TIME U.S.

Ferguson Pastor: How to Handle a Confrontation With the Police

The Rev. Willis Johnson confronts 18-year-old Joshua Wilson as protesters defy police and block traffic on West Florissant Avenue at Canfield Drive in Ferguson, Mo. on Aug. 13, 2014.
The Rev. Willis Johnson (right) talks to 18-year-old Joshua Wilson as protesters defy police and block traffic on West Florissant Avenue at Canfield Drive in Ferguson, Mo. on Aug. 13, 2014. Sid Hastings—The Washington Post/Getty Images

Within African-American communities and families, “the talk” is too often a cautionary tale

Every parent has had “the talk” at some time or another. All of us, no matter what our socioeconomic situation, race or ethnicity, have sat across from our children and shared with them what to do or how to behave when faced with the sometimes troubling realities of life. There is no script that tells us what to say, where to stand or how to feel. Despite this, as parents know, we try to equip our children for when these inevitable yet unpredictable situations arise.

As a pastor and community leader in Ferguson, Missouri, I have tried to keep protestors out of harm’s way. Within African-American communities and families, “the talk” too often has been a cautionary tale of how to respond to the police – how to navigate the precarious relations between citizens and those who are supposed to protect and serve the community.

Like many young men, when I was beginning to drive, my father sat me down and told me what to do if ever pulled over by the police. I was to present myself respectfully and do whatever was asked of me in order to remove myself from the immediate situation—to get out of harm’s way. He also taught me to be observant, and to get a badge number or an officer’s name if possible so that there would be a means to protect myself should it come to that. Unfortunately, I have had to use my father’s instructions throughout my life. I have been stopped while driving as a teen, as a university student, and just weeks ago.

My own experiences with the police are not much different from that of anyone else. I have been pulled over for just cause. Who hasn’t? But the reality is that you do not have to have done anything wrong to be stopped. Most recently, an officer followed me for about a quarter of a mile before turning on his siren lights. I was stopped for not having two license plates and got off with a warning. But throughout this encounter, I replayed my father’s instructions in my mind.

Anytime I am pulled over, I turn down my music and sit still. I make my hands visible. While I look in the direction of the officer, I rarely make eye contact. I usually have my ID, registration and insurance card ready. But if I don’t, I ask permission to reach into my console before doing so. Through my body language, I try to show deference to the officer. And I will often share that I am a pastor, to try to diffuse the situation. However, even that has the potential to be received as dangerous. A sharp mind can be considered a threat to the police.

Most people think you must have done something in order to be stopped. But that is not always the case. My father’s advice and the advice of many parents is don’t give the police probable cause. Don’t even put yourself in the situation where police can get handcuffs on you because they will put them on as tight as they can. Because if they stop you for anything, they will find something.

The talk my father gave me as a teen was a natural progression of regular talks that began as a small boy. The earliest version of this talk was to simply follow directions. His advice helped shape my encounters with police, and I have drawn on his wisdom in my own conversations with my children, especially my teenage son. And I know it will not be the last conversation I have with either my son or daughter on the subject. This is our reality.

My conversations with my children focus on ways in which they might be able to succeed and thrive in a challenging world, not just on surviving a particular situation. Our talks are about recognizing the dangers lurking around the corner, while also creating a way of being in the world. Above all else, these talks are about my desire to protect my children.

Situations like the one we face in Ferguson are not isolated incidents in our country, or even our world. For so many families across the country, these conversations are a regular occurrence. My role as a pastor and community leader is to not tell people what to think, but to encourage them to ask questions and to use the community as a resource. There is no one-size-fits-all guide. The talk I have with my children will sound different than yours. If you do not know where to begin, seek out faith communities, veteran parents, social workers and teachers in your school system. There are people willing to guide you through this rite of passage.

There is a whole lot of talk going on right now. The shooting of Michael Brown has fueled conversation at the national level. At some point, the cameras and reporters will go home and the headlines about Ferguson will recede. And parents will still sit across from their children and begin “the talk.” As a human being, and as a citizen, pastor and father, I am invested in what that conversation sounds like. I think you should be, too.

