Why This Missouri Town Looks Like A War Zone After Black Teen’s Shooting

On Monday night, Ferguson, Mo., a St. Louis suburb of 21,000, has looked something like a war zone in television and online news coverage. Police decked out in riot gear. Tear gas billowing from the street pavement. Protesters chanting then fleeing as police fired rubber bullets to disperse them.

The catalyst was the police shooting on Saturday of an 18-year-old African-American man, and the fallout has left the nation transfixed by Ferguson. Here’s what we know — and don’t know — about what’s happening there.

The Michael Brown Shooting

One thing is certain: Michael Brown, 18, was fatally shot by Ferguson police officers on Saturday. His family has told the media that he was scheduled to start attending Vatterott College, a trade school with several Missouri campuses, this week.

Little else is agreed upon, though. A friend of Brown’s who was with him at the time of the shooting told MSNBC that a police officer told them to “get the fuck off the sidewalk” as they were walking down the street. An altercation ensued, Brown’s friend said, and the first shot was fired. Brown then attempted to flee the scene, according to the friend, but the police officer pursued and eventually fired multiple gunshots that killed Brown. The officer’s name has yet to be released, police say, because of “threats” made toward officers via social media.

The New York Times reported the police’s version of events. Brown had assaulted the police officer and then been shot in a struggle for the officer’s firearm, the police said. That account was met with skepticism from community leaders, especially as the police acknowledged that Brown had been unarmed.

The police department and FBI have pledged a full investigation of the shooting.

Anger From The Community

That skepticism turned into public protests just 24 hours after the shooting. Protesters walked the streets of Ferguson with signs and T-shirts that bore messages like “No Justice” and “No Killercops in Our Community.” Hundreds attended a candlelight vigil on Sunday night. They chanted “Don’t shoot” and “We want answers” outside a police press conference, the Times reported.

But then, in this town that is two-thirds African-American but with a predominantly white police force, Sunday and Monday nights turned violent. There were reports of stores being looted and a gas station being set ablaze, according to the Washington Post. Rocks were allegedly thrown at police, and gunshots were reportedly fired.

On Monday night, tear gas was deployed to disperse the crowd and pictures appeared on social media of protesters who said they’d been shot with rubber bullets by the police. Five people were arrested, USA Today reported. Reporters in Ferguson captured a scene that was described even by the police as “a war zone” on Monday night.

A National Response

These events of Ferguson have quickly taken the national stage. Attorney General Eric Holder has asked the Justice Department to “monitor” the situation, KMOX in St. Louis reported. Brown’s family has hired the same attorney who represented Trayvon Martin’s family during the closely watched trial with another gunned-down young African-American man.

Ferguson and Brown’s shooting are also reverberating culturally, particularly within the African-American community. NPR reported Monday on a hashtag, #IfTheyGunnedMeDown, that showed black Twitter users posting two contrasting images and the obvious implication of which one would be used if the user were killed in a police shooting.

Dear Reader,

When we asked recently what makes TPM different from other outlets, readers cited factors like honesty, curiosity, transparency, and our vibrant community. They also pointed to our ability to report on important stories and trends long before they are picked up by mainstream outlets; our ability to contextualize information within the arc of history; and our focus on the real-world consequences of the news.

Our unique approach to reporting and presenting the news, however, wouldn’t be possible without our readers’ support. That’s not just marketing speak, it’s true: our work would literally not be possible without readers deciding to become members. Not only does member support account for more than 80% of TPM’s revenue, our members have helped us build an engaged and informed community. Many of our best stories were born from reader tips and valuable member feedback.

We do what other news outlets can’t or won’t do because our members’ support gives us real independence.

If you enjoy reading TPM and value what we do, become a member today.

TPM Staff
Latest News
Masthead Masthead
Founder & Editor-in-Chief:
Executive Editor:
Managing Editor:
Associate Editor:
Investigations Desk:
Director of Audience:
Editor at Large:
General Counsel:
Head of Product:
Director of Technology:
Associate Publisher:
Front End Developer:
Senior Designer: