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Chaos on the Streets of Ferguson, Missouri; Hundreds of Protesters Rally Before Curfew; Reports of Gunfire, Tear Gas

Aired August 17, 2014 - 22:35   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Here this the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Poppy Harlow.

We have breaking news this evening out of Ferguson, Missouri. That's where chaos has broken out again on the streets. You are looking at live pictures from affiliates on the ground. Our teams are on the ground there reporting out what happened.

I want to bring in Steve Kastenbaum. He is one of our producers who has been on the ground there in recent days. Steve Kastenbaum just reporting to us what the scene is like. I think we have him on the phone.

Steve, what can you tell us? What's happening as we look at the pictures of obviously some of the armored vehicles going down the street towards protesters with many police behind them.

STEVE KASTENBAUM, CNN PRODUCER (via phone): Put your hands up. Firing flash grenades and tear gas at the crowd. They are now pushing the crowd back. The crowd is backing up.

HARLOW: You know what, Steve? Let me update the viewers here. We are having a hard time hearing Steve because he called in earlier to us with a gas mask on. It's hard for us to understand it. Obviously, he and his team need to stay safe on the ground there. If they can get far enough away to call in safely without the gas mask, we will bring him back.

But what you are looking at, again, are live pictures of the scene unfolding now. 9:37 p.m. Central Time. Far before that midnight curfew was supposed to take place and you see chaos breaking out on the streets there of Ferguson, Missouri. This following a day where a major rally and service was held at a local church in remembrance of Michael Brown, that unarmed teen who was gunned down now just over a week ago who was shot and killed by a police officer there in Ferguson.

I want to read you something Steve was able to tell the team earlier this evening over the phone. I'm going to read you a quote from Steve on the ground. He said hundreds of protesters started marching toward the command post at the target store. Police deployed officers and tear gas to turn them back. Steve also says that he witnessed authorities shooting at a defiant protester with rubber bullets. Steve also told us that police fired tear gas toward the protesters and some of the canisters landed in the midst of some of the reporter vehicles in the staging area.

And as you continue to look at live pictures you see what appear to be local residents walking away from the scene, covering their mouth, covering their nose because as Steve reported some of the tear gas has apparently been used on some of the protesters. And as you see there also the authorities ton ground, some with masks on. And we saw and we are seeing those armored vehicles moving towards the protesters, again, about 9:38 central time there in Ferguson, Missouri.

What we also know from our -- I'm being told we have one of our producers on the ground, Chuck Condor who is (INAUDIBLE). He is there in Ferguson on the scene.

Chuck, what can you tell us.

CHUCK CONDOR, CNN PRODUCER (via phone): Well, I'm at the command post where the joint task force trying to police the situation is set up. And maybe 30, 40 minutes ago a group of protesters broke out of the protest zone and started marching toward the command post. I am told these were protesters that caused problems earlier in the week. And they had been sort of identified as troublemakers.

As they approached the perimeter of the command post, several individuals threw Molotov cocktails towards police officers who were guarding the perimeter of the area. Some gas canisters, tear gas canisters were deployed at that point and those protesters retreated. That spurred the armored personnel carriers to start being deployed. And the situation is in flux at this moment.

HARLOW: Chuck, thank you for that. Stay with us. In a moment I'm going to bring Steve Kastenbaum, our producer, back on with us. But I do want to tell our viewers what Missouri state patrol corporal Justin Wheatley has confirmed to CNN.

He has confirmed that you have reported the police have deployed either smoke or tear gas against protesters, as he says they became violent toward their officers. He also told us in CNN that there are armored personnel carriers that we have been seeing on the street are there, he said, asking protesters to leave the area.

According to, again, this is Missouri state patrol Corporal Justin Wheatley. He says the protesters were quote "encroaching on this command post which seems to lines up, Chuck, with what you witnessed. He says that they have not confirmed yet a tweet by the St. Louis county police that protesters threw Molotov cocktails.

But again, our Chuck Condor on the ground reporting. That is what he saw. Let's go back to Steve Kastenbaum.

Steve, what are you seeing?

KASTENBAUM: I have backed away (INAUDIBLE) from the police lines because the tear gas (INAUDIBLE), was getting in and around my mask. I assume you can hear me better now. We see a line of armored vehicles and hundreds of police officers in riot gear wearing gas masks. Faced off against a line of protesters about 100, 150 yards in front of them at the location where we were broadcasting from earlier in the week. You see the quick stop gas station. And the events here turned very quickly on a dime. (INAUDIBLE) were heading towards the target command post. There is a command center for this operation at a target shopping center a couple of blocks away.

