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Latest Violence In Ferguson Renews Tension Between Protesters And Police

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Many people in and around St. Louis wanted to mark the anniversary of Michael Brown's death. He died last August, shot by a police officer in Ferguson. But this was not the anniversary many expected - more standoffs with police and more violence. St. Louis Public Radio's Jason Rosenbaum takes us to the scene late yesterday.

JASON ROSENBAUM, BYLINE: It's a cloudless Tuesday night on West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson and a line of policemen in SWAT gear just pushed a large group of protesters off the street and onto the sidewalk. The protesters have been here since the Sunday anniversary of Michael Brown's death ended in gunfire and another officer-involved shooting. Mary Chandler has seen this type of back-and-forth between police and protesters so many times. She's been demonstrating in Ferguson since August 9 last year, after a former Ferguson police officer shot and killed Brown. But before Sunday, this type of confrontation was a fading memory.

MARY CHANDLER: It's like this big surprise all of a sudden there's a state of emergency. But they didn't tell you that there's been protests going on for a week straight. They don't tell you that the only time an issue ever arrives is when police come in their riot gear.

ROSENBAUM: Chandler is referring to a county state of emergency put in place after St. Louis County police shot an 18-year-old they say shot at them first, bringing up familiar images of police in riot gear standing off against protesters. But officials like St. Louis County executive Steve Stenger say a state of emergency was necessary to avoid a repeat of last year's violence and rioting.

STEVE STENGER: We have all band together to rebuild Ferguson. And to think that all that could be lost in a night of violence, looting, burning - that is a real problem for our community. And it's not something that our community can take right now.

ROSENBAUM: Stenger thinks the situation is improving because officers like St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar are talking face-to-face with demonstrators. Earlier this week, Belmar says his department is very much taking the aftermath of Brown's death to heart.

JON BELMAR: I think we owe it to ourselves together to make sure that we grow out of this, that positive things happen, that we begin to learn from it, eliminate the negatives, eliminate the environment that really caused the emotion and the cynicism from last August.

ROSENBAUM: But some like Darnell Wilkes remain skeptical. As he watched Tuesday's protests while leaning against his car, he says police often treat him with disrespect and suspicion. As his preschool age son Kahlil peers out the car window, Wilkes wonders aloud if he'll ever see the change.

DARNELL WILKES: Well, I mean, he know who the police is. If they come over here right now and do anything to us, he'll break out crying and he don't like them. And I don't blame him.

ROSENBAUM: For residents like Wilkes, while there's hope for change, there's also a significant divide. For NPR News, I'm Jason Rosenbaum in St. Louis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.