by Marcus DiPaola
FERGUSON, United States, Aug. 21 (Xinhua) -- Stephanie Lecci knelt over and vomited. She was immersed in a cloud of tear gas. But there was no time for the journalist to stop before another canister landed close to her feet, choked her throat and burnt skin.
The tear gas had blinded the St. Louis Public Radio reporter, but she had to move immediately. Soon the entire street was filled with noxious tear gas. She headed for the press area, but the press area was soon gassed. Nowhere was safe.
The scene, reminiscent of a war zone, unfolded in recent days in Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis in Missouri, now convulsed by nightly violent clashes between police and demonstrators since the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teen by a white policeman on Aug. 9.
The death of the 18-year-old African American Michael Brown has heightened racial tensions between the predominantly black community and the mostly white Ferguson Police Department. Many local residents fear that local officials will not act fairly in determining whether to charge the officer, Darren Wilson, with a crime.
Peacefully protests turned nasty every night. Well-armed police, donned helmets and shields, used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse crowds in response to what they said protesters bottles thrown toward them. It is reported that police has so far fired more than 300 tear gas rounds for crowd control over the course of the Ferguson unrest.
The racial tensions have drawn national attention as well as journalists across the country, including Lecci. In another night of unrest in Ferguson, Alex Wroblewski, a Chicago-based freelancer, was also caught in the tear gas on Tuesday.
"We were walking up towards Target with the protesters and there were kids and moms and families marching, it was a peaceful protest," he said. "The police gave a short, 30-second or so warning, and they started shooting tear gas and everybody started running and they kept launching tear gas."
Xinhua reporter observed police firing canisters of tear gas directly targeting media, as well as at women and children who were not charging police lines, but attempting to escape.
The pain involved with tear gas is difficult to ignore. "It burns your eyes, it makes them water so you can't see, it burns your throat, and it burns your skin, so it feels like sunburn almost. It sticks to your skin, and when you sweat you feel it," one protester told Xinhua.
The excessive use of force by the police -- tear gas canisters, armed vehicles, pepper spray, and rubber bullets -- to disperse crowds has called into question the protective nature of law enforcement.
Even President Barack Obama called on Monday for the United States to reassess the militarization of local police departments that have purchased military gear from the Pentagon.
The governor of Missouri ordered the withdrawal on Thursday of National Guard troops from riot-torn Ferguson.