And the demonstrators started marching that direction. And next thing we knew, we started seeing blue lights, hearing the signs that they were firing into the crowd. We don't know what was (INAUDIBLE). When we came upon the scene, we already saw this situation evolving. And the riot police were lined up in their in roads, and pushing back the demonstrators.

And while that was going on, they were firing both smoke and tear gas canisters in multiple direction. Several of those canisters landed in the parking lot where the media is situated here. We were using a parking lots here during the curfew. And we had all started gathering there in advance of the curfews tonight. And several tear gas canisters including one that bounced off our vehicles were fired in our direction. The protesters began retreating quickly as you can imagine.

HARLOW: And Steve, I just want to reset for the viewers here. You are seeing live pictures from our affiliate on the ground in Ferguson, Missouri. Unrest, high tension there. Obviously as you can see Steve reporting and Chuck Condor on the ground also reporting that this has escalated quite quickly in the last half an hour.

So you see what they are reporting. Looks to be hundreds of protesters gathered in the area. We do know from police that they are at this point using armored personnel carriers because they say protesters were encroaching on their command posts. We know at this time as well that as Steve and Chuck have been reporting both smoke canisters and tear gas have been deployed.

To you, Steve, and then to you, Chuck. Do you have any sense of why this escalated so quickly? I know it is in the heat of the moment, but are residents there on the ground telling you why this has escalated so much ahead of that curfew?

KASTENBAUM: We haven't had a chance to talk to people who were at the flash point where this all began yet. Most of them -- most of the protesters are situated back around where our colleague Chuck Condor is situated with one of the photo journalists right now. We are on one side of this stand-off. They are on the other side. So we did not see what precipitated this.

But what I can tell you is that it happened very, very quickly. It was A tense night here. There were lots of people on the streets. We did hear gunfire earlier. And now the line of armored vehicle is approaching moving in on the demonstrators again. They have refused to disburse and armored vehicles and riot police have advanced approximately 20, 25 feet. There are warnings to the crowd to disburse or they may face arrest. HARLOW: Steve --

KASTENBAUM: There were hundreds of people marching in the direction of what's been a command center. A parking lot by a target store here. That it isn't that is their dates of operation since the shooting happened several days ago.

HARLOW: Steve, let me just ask you for the viewers. Can you explain to our viewers as we reset what we are seeing here, live pictures from our teams and affiliates on the ground there in Ferguson, in an intense clash happening now between protesters, hundreds of them on the street in Ferguson, Missouri. And the officials there are using armored personnel carriers, do you think tear gas, you think smoke bombs.

Steve, what can you tell us about exactly where this is. Exactly where this is happening.

KASTENBAUM: So the stand-off is on west Florissant in Ferguson. Now, this is the main commercial center that we have, been at throughout this week and through the weekend. This is where all the demonstrations have been taking place. We were broadcasting live from here for several days before the situation became a little tense between protesters and police and we move some of our operations.

But you may have seen Don Lemon amongst the crowd here and Jake Tapper talking with community members who were protesting here earlier in the week. And this is exactly where the stand- off is now, in that same location. It's a also about a block and a half away from where are Michael Brown was shot and killed. That gives the line of police and armored vehicles moving in, advancing on them slowly. The police officers walking in unison. Officers in the front of the line have their weapons drawn. I can't tell from my vantage point whether they are pointed at the protesters.

But as you may have heard earlier we were standing just feet away from a man who was approaching the police. He had his hands up. He was a defiant demonstrator. He ignored orders to back up. Repeated orders to stay away, to move back and eventually several of the riot police opened up on him with rubber bullets. They fired bullets back down. He was surrounded by several riot police. Handcuffed and put in the armored vehicle.

HARLOW: Steve --

KASTENBAUM: I just want to make it clear. They have been using a variety of tactic. Not just tear gas and smoke.

HARLOW: OK, Steve. I want to thank you for that. We appreciate it.

I want to give you a moment to talk to some of the people on the ground there and hear from there about why they believe this has escalated. Then, we will get to you in a moment. We also still have our producer Chuck Condor on the line. We also have Pastor Carlton Lee from the community on the ground there as well. Pastor, if I could go to you, do you have a sense as we look at this

and reset it for viewers of the intense clashes between protesters and police. Do you have a sense of why this has escalated so quickly there?

