Ferguson Riots: Officials Brace For More Tension After Police Shoot Man Who Opened Fire During Demonstration

Ferguson could again erupt into riots, officials fear, after a man was shot and critically wounded by police during protests to mark the one-year anniversary of the death of Michael Brown.

A gun battle broke out during what started as peaceful protests to mark the killing of Brown last year. Dramatic video showed a small group opening fire, with police returning fire and critically wounding one man.

The shootout took place as protesters were growing increasingly violent, blocking traffic and smashing store windows in the same neighborhood that saw violent protests last summer after Brown was shot dead.

St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said the disturbance early on Monday was not the work of protesters but rather criminals.

“They were criminals; they weren’t protesters,” Chief Belmar said of the groups exchanging gunfire. “Protesters are the people out there talking about a way to effect change. We can’t afford to have this kind of violence, not only on a night like this, but any point in time if we’re going to move forward in the right direction.”

Now officials fear that Ferguson could again erupt into riots. Officials have moved quickly to decry Sunday’s shooting in an effort to diffuse the again growing tensions.

“The weekend’s events were peaceful and promoted a message of reconciliation and healing,” Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch said in a statement. “But incidents of violence, such as we saw last night, are contrary to both that message, along with everything that all of us, including this group, have worked to achieve over the past year.”

Chief Belmar said he doesn’t know where tensions will lead.

“I’d been a policeman over 28 years when that happened, and I tell people all the time, ‘You think you have all the answers and you think you’re experienced and have seen everything; well, you haven’t,’ ” he told the New York Times. “Last year’s events serve as a reminder that just about the time you think that you really have a depth of understanding of anything that can happen, you don’t.”

Other local residents decried the demonstrators who used the anniversary as an opportunity for violence and looting.

“It’s sad and disappointing,” said Antonio French, an alderman in St. Louis. “You have some people here who use the cover of this anniversary to commit some violent acts. To see violence happen on this day in this city is really disappointing.”

The fear of new riots in Ferguson is growing, as organizers have already planned new demonstrations in the wake of Sunday’s shooting.

[Picture by Scott Olson / Getty Images]