A third-generation educator, Dr. F. Willis Johnson is senior minister of the Wellspring Church in Ferguson, Missouri, a predominately African-American intergenerational urban church plant. He was educated at United Theological Seminary in Dayton.

TIME Crime

Grand Jury to Probe Ferguson Teen’s Death

As city issues call for "nighttime quiet and reconciliation"

A grand jury will begin investigating the circumstances surrounding the fatal police shooting of an unarmed teenager in Ferguson, Mo., officials said Tuesday, an incident that has sparked more than a week of violent protests in the St. Louis suburb.

A spokesman for the St. Louis County prosecutor on the case told Bloomberg News that a grand jury probe would begin on Wednesday, and that grand jurors will ask Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson to testify about the events that led to the shooting of Michael Brown.

Meanwhile, the city of Ferguson released a notice to residents urging them to stay indoors at night and allow “peace to settle in, and allow for the justice process to take its course.”

The city has been rocked by nighttime protests over the past 10 days, which police have responded to with volleys of tear gas.

TIME Crime

Watch: Protesters Hit With Tear Gas and Rubber Bullets During Ferguson Unrest

The violent protests entered a fifth day in Ferguson with little sign of slowing down

+ READ ARTICLE

As fresh violence broke out Wednesday in Ferguson, Mo., local resident Mustafa Hussein recorded night vision footage of police shooting tear gas at demonstrators.

The media have had difficulty obtaining footage of the continuing unrest in Ferguson: reporters and camera crews have been kept at bay, and the Federal Aviation Administration issued a no-fly zone over Ferguson, prohibiting private aircrafts, including news helicopters, from flying below 3,000 feet in a 3-mile radius around the town.

In the rare footage above, police can be seen blasting deafening sirens at the protesters gathered in the streets. Shortly after, Ferguson police are shown shooting teargas canisters and rubber bullets at them. The footage shown was shot around 8:45-9:00pm Wednesday evening.

TIME U.S.

Why Ferguson Was Ready to Explode

Ferguson Peaceful Protest
After several days of violent protests and intense confrontations between local police and protestors, the police decided to pull back and allow the protestors to march peacefully and protest, Ferguson, Mo., Aug. 14, 2014. Jon Lowenstein—Noor for TIME

A few cautionary tales point to the frustrating racial divide within St. Louis' suburbs that many African Americans feel is impossible to transcend

The late Tom Eagleton, longtime Democrat Senator from Missouri, in speaking to a group of NFL owners some years ago referred to St. Louis as “a raucous Des Moines,” despite its Southern pedigree (St. Louis had slavery); its role as portal to the American West (St. Louis proudly calls itself “the gateway city”); and its reputation of being more refined and “eastern” than its bigger western sister, Kansas City. Perhaps St. Louis, in its heart, is something of a mid-sized, Midwestern burg, a bigger, more lively, and urban version of Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street. St. Louis has always thought itself as current in a benign way, hardly avant-garde, but a charming, if declining, metropolis with a glorious past, when, in the 19th Century, the nation ran through this city.

It’s a past that is ever receding in history’s rearview mirror. Race relations here have been managed on the seemingly civil principle of slouching away from the worst, most benighted, aspects of the past in tolerable increments that comfort the white establishment and infuriate white liberals and leftists. There was no riot here during the 1960s, when they were almost a radical rite of passage for American cities. Some might even think that St. Louis was ahead of other cities in the political progress African Americans made here in the 1960s under Bill Clay, Percy Greene, and the Congress of Racial Equality.

Then comes the 21st Century and the age of Obama, and a policeman shoots an unarmed African American teenager in the African American, lower middle class suburb of Ferguson, and the pent-up racial fury of decades breaks loose. Is St. Louis now the canary in the mine, a harbinger, or was it always behind the curve?

St. Louis is a region of division: The depopulated, deindustrialized city (mostly African American) is legally divided from the far more prosperous (mostly white) county, with the city ardently seeking a reunion that the county vehemently spurns. North St. Louis city (largely African American) is estranged from south St. Louis city (mostly white) in a city that is now 48% African American. The maze of suburbs that make up north St. Louis county, where Ferguson is, is mostly African American and estranged from the maze of suburbs that make up south and west St. Louis counties, which are mostly white.

