On one corner of a battered stretch of West Florissant Avenue, the epicenter of ongoing protests, young men pull dark scarves up over their mouths and lob molotov cocktails at police from behind makeshift barricades built of bricks and wood planks. They call the gasoline-filled bottles “poor man’s bombs.”
The young men yell expletives and, with a rebel’s bravado, speak about securing justice for Michael Brown, the black teen fatally shot Aug. 9 by a white police officer, “by any means necessary.”
They are known here as “the militants” — a faction inhabiting the hard-core end of a spectrum that includes online organizers and opportunistic looters — and their numbers have been growing with the severity of their tactics since the shooting.
Each evening, hundreds gather along West Florissant in what has become the most visible and perilous ritual of this St. Louis suburb’s days of frustration following Brown’s death. Dozens have been arrested, many injured by tear-gas canisters and rubber bullets fired by a police force dressed in riot gear and armed with assault rifles.
But the demonstrators are as diverse as their grievances — and in their methods of addressing them.
Some of the men are from the area — Ferguson or surrounding towns also defined in part by the gulf separating the mostly white law enforcement agencies from a mistrusting African American public. Many others — it is hard to quantify the percentage — have arrived by bus and by car from Chicago, Detroit, Brooklyn and elsewhere.
They will not give their names. But their leaders say they are ready to fight, some with guns in their hands. “This is not the time for no peace,” said one man, a 27-year-old who made the trip here from Chicago.
He spoke after a small group of fellow militants held a meeting behind a looted store, sketching out ambitions for the days ahead.
“We are jobless men, and this is our job now — getting justice,” he said. “If that means violence, that’s okay by me. They’ve been doing this to us for years.”