stayed to defy the curfew, including an aggressive cluster of young men that many community members said were out-of-town troublemakers.

But those who remained were intent on squaring off against a police force. Some of them expressed outrage at the handling of the Brown case by police. Ferguson residents have accused the local police of racial profiling, bullying and brutality and have been incensed by the lack of charges brought against Darren Wilson, the Ferguson cop who shot Brown to death last Saturday. At one point, about an hour before curfew, a furious protester with a bandana covering his mouth accosted Johnson, demanding to know why Wilson had not been brought up on charges. “I need an answer, sir!” he screamed.

It became clear that a standoff was inevitable, with the remaining protesters convinced that heeding the order would be a sign of capitulation. “They armed. We armed,” shouted one member of a group massed near the burned-out convenience store that has become a de facto town square over the past week. “Let’s do this.”

Reverend Cleo Willis, one of many community leaders who spent hours imploring protesters to obey the curfew and disperse, was in the thick of the crowd when officers began advancing. Just before the first smoke bombs were launched, Willis said he watched several young men strip off their shirts and lie down in the middle of the street to await the advancing police line. “We’re ready to die,” one said, according to Willis.

“I’m staying here because this is bigger than me,” said Markis Thompson, 26, of Ferguson. “I’m sacrificing myself for the cause.”

TIME Crime

Ferguson Erupts Again After Spell of Calm

Peaceful protests in the town gave way to fresh unrest after midnight, as bands of people began looting local stores

Updated, Aug.16, 3:55 a.m. ET

Tensions flared anew on the main thoroughfare of Ferguson, Mo. early Saturday morning, after hundreds of protestors gathered for a day of raucous yet peaceful protests to demand justice for Michael Brown, the 18-year-old whose fatal shooting at the hands of a local police officer kindled riots earlier in the week between angry residents and an aggressive police force.

Police tried in vain to disperse a crowd of protesters who refused to clear West Florissant Avenue shortly after midnight, according to the St Louis Post-Dispatch. A lengthy standoff ensued. After protesters faced off with a line of police, small bands of people broke off from the crowd and looted a few stores along the street as other protesters sought to block them, the newspaper reported. Police held their line and cordoned off all entrances to the area by 2 a.m. as they repeatedly warned the crowd to go home or be subjected to arrest. A TIME reporter returning to the scene was prevented from accessing the area.

It was a marked departure from a few hours earlier. Until that point, it had been the second night in a row that the protests went off largely without incident. Under spitting rain, protestors gathered along the street toting signs, honking horns, playing music and shouting chants, mingling with uniformed police for stretches of the evening, a drastic departure from the clashes earlier this week.

The shift was spurred in large part by the appointment of a new officer in charge, Missouri State Highway Patrol Captain Ronald Johnson. After scores of residents criticized the paramilitary approach of local police, Johnson has adopted a conciliatory tack, abandoning the heavy weaponry and circulating through the crowds to discuss protesters’ concerns.

Amid the rage vented this week at what demonstrators say is rampant police brutality and profiling, it was striking to see a cop become a beloved figure. But Johnson strolled through the crowd like an A-list celebrity on the red carpet, high-fiving young men and obliging requests for selfies. The captain said that he hopes to turn tensions of the past week into a national example of how police can restore trust with an African-American-American community that says it is targeted by Ferguson’s nearly all-white police force.

“Ferguson has an opportunity to help make positive changes for communities everywhere,” Johnson told TIME Friday.

Earlier in the day, fears rose that the Ferguson police department’s release of an incident report alleging Brown had been involved in a robbery prior to his shooting would rekindle the riots. But Brown’s family and attorneys pleaded for calm, and the crowd at first heeded the advice.

For much of the night, the demonstrations resembled an outdoor festival, with protesters drumming, dancing and singing as they sought shelter from the rain under a gas-pump overhang. Protesters ordered delivery pizza by the dozens, joined their kids as they scrawled on the sidewalk with colored chalk and organized booths for causes like voter registration.