These interlocking networks of fragmentation that characterize the St. Louis, frequently deplored but diligently maintained, have managed to keep African Americans here contrarily concentrated and diffuse, politically empowered (there have been African American mayors, police chiefs, etc.) but also politically contained, and, in many respects, isolated from the cultural and political currents of the region. There remains in St. Louis a sense that African Americans are strangers in a strange land. The region is what sociologists call “hyper-segregated.”

Enter this iron triangle of control, neglect and racial alienation, and one uncovers several recent racial narratives that should have warned St. Louisans about what was coming—narratives about crossing the racial divide here. Metrolink, St. Louis’s light rail system, completed its second line in 2006. It provided African Americans of East St. Louis, one of the poorest cities in the country, and of north St. Louis county much easier access to the St. Louis Galleria Mall and the central cultural corridor of the city, including the hip Delmar Loop district. Concurrently, the Galleria has since seen an astronomical increase in shoplifting, and there has also been an increase in general crime and hooliganism in the Delmar Loop. This has led many to think that the Metrolink, as it has crossed racial boundaries, has enabled African American teenaged crime. This vicious cycle of young African Americans’ antisocial hostility and acting out, hardly unique to African Americans or even to Americans, and ever increasing white fear and barricade building, have intensified racial tensions, as people find the problem intractable and increasingly impossible to discuss honestly. The current riot in Ferguson is largely a war between police and the young African Americans who think cops exist mostly to prevent African American from harming whites.

Another cautionary signal: In February 2008, Charles Lee “Cookie” Thornton, a lifelong African American resident of the suburb of Kirkwood, murdered Kirkwood’s mayor (who died several months later), a police sergeant, a mayoral candidate and two other citizens at a city council meeting, an act that must rate among the most horrendous political assassinations in American history. Thornton was killed by police. He was clearly deranged, but what drove him crazy was his sense of betrayal at the hands of white Kirkwood. Thornton had grown up in the all-African American Meachum Park area of Kirkwood, was a rabid supporter of Kirkwood’s 1991 annexation of Meachum Park, and was, if anything, for a time, an emblem of crossing St. Louis’s racial divide.

Many of Thornton’s demons were imaginary. Yet his unhappiness, his disappointment that the racial divide within the suburbs was impossible to transcend is felt by many African American. So, Thornton, in his brother’s words, “went to war.” And so has, it now seems, a portion of African American St. Louis, triggered by a particular outrage, but largely an expression of rage against a particular set of enduring arrangements. Perhaps the problem with race relations is that the more things change, the more they remain the same.

Gerald Early is Merle Kling Professor of Modern Letters at Washington University in St. Louis.

TIME politics

Rand Paul: We Must Demilitarize the Police

Police Shooting Missouri
Police in riot gear watch protesters in Ferguson, Mo. on Aug. 13, 2014. Jeff Roberson—AP

Anyone who thinks race does not skew the application of criminal justice in this country is just not paying close enough attention, Sen. Rand Paul writes for TIME, amid violence in Ferguson, Mo. over the police shooting death of Michael Brown

The shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown is an awful tragedy that continues to send shockwaves through the community of Ferguson, Missouri and across the nation.

If I had been told to get out of the street as a teenager, there would have been a distinct possibility that I might have smarted off. But, I wouldn’t have expected to be shot.

The outrage in Ferguson is understandable—though there is never an excuse for rioting or looting. There is a legitimate role for the police to keep the peace, but there should be a difference between a police response and a military response.

The images and scenes we continue to see in Ferguson resemble war more than traditional police action.

Glenn Reynolds, in Popular Mechanics, recognized the increasing militarization of the police five years ago. In 2009 he wrote:

Soldiers and police are supposed to be different. … Police look inward. They’re supposed to protect their fellow citizens from criminals, and to maintain order with a minimum of force.

It’s the difference between Audie Murphy and Andy Griffith. But nowadays, police are looking, and acting, more like soldiers than cops, with bad consequences. And those who suffer the consequences are usually innocent civilians.

