Photographers' Blog

Covering the Ferguson unrest

August 19, 2014

Ferguson, Missouri
By Mario Anzuoni
 
At 6:30 a.m. on Monday, August 11 my phone rang.
 
I was told to pack my riot gear and head to Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis in Missouri, to cover unrest that had broken out there following the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a police officer.

A makeshift memorial is pictured where black teenager Michael Brown was shot to death by police over the weekend in Ferguson, Missouri August 12, 2014. Police said Brown, 18, was shot in a struggle with a gun in a police car but have not said why Brown was in the car. At least one shot was fired during the struggle and then the officer fired more shots before leaving the car, police said. But a witness to the shooting interviewed on local media has said that Brown had been putting his hands up to surrender when he was killed. The FBI has opened a civil rights investigation into the racially charged case and St. Louis County also is investigating. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW)

The situation in Ferguson was fluid and extremely tense, especially around a convenience store that had been looted and burned over the weekend. Minutes away from where the shooting took place, this store had become the epicenter of the protest.

A destroyed QuikTrip store is pictured in the background as demonstrators hold signs while protesting the death of black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri August 12, 2014. The QuikTrip store was burned during rioting that followed a vigil for Brown, according to local media. Police said Brown, 18, was shot in a struggle with a gun in a police car but have not said why Brown was in the car. At least one shot was fired during the struggle and then the officer fired more shots before leaving the car, police said. But a witness to the shooting interviewed on local media has said that Brown had been putting his hands up to surrender when he was killed. The FBI has opened a civil rights investigation into the racially charged case and St. Louis County also is investigating.  REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni  (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW)
 
I understood the dynamics of the unrest quite quickly. During the day people would gather peacefully by the convenience store and everything looked and felt relatively under control.
 
There were families, young kids and even a man who, despite his 92 years, was holding signs in the middle of the street, joining in with the demonstration.

Demonstrator LT Taylor, 92, holds signs while protesting the death of black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri August 12, 2014. Police said Brown, 18, was shot in a struggle with a gun in a police car but have not said why Brown was in the car. At least one shot was fired during the struggle and then the officer fired more shots before leaving the car, police said. But a witness to the shooting interviewed on local media has said that Brown had been putting his hands up to surrender when he was killed. The FBI has opened a civil rights investigation into the racially charged case and St. Louis County also is investigating.  REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni  (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW)
 
But as evening approached, a large contingent of police would arrive, riding armored trucks loaded with officers in riot gear carrying semi-automatic weapons.

Riot police stand guard as demonstrators protest the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri August 13, 2014. Police in Ferguson fired several rounds of tear gas to disperse protesters late on Wednesday, on the fourth night of demonstrations over the fatal shooting last weekend of an unarmed black teenager Brown, 18, by a police officer on Saturday after what police said was a struggle with a gun in a police car. A witness in the case told local media that Brown had raised his arms to police to show that he was unarmed before being killed. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW CIVIL UNREST TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
 
For my first two days, despite confrontations, I didn’t witness things getting too out of hand. But on the night of Wednesday, August 13 it was different. 

Demonstrator Keisha Gray cries while protesting the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri August 13, 2014. Police in Ferguson fired several rounds of tear gas to disperse protesters late on Wednesday, on the fourth night of demonstrations over the fatal shooting last weekend of an unarmed black teenager Brown, 18, by a police officer on Saturday after what police said was a struggle with a gun in a police car. A witness in the case told local media that Brown had raised his arms to police to show that he was unarmed before being killed. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW CIVIL UNREST)
 
For days, more and more tension had been building between protesters and police, who looked like they were ready to go to war. When a protester threw a bottle towards the police line advancing to clear the street, the situation escalated quickly. Here came the tear gas, smoke bombs and flash bangs.

A protester throws back a smoke bomb while clashing with police in Ferguson, Missouri August 13, 2014. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
 
It was chaos, everyone started running. I was briefly caught between the police line and the protesters but I was able to run into a side street and find cover behind some houses.
 
I captured a few frames and then was forced to move, since every time I was spotted, more smoke bombs and tear gas would land a few feet away from me, pushing me backwards.
 
It was clear that despite the heavy media presence police were going to clear everyone from the area. This went on for almost an hour.

Riot police clear demonstrators from a street in Ferguson, Missouri, August 13, 2014. Police in Ferguson fired several rounds of tear gas to disperse protesters late on Wednesday, on the fourth night of demonstrations over the fatal shooting last weekend of an unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, 18, by a police officer on Saturday after what police said was a struggle with a gun in a police car. A witness in the case told local media that Brown had raised his arms to police to show that he was unarmed before being killed. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW CIVIL UNREST TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
 
As I was behind a hedge taking photos of a television position that had been abandoned when reporters fled from the tear gas, police caught up with me.
 
Shining their flashlight and pointing their weapons they ordered me to come out, so I surfaced through the smoke with my hands up holding my press badge. I was briskly ushered in the direction of what they called a safer zone, towards a Taco Bell parking lot.
 
There, as I was stepping into my vehicle, I saw a group of officers with their weapons drawn approach and check a vehicle, then briefly detain a woman.

Police officers briefly detain a person in Ferguson, Missouri August 13, 2014. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
 
It looked like there was no “safer zone”, so I sat in my vehicle still wearing my bullet-proof vest as I filed my pictures. Better safe than sorry.

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