CARLTON LEE, PASTOR (via phone): I'm not sure. All I know is we had a peaceful rally today with Reverend Al Sharpton and the two others. And then all -- we find out from there,. you know, some people deciding that they wanted to march. It was coded. It was very peaceful. I was told everything went well. Everything was fine and dandy. The next thing I know I get a call around 5:00 -- I'm sorry about 7:00 that said they just shot tear gas on a crowd of people.

And so I get down there, try to figure out what's going on. The police, I went to the command post. They told me we didn't shoot tear gas toward anybody or what have you. I said, OK then. My church is right almost cat-a-corner to where the command post was at. So I went to the church and didn't hear anything. And then all of the sudden, I got told, hey, you need to get here ASAP. So I'm trying to get down that the way to where the action is. I stopped in command center but no one was up there because of their police personnel are down there.

I did see the military vehicles going past. So, it is a very chaotic situation right now. But I can tell you this. (INAUDIBLE) that are down there and then that post. They were not in violation of anything else. They were doing peaceful protests, actually, drive down the streets, as if they have been doing all week long.

But this since came out. I'm not sure what the make out of it. Ad key in everything -- whether with extremely peaceful. Bananas (ph) right was right down there now. That I am the shooter This just came out. I'm not sure what is going on.

HARLOW: Pastor, thank you. Standby. Chuck Condor, Standby.

I do want to read to the viewers as we look that the scene of intense flashes between protesters there in Ferguson, Missouri, eight days after Michael Brown and unarmed teenager was shot and killed by a local police officer there right around noontime.

This has been a scene of tension throughout the week. But this escalation and correct me, chuck, if you are with he on the ground. Have you seen is escalation like this yet any of the evenings there on the ground in Ferguson?

CONDOR: Well, nothing quite like this. But have emotions have been running high for the last week. And there are very chance moment during, even the most peaceful demonstration for the (INAUDIBLE) that I have seen. In this case, things just gone further out of control tonight than they have previously.

HARLOW: I also, Chuck -- go ahead. Go ahead.

CONDOR: I was going to say there were incidents of gun fire. And we heard gun fire throughout the week occasionally. But gun fire started some like at a much earlier hour. And there were several cases where I could see muzzle flashes and people all around me were sort of panicking and running away. So, it's a tense situation even earlier in the evening tonight. And things boiled over completely.

HARLOW: Chuck, can you clarify for the viewers when you say gunfire, are you talking about rubber bullets being shot? There was confusion --

CONDOR: No. I'm talking about people who are among the protesters firing guns. Sometimes at fellow protesters. We don't know what the motivation for those individuals are. But I'm not talking about police gunfire. This is gunfire from people embedded this the protest itself.

HARLOW: Thank you for clarifying that. Stay with us, Chuck.

I do want to read to our viewers what a protester told our affiliate KSDK right around 10:15 p.m. eastern time tonight. So that would have been just a little over a half an hour ago, there, central time in Missouri. This protesters told our affiliate. KSDK, quote, "we were walking peacefully when we got to the shopping center. They shot tear gas and smoke bombs. A young lady got hurt." That protester went on to say this is unacceptable. We were being peaceful. They wonder why it's riots out here. They are not playing fair.

This is, again, what a protester told our affiliate there on the ground, talking about potentially why this has escalated like this. We are working our teams on the ground to get some of the protesters on the phone with us. Once they get to a place they deemed safe and if they are able to talk to us, we are also working to get local authorities on the line with us so that we can talk to them.

But let me reset for our viewers If you are just joining us, breaking news here on CNN.

Intense clashes between protesters and authorities in Ferguson, Missouri. At this hour, what we know is this follows a long rally this afternoon. Honoring Michael Brown, an 18-year-old who was killed eight days ago in Ferguson. Shot and killed by a local police officer. This is before the midnight curfew meant to take effect.

What we do know from the Missouri State control corporal Justin Wheatley is the police there deployed, he says, either smoke or tear gas against protesters. Our reporters on the ground confirm it's both. He then says that they, the protesters became violent toward the officers.

