O’FALLON, Mo. (AP) — St. Louis police said four officers were hit by gunfire after protests that started peacefully Monday became violent overnight, with protesters smashing windows and stealing items from businesses and fires burning in the downtown area.
The police department said on Twitter early Tuesday that the officers were taken to an area hospital with injuries that were not believed to be life-threatening. It was unclear who had fired the shots.
The chaos in St. Louis followed continued protests Monday in Missouri over the death of George Floyd and police treatment of African Americans, with gatherings also held in Kansas City and Jefferson City. The nationwide protests were sparked by the May 25 death of Floyd, a handcuffed black man who pleaded for air as a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck until he stopped breathing.
Monday’s protests came after peaceful daytime protests Sunday led to spurts of chaos overnight into Monday, with vehicles and buildings damaged and officers firing tear gas after being pelted with rocks, fireworks and Molotov cocktails.
On Monday afternoon, several hundred people rallied peacefully outside the justice center in downtown St. Louis, including Mayor Lyda Krewson and St. Louis Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards. Protestors later walked to the Gateway Arch National Park and then onto nearby Interstate 64.
But later Monday, protesters gathered in front of police headquarters, where officers fired tear gas. Some protesters smashed windows at a downtown 7-11 store and stole items from inside before the building was set on fire. Moments later a car was set on fire and other businesses broken into and looted.
On Monday afternoon, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas and Police Chief Rick Smith kneeled with protesters gathered at the Country Club Plaza entertainment district and had what police spokesman Sgt. Jake Becchina later described as a good conversation with the crowd.
Not long after, Becchina said items were thrown at police and pepper spray was used. More people began to arrive later in the evening and he said about “half a dozen”people had been detained, some who had sacks of rocks and bags of urine.
Nearly 2,000 protesters gathered early Monday evening on the Capitol grounds in Jefferson City, carrying signs reading “white silence is violence” and “say their names.”
Police estimated that more than 1,500 people turned out in O’Fallon, about 35 miles (56.33 kilometers) west of St. Louis. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Police Chief Tim Clothier locked arms and marched with protesters, saying he wanted to show support for their cause.
“We do not agree with what happened. We do not want to condone the behavior of that one officer,” Clothier said.
Republican Gov. Mike Parson said Monday that the Missouri National Guard and the Missouri State Highway Patrol are ready if violence persists.
“We support peaceful protesters and we are committed to protecting the lawful exercise of these rights,” Parson, a former sheriff, said. “But violence and destruction will never be the answer. It does not help us achieve justice or peace. Instead it terrorizes innocent people and families, destroys our communities and creates more anger and pain.”
Tensions boiled over Sunday in Kansas City and Ferguson, the city in St. Louis County that became synonymous with the Black Lives Matter movement after the August 2014 killing of Michael Brown, a black 18-year-old, by a white police officer.
Just as in 2014, the Ferguson Police Department was a focus of demonstrators on Sunday for a second night. Police began dispersing the crowd shortly after 10 p.m., but some people damaged windows at Ferguson Brewing Co. just down the street. Minutes later, after someone threw a Molotov cocktail at a police car, officers responded with tear gas and ordered protesters to clear the area.
St. Louis County police reported that two officers suffered minor injuries. One was hit by fireworks, the other by a rock. Six people were arrested, police spokesman Benjamin Granda said.
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt said Marcus Marvin Hunt was arrested Saturday in St. Louis and accused of distributing information on making explosives and destructive devices. Schmitt said a person in St. Louis was charged with organizing and promoting a riot. The second suspect’s name wasn’t released.
Associated Press reporter Sara Burnett contributed from Chicago.