By MATT PEARCE, MOLLY HENNESSY-FISKE, TINA SUSMANcontact the reporters
Robert Cohen / McClatchy-Tribune
Protestors blocl West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson, Mo., refusing to leave despite police orders early Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon ordered a curfew Saturday in the city of Ferguson and declared a state of emergency after fresh violence erupted overnight amid public anger over the shooting death of an unarmed young black man by a white police officer.
The curfew will run from midnight to 5 a.m., starting Saturday night.
“This is a test,” Nixon said at a news conference, saying “the eyes of the world” are watching to see how the city handles the aftermath of the Aug. 9 death of Michael Brown, 18.
Nixon said the looting and vandalism to at least three businesses overnight was "not acceptable" and characterized it as the actions of small groups who "took the street with the intent of committing crimes and endangering citizens."
He said he enacted the curfew because he can't allow the "ill will of a few to undermine the goodwill of many."
The announcement comes after community activists had taken to the streets and social media Saturday in Ferguson after the businesses fell victim to a predawn rampage by young men who targeted local stores as others tried desperately to stop them.
“This is crazy," said an older man watching the worst of the looting. “Why?” he said to two young men passing him with boxes of liquor. “Why?”
The overnight eruption came after a peaceful street demonstration Friday night in the St. Louis suburb, which is still reeling from the death one week ago of Brown, 18.
Demonstrators gathered Saturday near the site where Brown was shot.
“Long night. Thanks to all who tried to stop unnecessary violence,” Nixon tweeted Saturday morning. “I will be in Ferguson today.”
In rainy weather, the Rev. Jesse Jackson gathered with the crowd outside the Canfield Green apartments where Brown lived. Volunteers converged Saturday at the stores that were damaged to help with the cleanup.
The sounds of cheers, honking car horns and a miniature percussion concert Friday night outside the QuikTrip convenience store -- which had been burned in looting earlier in the week -- gave way early Saturday to shouts and the sounds of crunching glass as young men in masks broke into stores and emerged carrying boxes of alcohol.
That followed a standoff with police on West Florissant Avenue, a busy commercial strip not far from where Brown was shot by police Officer Darren Wilson.
One of the stores attacked Saturday was the Ferguson Market, where police say Brown was involved in a strong-arm robbery minutes before he was killed. Police released details of that robbery Friday at the same time they bowed to public pressure and publicly identified Wilson as the officer who had killed the teen. The revelation of the robbery fueled fresh anger and bitterness among local residents and Brown’s relatives, who accused police of trying to deflect attention from Wilson’s shooting of an unarmed man.
St. Louis Alderman Antonio French, who has been a fixture on Twitter and at nightly street demonstrations, spent early Saturday trying to pacify the protesters, most of them young men.
French tweeted later Saturday morning that he and another community activist had met with Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, who is overseeing Ferguson security, and had agreed that police should not advance to stop the looting.
“I want to be clear,” French said later on Twitter. “Police not coming in at this point — even with the looting — was a good thing. It could have become very violent.”
At least one gunshot was heard during the night, and fear of gunfire led some community members who had been trying to protect stores to back off, clearing the way for looters to break into them. French said he watched one man in a white SUV speed toward riot police, who had their rifles trained on him. The driver stopped just before reaching the police and turned around. French said he saw “a shiny silver handgun in his right hand.”
As young men smashed the windows of Sam's Meat Market, swarms of others rushed toward the store and jumped through the window to take boxes and bottles of alcohol. One man dropped a bottle at a reporter's feet while running away with another box and didn't come back to get it.
Some looters threatened journalists -- most of them white -- observing the violence. Other young men not participating in the looting urged the media to focus on the youths trying to protect stores.
“It's a small number of people doing the looting compared to how peaceful demonstrations were before,” said local resident Steven Roach, 20. “The looting is not as big as the media is making it seem.”
Then he left, saying it was no longer safe to stay.
Some people saw the explosion of anger as cathartic, despite the attacks on businesses.
“This is wonderful. This is what should have happened a long time ago,” Robert Powell, 42, said as he watched looters during the night hop through the shattered glass door of the meat market.
Powell, who owns a professional cleaning service, grew up on the city's west side, and to him this was small-time crime.
He dismissed the looters as “suburban nerds” likely to get busted. But after years of living in a town where he said African American men are singled out for harsh treatment by the police, he shared the looters’ frustration.
He gestured to surrounding businesses, whose fluorescent lights were now shattered, their parking lots strewn with broken bottles.
“They support these police, give them free food. People just got tired of it,” he said.
Powell blamed the unrest on the Ferguson police chief's release of information Friday about Brown.
Along with the identity of the officer who shot Brown after a confrontation a week ago that allegedly began in the officer’s car, police on Friday released surveillance video purporting to show that Brown had robbed a mini-mart shortly before his encounter with police.
Many Ferguson residents have said the release inappropriately pointed blame at Brown at a time when the focus should have been on the officer who shot him.
“I guarantee things will change after this,” Powell said.
A few young men ran by as he spoke, looted cigarillos spilling from their pockets. More were jumping the door into the market. Powell stepped to the curb and shouted: “Hey, get out of there!” They ignored him.
“The president needs to come here,” Powell said. “He needs to make sure they fire the police chief of Ferguson, get an alternative prosecutor and put [Gov.] Jay Nixon in a corner. He's anti-black people and pro-law enforcement,” Powell said. “That will be a start.”
Further down the road, Etefia Umana and his son were walking past the scene of the earlier mayhem, with Umana pointing out businesses where citizens had prevented looters from entering.
“We had some friends who were blocking stores,” he said, though he admitted that at some businesses, “eventually they were overwhelmed.”
Umana said he came simply to bear witness. “To make sure the community is safe.”