Racially charged protests flared overnight in Ferguson, Missouri, in an eruption of fresh anger over the fatal Aug. 9 shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a police officer.
Tensions had temporarily cooled on Thursday night but by Friday evening, protesters were again swarming through a residential and retail district in the small town outside St. Louis that has become the site of repeated clashes between black residents and mostly white police forces.
Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson, an African-American who was named by Governor Jay Nixon to lead security in the town on Thursday, said police fired a teargas canister at a crowd near a food and liquor store and broader violence and looting erupted. Some protesters threw bottles at riot gear-clad police who had ordered the crowd to disperse.
Tensions have been high since police officer Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown, 18, shortly after noon last Saturday as Brown and a friend walked down a street that runs through an apartment complex where Brown’s grandmother lives.
Emotions ramped up again Friday when authorities finally gave in to days of pressure and released the name of the officer who shot Brown, but did so only after first saying that Brown was a suspect in the robbery of a convenience store at the time he was shot, a move that supporters of Brown’s family called a “smear” campaign.
Friday night’s looting started at the store where Brown was accused of taking cigars, Johnson said.
The move to name the dead teen as a robbery suspect while withholding photos and other information about the officer who shot him drew immediate ire.
A vigil near the site of Brown’s killing was set for Saturday morning.
Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson acknowledged in a news conference later on Friday that Wilson did not know Brown was a suspect in the robbery and that the shooting resulted from the officer’s request for Brown to move out of the street. There was no connection between the shooting and the alleged robbery, Jackson said.
Attorney Ben Crump, who is representing Brown’s family, said in a statement issued Friday that the family was “beyond outraged” at the police attempts to “assassinate the character of their son, following such a brutal assassination of his person in broad daylight.”
Civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton said he would lead a rally with Brown’s family in Ferguson on Sunday.
“There’s nothing more contemptible and offensive to the people of this country than for law enforcement to try to smear a dead man or dead child that can’t speak for themselves,” Sharpton said on Saturday morning at a weekly rally he holds in New York City that is broadcast on the Internet.
Other law enforcement agencies criticized the Ferguson police department for trying to make the alleged robbery an issue connected to the shooting and for releasing a video from inside the store that shows Brown violently shoving a store clerk before he walks out the door.
“We had no involvement whatsoever in releasing that video,” said Brian Schellman, a spokesman for the St. Louis County Police Department, which is leading the local investigation into the Brown shooting.
Confusion over killing
The police version of Brown’s shooting differs markedly from witness accounts, including that of the friend who was walking with Brown at the time, Dorian Johnson, 22.
In the police version, after Wilson asked Brown to move out of the road onto a sidewalk, Brown reached into the patrol car and struggled with Wilson for the officer’s service gun. Wilson, who sustained a facial injury, then shot Brown a number of times.
Johnson and at least one other witness have said that the officer reached out through his car window to grab at Brown and that the teenager was trying to get away from the officer when he was shot. Brown held up his hands in a sign of surrender but the officer got out of his patrol car and shot Brown several times, they said.
Police have acknowledged that Brown’s body was more than 30 feet away (9 meters) from the police car when he collapsed and died and that multiple shell casings were found at the scene.