Even celebrities materialized. Jesse Jackson held a vigil, and former NFL defensive back Demetrious Johnson, who grew up in inner-city St. Louis, chatted with local police. “I like the way it is going tonight, just like last night,” Johnson said. “Before, police were making the situation worse. They violated some [protesters’] civil rights and created chaos with their intimidation.” Johnson said he would be coordinating a clean-up at the gas station on Saturday with local high-school football players. “These kids want to be a part of something,” he said. “They want to make a difference.”

Like nights past, crowds spilled into the main street, dangling out of car windows with their hands in the air. Unlike most other nights, protesters smiled and laughed with each other–and for much of the evening, the police as well. But the late escalation was a reminder that this St. Louis suburb may be a powder keg for some time.

This story was updated to reflect events that occurred after it was published.

TIME Crime

Ferguson Cops Tell Their Side of the Story

Outrage In Missouri Town After Police Shooting Of 18-Yr-Old Man
Scott Olson—Getty Images Demetrus Washington joins other demonstrators protesting the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. on Aug. 14, 2014.

After a long wait, police release the name of the officer, but allegations that Michael Brown was a robbery suspect may renew tensions

Updated at 5:30 p.m. ET

When the Ferguson, Mo. police released on Friday the name of the officer who shot Michael Brown to death six days earlier, they may have hoped to defuse the tensions that have exploded into violence in this St. Louis suburb. Instead, they appear to have fostered more suspicion and confusion.

At the same time that the local officials bowed to protesters’ demands to identify the officer, they also released new details about an alleged robbery at a convenience store in which Brown was identified as a suspect. But the account of the events that allegedly preceded the fatal confrontation included no new information on the shooting itself, which took place some ten minutes after the robbery. Indeed, hours later, the Ferguson police themselves said the robbery had nothing to do with the confrontation between Brown and the officer.

As a result, the documents threaten to undo recent progress in law enforcement’s relationship with the community they serve.

After resisting for several days, Thomas Jackson, the Ferguson police chief, identified Darren Wilson, a six-year veteran of the force, as the officer who shot Brown. Speaking at a news conference Friday morning in the parking lot of a burned-out convenience store, Jackson said Wilson had no prior disciplinary record and was treated for injuries sustained during the incident.

Ferguson police also provided documents to reporters that appeared to indicate that Brown was confronted by Wilson after the 18-year-old was identified as a suspect in a “strong-arm” robbery.

According to the Ferguson Police Department incident report, an officer received a call at 11:51 a.m. on Saturday while responding to a report of a sick resident at an apartment complex. The call indicated that a robbery was in progress at the convenience store. The dispatcher provided a description of the suspect, who according to the documents was identified as a black male in a white T-shirt, walking north on West Florissant Avenue, a main thoroughfare in Ferguson.

Not seeing the suspect, the officer returned to the convenience store, where he spoke to a patron who had witnessed the scene after exiting the bathroom. According to the account of the witness, whose name is redacted, she saw Brown ask a store employee for several boxes of cigars. Then he allegedly grabbed a box of Swisher Sweets—worth approximately $49, according to the documents—and handed it to his companion, identified in the report as Dorian Johnson.

According to the documents, the store employee told Brown he had to pay for the item. At that point, according to the witness account, Brown grabbed several packs of cigars and tried to leave the store. According to the witness’s account, the store employee attempted to block Brown’s exit. Someone—the person’s name is redacted in the report—called 911.

“That is when Brown grabbed [redacted] by the shirt and forcefully pushed him back into a display rack,” the report states. Surveillance camera still-images included in the documents purport to show the suspect grabbing a man, apparently the store employee, near the collar in an aggressive fashion.

According to the documents, surveillance footage reviewed by police shows Brown menacing the store employee. “An apparent struggle or confrontation seems to take place with Brown, however it is obscured by the display case,” the report says, adding that Brown “aggressively pulls [redacted] in close to him and then immediately pushes him back in to a display rack.”

