Mixed Emotions In Ferguson As Midnight Curfew Approaches

FERGUSON, Mo. -- Community leaders expressed both worry and optimism on Saturday about the midnight curfew imposed by Gov. Jay Nixon (D) to stop the looting that has marred protests over the death of an unarmed teen in this St. Louis suburb.

In the early hours of Saturday morning, several stores had their windows smashed and products looted after protests surrounding the Aug. 9 death of 18-year-old Michael Brown at the hands of a Ferguson police officer. Nixon announced the curfew on Saturday in response.

Renita Lamkin, a pastor who was shot by a rubber bullet while trying to mediate between protesters and police on Wednesday, said she was hoping for the best for Saturday night and thought the midnight curfew was a good idea.

“I think the curfew is fair, because really the people who are there on the real peace mission and for the cause … they don’t want the distraction,” she said. “They don’t want the headlines to say the police had to run us out. You’ve got to respect the neighborhood.”

“The only difference last night was that people were there on a different mission, as far as the people who were the peacekeepers and were there for the protest and there to grieve communally and to unite communally,” Lamkin said.

Malik Shabazz, the president of Black Lawyers for Justice, wanted the curfew to be delayed. He said earlier Saturday that members of his group, the New Black Panther Party, were helping control the protests, and Shabazz was coordinating directly on Saturday night with Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, the newly appointed officer in charge of keeping the peace in Ferguson, to advise him on the planned movements of the crowd.

“I’m worried about the 12 midnight. The 12 midnight is very tight, and if he won’t extend it, then I don’t know if I can get it done, but I’ll do my best,” Shabazz said of trying to clear the streets before the curfew. “I could get it done by 2 a.m., by I can’t get it done by 12 a.m.”

Johnathan McFarlan was in Ferguson for the first time on Saturday night to take part in the demonstrations. He had brought his 6-month-old son, Abraham, and said he planned to respect the curfew. "I think people need to go home," he said. "At the same time, how do you put restrictions on the right to assemble?"

Maurice Millere had been pulling protesters away from the police line on Saturday morning. "I don't think it's a good idea," he said of the curfew on Saturday night, as he marched southbound along the main street where protests and looting have taken place during the week. "I don't think the police should be here."

Most officers out on Saturday night were from the St. Louis Police Department. They wore plain uniforms, though some had helmets and batons. Near a liquor store where some looting had taken place the night before, a group of young men sat on top of their cars, sipping on apple-flavored malt beverages and occasionally honking their horns.

Johnson was in the crowd talking to residents, as other people took photos with the St. Louis police officers. Authorities had also set up a designated area for the media to observe, a first since the protests began.

The Friday night and Saturday morning looting that led to the curfew marked a regression from the previous night of demonstrations, when protests remained peaceful and new leadership compelled authorities to step back from the militaristic stance they had taken starting Wednesday afternoon.

Under the direction of Johnson, who took over after clashes between protesters and police, officers held back on Friday night, even as members of the crowd broke into several stores. Other protestors tried to stop them, but stores further north of the police line got hit the hardest.

Lamkin was optimistic about how things would go on Saturday.

“I think tonight will be fine,” Lamkin said. She paused for a moment, thinking it over. “I think tonight will be fine.”