FERGUSON, Mo. — A day of anger over a fatal police shooting of an unarmed black man in suburban St. Louis turned to mayhem as people looted businesses, vandalized vehicles and confronted police in riot gear who tried to block access to parts of the city.
The tensions erupted after a candlelight vigil Sunday night for 18-year-old Michael Brown, who police said was shot multiple times Saturday after a scuffle involving the officer, Brown and another person in Ferguson, a predominantly black suburb of the city.
Several businesses near the shooting scene were looted, including a convenience store, a check-cashing store, a boutique and a small grocery store. People took items from a sporting goods store and a cellphone retailer, and carted rims away from a tire store.
TV footage showed streams of people walking from a liquor store carrying bottles of alcohol, and in some cases protesters stood atop police cars or taunted officers who stood stoic, some carrying shields and batons. Video posted online by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch showed a convenience store on fire.
Witnesses reported seeing people vandalize police cars and kick in windows. Television footage showed windows busted out of a TV station van.
Police were struggling to catch looters because crimes were happening at several locations in Ferguson and spilling into neighboring communities, Mayor James Knowles told KTVI-TV. It wasn’t immediately clear how many arrests were made. Authorities set up blockades to keep people from the most looted areas.
St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley said there were no reports of injuries as of about 11 p.m. But there were scattered reports of assaults into the early morning. Pat Washington, a spokeswoman for Dooley, said tear gas had been used. There were scattered media reports of gunfire but authorities did not immediately confirm any.
“The small group of people are creating a huge mess,” Knowles told KTVI-TV. “Contributing to the unrest that is going on is not going to help. ... We’re only hurting ourselves, only hurting our community, hurting our neighbors.”
Earlier Sunday, a few hundred protesters gathered outside Ferguson Police headquarters. Some marched into an adjacent police building chanting “Don’t shoot me” while holding their hands in the air. Officers stood at the top of a staircase, but didn’t use force; the crowd eventually left.
County Police Chief Jon Belmar said the shooting occurred after an officer encountered Brown and another man outside an apartment complex in Ferguson.
Belmar said one of the men pushed the officer into his squad car and a struggle began. Belmar said at least one shot was fired from the officer’s gun inside the police car. Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson said authorities were still sorting out what happened inside the police car. It was not clear if Brown was the man who struggled with the officer.
The struggle spilled out into the street, where Brown was shot multiple times. Belmar said the exact number of shots wasn’t known and that all shell casings at the scene matched the officer’s gun. Police were investigating why the officer shot Brown, who police have confirmed was unarmed.
Jackson said the second person has not been arrested or charged and it wasn’t clear if he was armed.
Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson told KSDK-TV there’s no video footage of the shooting from the apartment complex, or from any police cruiser dashboard cameras or body-worn cameras that the department recently bought but hasn’t yet put to use.
Jackson said blood samples were taken from Brown and the officer who shot him. Toxicology tests take weeks to complete.
Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, said she didn’t understand why police didn’t subdue her high school graduate son with a club or stun gun, and that the officer involved should be fired and prosecuted.
“I would like to see him go to jail with the death penalty,” she said, fighting back tears.
The killing drew criticism from some civil rights leaders, who referred to the 2012 racially charged shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by a Florida neighborhood watch organizer who was acquitted of murder charges.
“We’re outraged because yet again a young African-American man has been killed by law enforcement,” said John Gaskin, who serves on both the St. Louis County and national boards of directors for the NAACP.
St. Louis County Police Department is in charge of the investigation, and Dooley said he will request an FBI investigation. The U.S. Justice Department said Attorney General Eric Holder instructed staff to monitor developments.
The race of the officer involved in the shooting has not been disclosed. He has been placed on paid administrative leave.