FERGUSON, Mo. — Armored vehicles, riot gear, tear gas and looting returned to this small Midwest city early Saturday as a brief period of peaceful demonstrations gave way to a violent atmosphere of anarchy.
The intense night shattered a short-lived calm that had been hailed as a turning point after a week of protests following the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, a black unarmed 18-year-old killed by a police officer.
During the night, buildings burned, windows shattered, and chaos ensued as protesters stood in the street criticizing police. Officers threatened to arrest protesters who came near their trucks. Yet authorities did not attempt to stop any looting as citizens moved to protect local businesses from sporadic thefts.
"We didn't have any supervision so people got super out of hand," said Derrick Robinson, 30, of Ferguson. "I was very disappointed and upset about what was going on."
Friday evening's protests were calm, though boisterous. People played drums and sang songs in memory of Brown at QuikTrip, where protesters have gathered for the last week. However, around midnight Saturday, protesters began clashing with police officers as cops in armored vehicles lined up on West Florissant Avenue, a main city thoroughfare.
As the mood intensified, officers threw tear gas into the crowd then quickly retreated. But some 30 minutes later, the officers returned to a position on the street that they would occupy for the next four to five hours.
On Friday, officials released the name of the officer who killed Brown — Darren Wilson — as well as information that Brown was a suspect in a robbery. The move — to name Brown's killer while also releasing information about a possible criminal act by the teen — angered many protesters who repeatedly said they thought police were trying to paint Brown as a criminal deserving of death.
Anthony Shahid, one of the most visible activists who has been protesting in Ferguson, said he sensed things would escalate as soon as he learned about the information police released.
"They (Ferguson Police) gave a press conference and one of the first things they did was read about this man's history," he said. "It inflamed this community. All you heard people say was that they didn't like that. I think it's very disrespectful, insensitive, and callous."
In a now-familiar scene in Ferguson, police officers Saturday morning held rifles and yelled at protesters to get out of the street or risk being arrested. Despite this, some in the crowd walked toward police officers with their hands in the air. Eventually other protesters convinced people walking toward the officers to move back.
It was then, as people walked back, that some began breaking into nearby stores. At a nearby Beauty Supply Store, people stole bags of fake hair while across the street at Ferguson Market and Liquor others carried out large bottles of alcohol.
Ferguson Market and Liquor is the store Ferguson police say Michael Brown is suspected of robbing within hours of his death. Saturday morning, looters smashed its front door and ransacked its shelves.
The chaos caught Robinson off guard. The Ferguson resident said he had been protesting since 9 a.m. Friday and left the demonstration area at about midnight Saturday.
"I got call at about 1:30 a.m. saying they are looting and breaking into people's stores and that the goal is to burn down Ferguson Market," Robinson said. "I immediately came back to really see what was happening. I was very disappointed and upset about what was going on."
Robinson's disappointment motivated him to help fend off looters from vulnerable stores. Others like him pleaded with looters to stop taking merchandise while police silently watched.
Christopher Scott, 24, of Northwoods, Mo., stood in front of Ferguson Market and Liquor blocking the door's shattered front glass door and sharing his feelings with looters. He, along with about ten other men, physically pushed back a crowd of young men who were trying to make their way into the convenience store.
"I just told them that they need to think," Scott said. "We are smarter than that. I told them that we live here, we sleep here, we eat in our community so it doesn't make sense for us to turn on our community."
He added: "I don't want the message sent that everyone out here is just looting, robbing and stealing. That's not the case. A lot of us want justice. A lot of us want peace. A lot of us want a well regulated community. It's not right for us to tare down our own community. If anything we need to be building it up."
Amid the chaos, a stark distinction emerged between protesters who blocked people from breaking into stores and looters who hastily carried items away. Despite the residents who acted as peacekeepers, Ferguson eventually became the scene of multiple robberies as people went from store to store carrying out stolen goods.
DaVhaun Coleman, 21, of Florissant, Mo., held a canister of tear gas in his hand as he explained that he was angry police were trying to paint Brown as a criminal. He added that he thought police Saturday used tear gas on the crowd unnecessarily.
"They want to get hands on," Coleman said of police. "They are just doing what they were trained to do."
Missouri State Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson said some in the crowd began throwing rocks and other objects at police, but no arrests were made. One officer was hurt, but information on his injuries was not immediately available. No protesters were hurt.
Brown's family had urged protesters to remain nonviolent hours before chaos broke out again.
In a Friday afternoon press conference, Ferguson, Mo. Police Chief Thomas Jackson said Wilson did not initially make a connection between the robbery and Brown.Wilson stopped Brown and a friend because "they were in the middle of the street, blocking traffic," Jackson said.
Hours later, however, Jackson told a slightly different story to CNN and NBC, saying that Wilson noticed Brown was carrying a box of cigars that had been reported stolen. Wilson, he said, initially stopped Brown for blocking traffic, but as he began driving past Brown, he noticed Brown was holding cigars.
At that point, Wilson "made the connection" that Brown might have been involved in a theft that had just been broadcast on police radio, Jackson said.
Jackson would not say why he released the information when he did the way he did, other than to say he was responding to freedom of information requests from the public about the robbery.