About seven minutes later, at 12:01 p.m., Wilson encountered Brown on Canfield Drive, Chief Jackson told reporters. Moments later, Brown was dead, his body lying in the street. The events surrounding the shooting itself remain unclear.

A Ferguson police spokesman could not be reached after the morning press event to answer further questions about the report or whether a similar account of the shooting itself would be forthcoming. But by mid-afternoon, Jackson was walking back the connection between Wilson, the robbery and the shooting of Michael Brown, indicating that the officer who responded to the scene of the robbery was not Wilson, but another Ferguson policeman.

“This robbery does not relate to the initial contact between the officer and Michael Brown,” Jackson told reporters Friday afternoon. Jackson said Wilson initially stopped Brown and a friend who was with him because they were walking down the middle of the street “blocking traffic.” Wilson was in the area after responding to another unrelated call nearby, Jackson said.

When questioned about his decision to release a video to the public showing a man purported to be Michael Brown apparently attacking and threatening a convenience store clerk while committing a robbery, Jackson said he made the tape public after numerous requests from the media under the Freedom of Information Act. “All I did was release the video tape to you because I had to,” he said.

For all its ambiguities, the Ferguson police account, provided to reporters by a police representative, represents the force’s fullest attempt yet to tell its side of the events preceding Brown’s shooting, which touched off five days of violent clashes here this week, as heavily armed police clad in riot gear hurled tear gas canisters and shot rubber bullets into angry crowds. It may be an attempt to present an alternative portrait of Brown, who has been portrayed by family as a “meek” and “soft-spoken” young man. “A gentle giant,” his cousin, Eric Davis, said Thursday. “He would flee from fear.”

In a statement released Thursday after the Ferguson police chief’s press event, the family and lawyers of Michael Brown released a statement saying they were outraged at the handling of the issue. “The prolonged release of the officer’s name and then the subsequent alleged information regarding a robbery is the reason why the family and the local community have such distrust for the local law enforcement agencies,” the statement said.

At a press conference late Friday afternoon, lawyers for the family admitted that it appeared to be Brown on the surveillance tape of the robbery released by the police, and said that Brown was not a perfect kid. The lawyers said the effort was a “strategic” move by the police to distract attention from the shooting. “What happened in the 18 years before [the shooting] does not matter,” one of the attorneys, Anthony Gray said.

Others were also critical of the Ferguson police’s handling of the disclosure. “I was not in the loop,” Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Ronald Johnson, who was installed Thursday to run the police response to the situation, said at a news conference Friday. “I learned about it when you did.” Johnson that he planned to voice his frustration to Ferguson officials in person and to analyze the report in an effort to address the community’s concerns.

The police’s decision to release an account of the alleged robbery at the same time they divulged Wilson’s name could be a mistake, said a federal law enforcement source. Dozens of protesters massed at the QwikTrip, angrily denouncing the Ferguson police, and gathered at the news conferences to express displeasure at Jackson, the Ferguson police chief. “We don’t need people like that in charge,” said Michelle Foster, 47. “I might not live to see the day when we, as a black community, trust the police.”

With reporting from Kristina Sauerwein/Ferguson

TIME Crime

Tensions Cool in Ferguson After Days of Violence

Ferguson Peaceful Protest
Jon Lowenstein—Noor for TIME After several days of violent protests and intense confrontations between local police and protestors, the police decided to pull back and allow the protestors to march peacefully and protest, Ferguson, Mo., Aug. 14, 2014.

Change in police leadership and tactics brings a change in mood

Ron Johnson marched down the center of West Florissant Avenue, trailed by a crowd of raucous protesters as he weaved through a scene of orderly chaos.

Hour after hour on Thursday night, a crush of cars teeming with people inched down the main drag of riot-racked Ferguson, Mo. Protesters flooded the street and sidewalks, hung out the doors of their vehicles, climbed up through their sun roofs and onto the hoods. A cacophony of car horns mixed with chanted slogans and blaring music. Men with bandanas and Guy Fawkes masks streamed through the streets, denouncing the police at the top of their lungs.