Again, Corporal Justin Wheatley goes on to say there are, indeed, as we are seeing in live pictures, armored personnel carriers on the street. And that they are asking protesters to leave the area as you can see. We saw some protesters leaving the area. But it's clear that not all of them are. I can also tell you what Corporal Justin Wheatley from the Missouri state patrol is saying is the protesters were quote "encroaching on the command post." He says that that is why you have now some of those armored personnel carriers.

Guys, to we have Steve Kastenbaum back on with us? KASTENBAUM: I'm still here. I'm still with you.

HARLOW: Steve, have you had a chance yet to talk to any protesters? You know, if can, we would like to hear from them and also the authorities there on the ground.

KASTENBAUM: I can tell you that the area behind the police lines have are turned into a ghost town. There are no people between the riot police. And the interstate that separates this part of Ferguson with the shopping center that's a temporary command post.

I have been looking around for people who made it that far. But I believe all the protesters were treated ahead of the approaching riot police. I did speak to one or two journalists who were up there. And they told me the heavy handedness, the response that they saw, the tear gas canisters started being fired up by the command post or smoke canisters, one or the other. Started being fired near the command post set up in the target parking lot.

So I don't know what caused that response. I don't know if the police in their plans have said if protesters come close to here we are going into the defense's position. It's just not clear. We don't know what sparked this sort of reaction.

All we know is that the marchers made it very are close to the command center and at some point they were greeted or met by this very strong police response. The police in riot gear, body armor, armored vehicles. Smoke and tear gas canisters and even rubber bullets.

In fact, I'm standing on the location right now where the gentleman we witnessed being shot with rubber bullets went down. I'm looking here for evidence to see what he was shot with. And it was quite dramatic because he had his hands up. He was in the defensive position. But he was approaching the police officers. And they repeatedly warned him to step back. They were very clear, audible warnings. And he didn't heed the warnings. And as a result several of the officers shot him with rubber bullets. He went down and he was then arrested.

So we are, at this moment, just watching the police officers push the remaining protesters further and further back of the main avenue here. It was, of course, the avenue, they are now well past where we had been broadcasting from earlier in the week. The place known as the Q.T., the gas station and convenience mart that was badly damaged, destroyed in the first half of clashes here.

The other thing we wanted to point out is now that we have gone a significant distance up the avenue we can see the protesters, when they were standing off with police created a makeshift barricade across the avenue. I'm not sure where they got it from. But there were pieces of brick and concrete piled up across the avenue. And we watched as the vehicles just drove right over them as they pushed the protesters further and further back.

It's really not clear how far they are going to go because they are approaching the other major intersection now in Ferguson. And it's not clear, you know, when this will stop. How far they plan to go, when they will be satisfied that they have cleared out enough people.

But again, it was dramatic here as the smoke and tear gas landed on the parking lot where we were situated with the press. Several canisters bounced off our vehicles. Parked here. And it was something that we were just not expecting at that very moment.

HARLOW: OK, Steve.

KASTENBAUM: The other thing I do want to mention is that there were many children in this crowd of people marching toward the target. It's all families headed in that direction holding up signs. Little children holding signs doing the now familiar hands in the air saying "hands up, don't shoot." And it was visible to everyone here that there were children in the crowd all day and evening long here. It's something I wanted to make sure we pointed out.

HARLOW: Thank you, Steve. We appreciate it. Stand by.

Again, as I said if you do have time and it is safe for you to talk to some of those protesters and the authorities on the ground, please do talk to them. Let us know what they are saying.

I do want to also tell you news coming in from our Brian Stelter, our senior media correspondent who obviously has been watching this very closely on social media, just telling me that two reporters now say that they have been arrested in the last 15 minutes on scene or near the scene there. Tweets coming from a Robert Klemko of "Sports Illustrated," also Rob Crilly of "The Telegraph." Again, saying on Twitter according to Brian Stelter, that they have been arrested. We will get him on the line as soon as we can.

We also have our Ed Lavendera who has been the ground there reporting throughout, who is on the way to the scene. We will get to Ed in just a moment.

But, again, keep in mind as you watch these intense clashes, protests, hundreds of protesters, many, many authorities on the ground there in Ferguson, Missouri, as Steve Kastenbaum said, just about a block and a half away from where 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed. This comes today right just hours after a very long, emotional, passionate rally in honor of Michael Brown. This is what had followed that. What authorities were hoping for was peace and calm and that is not been what is unfolded ahead of this curfew.

I want to welcome our viewers again, reset for you top of the hour, 11:00 p.m. Eastern Time here on CNN.