The Cato Institute’s Walter Olson observed this week how the rising militarization of law enforcement is currently playing out in Ferguson:

Why armored vehicles in a Midwestern inner suburb? Why would cops wear camouflage gear against a terrain patterned by convenience stores and beauty parlors? Why are the authorities in Ferguson, Mo. so given to quasi-martial crowd control methods (such as bans on walking on the street) and, per the reporting of Riverfront Times, the firing of tear gas at people in their own yards? (“‘This my property!’ he shouted, prompting police to fire a tear gas canister directly at his face.”) Why would someone identifying himself as an 82nd Airborne Army veteran, observing the Ferguson police scene, comment that “We rolled lighter than that in an actual warzone”?

Olson added, “the dominant visual aspect of the story, however, has been the sight of overpowering police forces confronting unarmed protesters who are seen waving signs or just their hands.”

How did this happen?

Most police officers are good cops and good people. It is an unquestionably difficult job, especially in the current circumstances.

There is a systemic problem with today’s law enforcement.

Not surprisingly, big government has been at the heart of the problem. Washington has incentivized the militarization of local police precincts by using federal dollars to help municipal governments build what are essentially small armies—where police departments compete to acquire military gear that goes far beyond what most of Americans think of as law enforcement.

This is usually done in the name of fighting the war on drugs or terrorism. The Heritage Foundation’s Evan Bernick wrote in 2013 that, “the Department of Homeland Security has handed out anti-terrorism grants to cities and towns across the country, enabling them to buy armored vehicles, guns, armor, aircraft, and other equipment.”

Bernick continued, “federal agencies of all stripes, as well as local police departments in towns with populations less than 14,000, come equipped with SWAT teams and heavy artillery.”

Bernick noted the cartoonish imbalance between the equipment some police departments possess and the constituents they serve, “today, Bossier Parish, Louisiana, has a .50 caliber gun mounted on an armored vehicle. The Pentagon gives away millions of pieces of military equipment to police departments across the country—tanks included.”

When you couple this militarization of law enforcement with an erosion of civil liberties and due process that allows the police to become judge and jury—national security letters, no-knock searches, broad general warrants, pre-conviction forfeiture—we begin to have a very serious problem on our hands.

Given these developments, it is almost impossible for many Americans not to feel like their government is targeting them. Given the racial disparities in our criminal justice system, it is impossible for African-Americans not to feel like their government is particularly targeting them.

This is part of the anguish we are seeing in the tragic events outside of St. Louis, Missouri. It is what the citizens of Ferguson feel when there is an unfortunate and heartbreaking shooting like the incident with Michael Brown.

Anyone who thinks that race does not still, even if inadvertently, skew the application of criminal justice in this country is just not paying close enough attention. Our prisons are full of black and brown men and women who are serving inappropriately long and harsh sentences for non-violent mistakes in their youth.

The militarization of our law enforcement is due to an unprecedented expansion of government power in this realm. It is one thing for federal officials to work in conjunction with local authorities to reduce or solve crime. It is quite another for them to subsidize it.

Americans must never sacrifice their liberty for an illusive and dangerous, or false, security. This has been a cause I have championed for years, and one that is at a near-crisis point in our country.

Let us continue to pray for Michael Brown’s family, the people of Ferguson, police, and citizens alike.

Paul is the junior U.S. Senator for Kentucky.

TIME U.S.

Make Cops Wear Cameras

Outrage In Missouri Town After Police Shooting Of 18-Yr-Old Man
A police officer standing watch as demonstrators protest the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown conceals his/her identity on August 13, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Scott Olson—Getty Images

“Everyone behaves better when they’re on video”

Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old, shot to death in Ferguson, Missouri, by police. Eric Garner, a 43-year-old New Yorker, dies from a police chokehold. John Crawford III, 22, shot and killed by police in a Walmart outside of Dayton, Ohio.

Enough is enough. Each of these incidents has an unmistakable racial dimension—all of the victims were black and all or most of arresting officers were white–that threatens the always tense relationships between law enforcement and African Americans. As important, the circumstances of each death are hotly contested, with the police telling one story and witnesses (if any) offering up very different narratives.

Brown’s death in particular is raising major ongoing protests precisely because, contrary to police accounts, witnesses claim that he had his hands up in the air in surrender when he was shot. The result is less trust in police, a situation that raises tensions across the board.