For five restive nights, this suburban strip has been the site of gruesome clashes between the nearly all-white local police force and the town’s mostly black inhabitants. After Saturday’s fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager shot to death by a local police officer, this St. Louis suburb has been a disaster zone, with violent altercations punctuated by tear gas and rubber bullets.

But the scene on Thursday was a dramatic departure: a peaceful—if extremely chaotic—demonstration that had the vibe of a street party. And some of the credit should go to Johnson, an African-American captain with the Missouri State Highway Patrol who was appointed Thursday by Gov. Jay Nixon to assume control of a situation that had veered badly out of hand. With the change in leadership came a change in tactics. Gone were the gas masks, the armored SWAT tanks and the semiautomatic weapons trained on angry crowds. There were no barricade lines, no cops in riot gear. For long stretches of the night, there were barely any police in sight at all.

But there was Johnson, striding through the crowd in his blue uniform, approaching groups and glad-handing as if the contentious scene were a reunion of old acquaintances. “This is my family. These are my friends,” he said. “And I’m making new friends here tonight.”

Sweat pouring off his temples, he stopped to kibitz with a crowd of teens crammed into a car, interrogated a man about his motorcycle and clapped a hand on women’s shoulders. He was engulfed by the crowd.

“I think we all trust each other tonight,” Johnson told TIME. “Because we’re talking from the heart. They’re telling me what they want and what they feel, and I’m telling them what I’m feeling.”

After five days of aggression and confrontation, the hands-off approach inspired a joyous scene. Outside the QuikTrip convenience store—now a hollowed black shell after looters incinerated the store—a man toasted the assembled crowd with a martini glass. A youth dance troupe called “Diamond Hearts” chanted cheers. Toddlers scampered around in superhero pajamas, and mothers cradled their children and tucked them into strollers. “This is how it should have been,” said protester Richard Harrison of the rowdy but peaceful affair.

“It’s turning around,” said Damon Rose, 30, a truck driver from Ferguson. “You feel like this is now being handled by somebody who wants to hear what you have to say.”

This was the change that Nixon had in mind when he pulled overmatched and hostile city and county cops off a situation spiraling out of control. “This is a place where people work, go to school, raise their families and go to church,” Nixon said during a news conference. “But lately it’s looked a little bit more like a war zone and that’s unacceptable.”

The clashes had threatened to engulf national elected officials. President Barack Obama interrupted his vacation in Martha’s Vineyard on Thursday to decry both the protesters’ violence and the heavy-handed tactics of local police. “There is never an excuse for violence against police, or for those who would use this tragedy as a cover for vandalism or looting,” Obama said. “There’s also no excuse for police to use excessive force against peaceful protests, or to throw protestors in jail for lawfully exercising their First Amendment rights.”

In interviews, protesters pointed to the changing tactics as a key ingredient in defusing the tension. “It is less oppressive,” said Aaron Jackson, 45, a regular protester who lives in a nearby apartment complex. “We have a chance to go down in the history books, in a positive way.”

The community is far from out of the woods. As the night dragged on, there were isolated incidents of violence. TIME reporters met a 21-year-old college student from nearby Washington University in St. Louis who had been punched, unprovoked, by an assailant. His mobile phone was stolen in the attack. The victim had bruises and fresh blood on his face, and several witnesses corroborated his story. He declined to give his name or be photographed, saying he had attended several nights of protests and did not want to taint the fight for justice. A photographer for a local news station was reportedly assaulted as well.

It was a scene one almost never sees in the U.S., a strange mix of order and anarchy, giddiness and anger. Protesters calmly sipped drinks and goofed around on the sidewalk, chanting “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot.” A makeshift vehicle sputtered down the street, its grill adorned with the face of Thomas the Tank Engine and a banner that read “Stop Killing Us.” The festive atmosphere felt capable of curdling given the right provocation.

But after five bad nights it was a big step in the right direction—and, one hopes, a sign of things to come.

— Additional reporting by Kristina Sauerwein / Ferguson, Mo.

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