FERGUSON Mo. (Reuters) - Police enforced a curfew against protesters angry at the shooting death of a black teenager by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, clearing the streets of demonstrators early on Sunday during a tense standoff.
“You must disperse immediately,” a law enforcement official warned over a loudspeaker as police slowly moved down the street where dozens of demonstrators remained after the curfew took effect at midnight local time. Officers were equipped with gas masks and full-length shields, standing among armored vehicles.
A short time later, officers began firing cannisters toward the crowd, which a state Highway Patrol spokesman said dispersed smoke, not tear gas. But St. Louis alderman Antonio French, who was in the area, told reporters the substance fired towards demonstrators caused stinging of the eyes.
On Saturday Missouri Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and announced a curfew to go into effect between midnight and 5 a.m. CDT (0500 to 1000 GMT), after a week of racially charged protests and looting over the Aug. 9 fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, 28, in the suburban St. Louis community.
About 150 people remained in the street past the curfew hour early on Sunday, police said.
Some protesters still in the street, under a downpour of rain, were chanting, “No justice, no curfew, no peace”, while others implored the crowd not to move forward towards police.
Witnesses at the scene said they heard gunshots during the confrontation between police and demonstrators after the curfew began, but it could not immediately be confirmed whether any shots were fired.
CNN showed video of some protesters being loaded into vehicles, but a Highway Patrol spokesman said he could not confirm any arrests.
Earlier on Saturday evening the mood among the protesters on a main road in Ferguson was tense and defiant following days of demonstrations, as well as looting.
“The curfew is going to make things worse,” said protester Phonso Scott, 24. “I think the cops are going to get violent tonight, but they can’t lock us all up.”
Tensions ran high all week but escalated on Friday evening, pitting mostly black protesters against mostly white police as the demonstrators swarmed through a residential and retail district that has become a center of the unrest, and some in the crowd looted a handful of stores that night.
Brown’s family and supporters have demanded for days that the officer who shot Brown be held accountable. The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the shooting for any civil rights violations, and the St. Louis County Police department has also launched a probe.
The police version of how Brown was shot differs from witness accounts, including that of the friend who was walking with Brown at the time, Dorian Johnson, 22.
In the police version, after Wilson asked Brown to move out of the road onto a sidewalk Brown reached into the patrol car and struggled with Wilson for the officer’s service gun. Wilson, who sustained a facial injury, then shot Brown a number of times.
Johnson and at least one other witness have said the officer reached out through his car window to grab at Brown and the teenager was trying to get away from the officer when he was shot. Brown held up his hands in a sign of surrender but the officer got out of his patrol car and shot Brown several times, they said.
FBI agents were at the scene of the shooting on Saturday interviewing residents, and civil rights activist Jesse Jackson also visited the site, leading a prayer near a makeshift memorial to Brown just a few feet from where he died.
The Reverend Al Sharpton has said he would lead a rally with Brown’s family in Ferguson on Sunday.
Additional reporting by Lucas Jackson in Ferguson, Missouri, and Chris Michaud in New York; Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Michael Perry and Greg Mahlich