While there is no simple fix to race relations in any part of American life, there is an obvious way to reduce violent law enforcement confrontations while also building trust in cops: Police should be required to use wearable cameras and record their interactions with citizens. These cameras—various models are already on the market—are small and unobtrusive and include safeguards against subsequent manipulation of any recordings.

“Everyone behaves better when they’re on video,” Steve Ward, the president of Vievu, a company that makes wearable gear, told ReasonTV earlier this year. Given that many departments already employ dashboard cameras in police cruisers, this would be a shift in degree, not kind.

“Dash cams only capture about 5% of what a cop does. And I wanted to catch 100% of what a cop does,” explains Ward, who speaks from experience. He used to be a Seattle police officer and his company’s slogan is “Made for cops by cops. Prove the truth.”

According to a year-long study of the Rialto, Calif., police department, the use of “officer worn cameras reduced the rate of use-of-force incidents by 59 percent” and “utilization of the cameras led to an 87.5 percent reduction in complaints” by citizens against cops.

Such results are the reason that the ACLU is in favor of “police body-mounted cameras,” as long as various privacy protections and other concerns are addressed. And it also explains growing support for the policy among elected officials. In the wake of Eric Garner’s chokehold death in July, New York City’s public advocate is pushing a $5 million pilot program in the city’s “most crime-plagued neighborhoods” as a means of restoring trust in the police.

Since 1991, when the beating of Rodney King by the Los Angeles Police Department was captured on tape by an amateur videographer, small, cheap recording devices have become a ubiquitous and effective means by which citizens are able to watch the watchers. In some cases, crowd-sourced footage exonerates the police, while in others it undermines the official narrative.

Over the same period, as the Washington Post’s Radley Balko has documented in Rise of the Warrior Cop, even small-town police departments have become “militarized” in terms of the training they received and the hardware they carry. When the results aren’t tragic, they increase tensions between police and the people they serve and protect.

Mandating that cops wear cameras wouldn’t prevent all tragedies from happening but they would certainly make deaths like those of Brown, Garner and Ferguson less likely. And in difficult cases, body cams would help provide crucial perspective that would build trust in law enforcement across the board.

TIME U.S.

White Flight and White Power in St. Louis

Outrage In Missouri Town After Police Shooting Of 18-Yr-Old Man
Eighty-eight-year-old Creola McCalister joins other demonstrators protesting the killing of teenager Michael Brown outside Greater St. Marks Family Church with Brown's family and with civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton in St. Louis on Aug. 12, 2014. Scott Olson—Getty Images

Ferguson, Missouri's imbalance of power--between its police forces and elected officials and the population they serve--has reached its tipping point

Walking to his grandmother’s house last weekend in Ferguson, Missouri, Michael Brown was just days away from starting classes at a local college, where he planned to study music.

But Brown never made it.

An officer with the city’s police department stopped him just blocks from his grandmother’s home. After a tense exchange, Brown, who was African-American and unarmed, wound up face down in a pool of his own blood, felled by the officer’s pistol.

Just how Brown died remains unclear. Witnesses say the officer, whom authorities have refused to identify, shot the teen as he fled with his hands in the air. Meanwhile, St. Louis County officials maintain the officer fired only after Brown struggled for his gun. By Sunday night, peaceful vigils had turned to violent protests. Looters ransacked businesses. They threw rocks at police and chanted “Don’t shoot,” as officers in riot gear fired tear gas to disperse the angry crowds.

In death, Michael Brown, like Trayvon Martin before him, has become a rallying cry – a symbol of the widespread inequality and mistrust many feel African-Americans, and particularly young African-American men, face in modern American society. But while the anger felt by St. Louis-area protesters is shared in communities across the country, the region’s distinct history of racial segregation and inequality goes a long way toward understanding the particular racial tensions that have engulfed this community 10 miles northwest of downtown St. Louis.

In certain respects, Ferguson, a town of roughly 21,000, is not unlike any number of the small, largely black, lower-middle class towns that populate much of North St. Louis County. With a population that is roughly two-thirds African-American, Ferguson itself has a median household income of around $37,000 ($10,000 less than the rest of the state), and more than one-fifth of its residents live below the poverty level.

