- Ferguson, Mo 08/10/2014 by Steve Giegerich (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
• Authorities said Sunday that a police officer shot an unarmed black teenager after the teen attacked the Ferguson officer. But pressure for a deeper explanation grew locally and nationally through the day.
Hundreds of people gathered at the shooting site Sunday night for a vigil for Michael Brown, the 18-year-old high school graduate who was to begin college classes Monday.
While some people prayed, others spilled onto West Florissant Avenue, choking off traffic. Police were wearing riot gear. Some demonstrators pounded on police cars.
Looting was reported at a Quik Trip at 9420 West Florissant Avenue about 9 p.m., and then the building was set on fire. Firefighters were warned to set up their staging area away from the site.
At the same time, about 100 people remained in front of the Ferguson police station, where South Florissant Road was also blocked by demonstrators.
St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar promised a thorough outside investigation.
In Washington, a spokesperson said Attorney General Eric Holder asked civil rights lawyers in the Justice Department to monitor the case. In St. Louis, Special Agent Cheryl Mimura said, “I can confirm that the FBI is working closely with the St Louis County PD to review the matter at this time.”
Protesters complained that the killing was emblematic of deep tensions between black residents of north county and a predominantly white Ferguson police force. Officials have not revealed the race of the officer who killed Brown.
“We have to stick together because we are targets,” said Robert Brefford, 26, an African-American musician from Berkley who spoke in front of the police station Sunday night. He said police in the area pull over, poke and prod black drivers.
“The bleeding began long before Michael Brown,” said Pastor Traci Blackmon of Christ the King United Church of Christ, in nearby Florissant.
She passed a petition seeking a dialogue with officials. “We come in peace,” she said. “But we are angry and in need of action and answers.”
Shontell Walters, of Berkeley, complained to stone-faced police outside their headquarters “This child was ready go to college and you killed his dream.” She added, “He is not coming back. He could have owned a business and made money for Ferguson someday, but you killed him.”
Driving past the angry scene had Joan Havis-Fish, 47, of Normandy, in tears. “It’s like a volcano constantly erupting that never gets resolved,” she said. “I don’t know what it’s going to take to change that culture.”
St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley visited the protesters around noon Sunday to acknowledge their “justifiable anger” and implore them to “channel this anger into justice.”
But the group turned on him for expressing confidence in the ability of county police to do a fair investigation, buffeting him with heated rhetoric and questions.
“How can we protect our children?” one mother screamed at him.
The shaken Dooley responded, “This is not the way to console the family right now.”
The NAACP and State Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, joined a chorus seeking a federal investigation.
State Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, said, “This demonstration has to happen to release all the negative energy people are feeling on the inside. And we are doing it peacefully. “
Activist Zaki Baruti said the presence of police dogs near demonstrations reinforced the perception of bias against black people. “It sends a very negative message, and it is a very insensitive reaction to the outrage of the people,” he said.
Another protest was scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday outside the police station. And the St. Louis County NAACP is planning a mass public meeting at 6 p.m. Monday at Murchison Tabernacle Church, 7629 Natural Bridge in St. Louis.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, a new-York based civil rights leader, called the shooting “very disturbing” and said he planned to meet here with Brown’s family on Monday night or Tuesday.
The demonstrations Sunday drew national news media attention to two sites: the police station, at 222 South Florissant Road, and the street where Brown fell, in the 2900 block of Canfield Drive.
Brown’s stepfather, Louis Head, sat cross-legged, head in hands, sobbing Sunday morning before a memorial on Canfield that would grow exponentially though Sunday with teddy bears, flowers and tributes.
“Ferguson killed my son,” he said. “Ferguson flat-out murdered my son in the street, a cold-blooded murder.”
In a press conference Sunday morning, Belmar, the county police chief, said the Ferguson officer had an encounter with two “individuals” about noon Saturday and that Brown pushed the officer back into his car and “assaulted” him in the vehicle.
Belmar said one shot was fired by the officer’s gun inside the car during the struggle, hitting no one, and that the officer then fired multiple times as Brown ran away. Brown fell dead in the street. Belmar said the crime scene covered a distance of just 35 feet.
Belmar did not describe the reason for the initial contact, nor indicate whether police think the shooting was justified. He also did not provide any details about the person who had been with Brown.
He said the shots that hit Brown were “more than just a couple but I don’t think it was many more than that.” He said an autopsy was pending. Toxicology tests results would take as long as six weeks, he said.
The chief said the investigation’s results will be forwarded to St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert P. McCulloch, whose office would decide whether criminal charges were justified.
Belmar noted that as Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson arrived at the scene Saturday, he called Belmar to ask for a county investigation. “I would not think anybody would do that if they had anything to hide,” Belmar said.
Jackson sat beside Belmar but did not speak in a short press conference at 10 a.m. at the community’s firehouse.
Belmar emphasized that the outside investigation and consultation with the FBI — which has jurisdiction over allegations of civil rights violations by police — are “standard protocols.”
The officer who fired, whose name has not been disclosed, is now on administrative leave. Belmar said that officer has been on the Ferguson force for six years and appears to have “no other issues” in his past.
Belmar and Jackson abruptly left the press conference as reporters continued to call out questions.
Ferguson Police and demonstration leaders were forced late Sunday morning to tamp down a rumor that a youth who had been with Brown in the police encounter was found dead.
It apparently began on social media and was still circulating Sunday afternoon despite a promise from Baruti, a demonstration organizer, that it was not true.
About a block from the police station, at Wellspring Church, Pastor F. Willis Johnson Jr. urged Sunday morning that frustration and anger be channeled into constructive acts, such as praying and volunteering in schools.
“We can’t act unjust in the name of justice. We can’t act uncivil, and then cry for civility,” Johnson preached.
Some protesters, including Vivian Dudley, 52, who runs a nonprofit housing agency, recommended an economic protest against Ferguson. “Don’t spend a dime here,” she said. “Hit them where it hurts.”
By late afternoon, after a service organized by the St. Louis Clergy Coalition, the crowd split into two factions.
Some, like Blackmon, the Christ the King pastor, called for improving relations with police. She announced an open strategy meeting for 7 p.m. Tuesday at her church, at 11370 Old Halls Ferry Road.
But many protesters continued to spill into the streets, shouting expletives and “police the police!” One man rejected a call for conciliation with police, complaining, “They are killing us!”
Brown, a 2014 Normandy High School graduate, was scheduled to begin classes at Vatterott College.
Michele Munz and Jesse Bogan of the Post-Dispatch, and the Associated Press, contributed to this report.
Leah Thorsen covers Jefferson and south St. Louis counties.