Ahead of his trip to Missouri on Wednesday, Attorney General Eric Holder published a message to the people of Ferguson in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Tuesday, assuring them that "the Justice Department intends to learn — in a fair and thorough manner — exactly what happened" in the shooting of Michael Brown. He also called for an end to the violent protests, saying they "seriously undermine" the cause of justice and "interrupt the deeper conversation that the legitimate demonstrators are trying to advance."
For much of the night, it looked like Holder would arrive just after the cycle of violent clashes between police and protesters was broken, but at midnight a water bottled was hurled at officers, triggering more chaos and arrests.
Still, there were signs of progress on the 11th night of protests. As usual, the situation was fairly calm in the early evening, and police weren't consistently enforcing the rule that demonstrators would be arrested if they congregated in one place. The crowd kept marching in a loop, chanting the now-familiar slogans "Hands up, don't shoot," "No justice, no peace, no racist police," and "We are Mike Brown."
At this point, some in crowd have been marching in continuous loop for upwards of three hours.— Wesley Lowery (@WesleyLowery) August 20, 2014
There were fewer protesters than on previous nights, and activists and religious leaders worked to defuse conflicts before they got out of hand. When a fight started in front of the Burger Bar, fellow protesters broke it up.
The situation: Demonstration leader heart-to-hearts a guy who wants to agitate a little. The media eyeball descends. pic.twitter.com/f31KNT9VF5— Matt Pearce (@mattdpearce) August 20, 2014
At 11 p.m., organizers were encouraging people to go home for the night and gather outside the office of St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch on Wednesday morning. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has refused to remove McCulloch from the case, though he has deep ties to the St. Louis Police Department. Many members of McCulloch's family worked for the department, including his father, who was killed in the line of duty when the prosecutor was 12. McCulloch is white and his father was shot by a black man.
The protest seemed to be winding down, but as St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar told the Washington Post, "At some point every night, it’s like a switch is flipped. Sometimes a rock gets thrown. An unruly march. A molotov cocktail." This time it didn't come until midnight, when someone threw a plastic water bottle at police. Officers moved in quickly, pushing back the crowd and ordering them to disperse. People began throwing more water bottles, and police formed a line in the street.
Cop pointing gun at people. Reporter asked him his name. Cop told him to go fuck himself. #Ferguson— Amanda Terkel (@aterkel) August 20, 2014
Some people linked arms to form a barrier between the police and the unruly protesters.
Police stormed the press area, explaining later that "agitators" were hiding behind members of the media.
With weapons pointed at media, officers storm INTO media area to arrest a teen who was walking through it pic.twitter.com/akzyKojkj9— Wesley Lowery (@WesleyLowery) August 20, 2014
Every media member I saw tried to comply with officers, but there was confusion and contradictory directions— Wesley Lowery (@WesleyLowery) August 20, 2014
Reporter face down in road being arrested. Tried to take picture. Officer shoves me— Wesley Lowery (@WesleyLowery) August 20, 2014
Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson said at a press conference later that 47 people were arrested, and police recovered three loaded handguns. Police did not use tear gas, rubber bullets, or smoke bombs (and only a "limited" amount of pepper spray). "Tonight we saw a different dynamic," Captain Johnson said, adding, "I believe there was turning point ... I believe that was made by the clergy, the activists, the volunteers, the citizens and the law enforcement who partnered together to make a difference."