Like the City of St. Louis, which continues to be one of the country’s most racially segregated cities, St. Louis County suffers its own version of what’s known locally as the Delmar Divide (so named for Delmar Boulevard, an east-west thoroughfare that acts as the city’s de facto color line).

Historically, St. Louis’s African-American population lived in decrepit inner city slums. But that began to change in the 1950s, as deindustrialization and emergent white flight conspired to erode the city’s population. The urban renewal projects of the era, which included the construction of the infamous Pruitt-Igoe housing project and the vast tracery of highways that now entangles the city, only accelerated the city’s decline, razing many of its historically black neighborhoods and relocating its residents, ultimately, to inner-ring North County suburbs like Ferguson. The combined result is that St. Louis, once the nation’s fourth largest city, has lost more than 500,000 residents in the last 60 years.

“The wealthier population of St. Louis has always been running from poverty,” the late James Neal Primm, author of the definitive St. Louis history, Lion of the Valley, told me shortly before his death. “No one ever says this, but one of the results of rebuilding the city was getting rid of a large and impoverished population that lived in blighted districts. The whole idea was to make St. Louis what it had been in the past: a leading city in the Midwest.”

But just as whites in the city fled blacks, so whites in the county soon moved further out as well, this time to exurban communities like the adjacent St. Charles County, which is 90% white and whose population has grown 12-fold since 1950.

The whites that did remain in the region’s older suburbs, however, also remained in positions of authority, often filling roles in municipal police forces and as elected officials – a tense imbalance of power that ill-reflects the populations they serve. This is clearly the case in majority African-American Ferguson, where the mayor and most of its city council members are white, and only three of the city’s 53 police officers are black.

Through it all, however, St. Louis has remained something of a rarity. While other rustbelt cities like Detroit have suffered profound racial unrest, St. Louis, rife with its own racial disparities, has never rioted – until now.

Blame it on the region’s long simmering racial tensions. Blame it on a string of recent killings of unarmed black men at the hands of authority figures. Blame it on the quicksilver outrage of social media, opportunistic thuggery or an overzealous police response.

Whatever the cause – and there are many – something has shifted in St. Louis during these tumultuous days following Michael Brown’s death. As looters have destroyed businesses, burned a convenience store and even prompted the Federal Aviation Administration to implement a no-fly zone over Ferguson – all amid other non-violent protests – Brown’s death has become not merely a national rallying cry against the inequalities faced by young black men, but also a moment of reckoning for the St. Louis region.

Malcolm Gay, a writer living in St. Louis, is the author of a forthcoming book, The Digital Mind, to be published in 2015.

TIME Transportation

FAA Implements No-Fly Zone in Ferguson Amid Unrest Over Killed Teen

Outrage In Missouri Town After Police Shooting Of 18-Yr-Old Man
With their hands raised, residents gather at a police line as the neighborhood is locked down following skirmishes on August 11, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Scott Olson—Getty Images

Police say their helicopter was shot at multiple times Sunday

The Federal Aviation Administration issued a no-fly zone over Ferguson, Missouri, Tuesday at the request of the St. Louis County Police Department.

The St. Louis County Police Department told TIME it asked the FAA for the flight restriction after a police helicopter was fired upon “multiple times” during civil unrest Sunday. Ferguson, located just outside St. Louis, Missouri, erupted in street violence amid demonstrations sparked by the death of Michael Brown, a black teenager who was shot and killed by police on Saturday.

The FAA order restricts flights over the Ferguson area below 3,000 feet to first responders only, including medical and police helicopters. Private aircraft, including news helicopters, are prohibited from flying below 3,000 feet in a 3-mile radius around the town. The rule doesn’t apply to aircraft landing at or taking off from the nearby Lambert–St. Louis International Airport, a major commercial hub. The restriction is in place through August 18.

The order says the flight restrictions were put in place “to provide a safe environment for law enforcement activities.” The FAA would not elaborate further on the reason for the St. Louis County Police Department’s request. “If you want it, file a FOIA,” FAA Spokesperson Elizabeth Cory told TIME, in reference to a Freedom of Information Act request.

It’s not unusual for local police departments to request flight restrictions over potentially dangerous zones, and it’s typically done to clear airspace for police helicopter operations. The Ferguson restriction, however, may make it more difficult for news media to get aerial footage of the town as the Brown story continues to develop.

“If we feel that order is restored we can request ran early termination,” St. Louis County police spokesperson Bryan Schellman told TIME.

TIME White House

Obama Calls Michael Brown Death ‘Heartbreaking’

President Barack Obama speaks on Aug. 11, 2014, in Chilmark, Mass., during his family vacation on the island of Martha's Vineyard.
President Barack Obama speaks on Aug. 11, 2014, in Chilmark, Mass., during his family vacation on the island of Martha's Vineyard. Jacquelyn Martin—AP

"I urge everyone in Ferguson, Missouri, and across the country, to remember this young man through reflection and understanding"

President Barack Obama called the death of Ferguson, Mo. teen Michael Brown ‘heartbreaking’ Tuesday, in his first public comments on the police shooting of the unarmed 18-year-old.

In a statement released by the White House, Obama appealed for calm, noting the Department of Justice is investigating the shooting. Brown’s death has set off incidents of rioting and violent confrontations with police, who have responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. He said:

“The death of Michael Brown is heartbreaking, and Michelle and I send our deepest condolences to his family and his community at this very difficult time. As Attorney General Holder has indicated, the Department of Justice is investigating the situation along with local officials, and they will continue to direct resources to the case as needed.

I know the events of the past few days have prompted strong passions, but as details unfold, I urge everyone in Ferguson, Missouri, and across the country, to remember this young man through reflection and understanding. We should comfort each other and talk with one another in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds. Along with our prayers, that’s what Michael and his family, and our broader American community, deserve.”

Brown was shot during an altercation with police on Saturday afternoon. The circumstances of the shooting are hotly contested by witnesses and police. Police said Tuesday they would not release the name of the police officer who shot Brown “for safety purposes.

TIME justice

FBI to Probe Police Shooting of Unarmed Missouri Teen

+ READ ARTICLE

Demonstrators took to the streets of a St. Louis suburb Monday to protest the fatal shooting Saturday of an unarmed black teenager by police, as officials appealed for calm after a night of riots and the FBI said it would investigate the incident.

“Ferguson police show us no respect,” Chanel Ruffin, 25, said during the protest. “They harass black people all the time.”

“This is a terrible tragedy,” Ferguson, Mo., police chief Tom Jackson said Monday on CNN as protesters marched. “Nobody wanted this to happen but what we want to do is we want to heal. We want to build trust with the community and part of that is to have a transparent, open investigation, conducted by outside party.”

The protests Monday remained mostly peaceful, in contrast to the looting that took place Sunday night. A spokesman for the family of the teenager, Michael Brown, told media outlets his family wants “justice.” A list of demands being circulated among protestors Monday was much broader, calling for, among other things, a more diverse police force and that the officer who shot Brown be identified, fired and charged with murder. In a sign of the growing national attention focused on the small town, the hacking group Anonymous hacked Ferguson’s website on Sunday night.

Jackson said he understood the concerns of demonstrators and that a full, independent probe would help the community move forward. The FBI informed Jackson on Monday that it will investigate, the Associated Press reports. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, among other officials, had called for such an investigation.

“It is vital that the facts about this case are gathered in a thorough, transparent and impartial manner, in which the public has complete confidence,” Nixon said.

Attorney General Eric Holder also released a statement saying the FBI and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division will work in conjunction with local officers to conduct a thorough investigation.

“The federal investigation will supplement, rather than supplant, the inquiry by local authorities,” Holder said in a statement. “At every step, we will work with the local investigators, who should be prepared to complete a thorough, fair investigation in their own right. “

It remains unclear—and a matter of hot dispute—what led to the shooting Saturday of Brown, 18. Police say the teenager had assaulted an officer and reached for his gun. Many in community are skeptical of that account.

In downtown historic Ferguson on Monday morning, hundreds of protestors gathered around the Ferguson Police Department demanding justice for Brown, who they called a “gentle giant.” With raised hands in the air, people shouted “Don’t shoot me.”

Some protesters were peaceful. Others got in police officers’ faces, screaming obscenities and crossing police lines. Officers shouted “cuff him” while arresting at least a half-dozen protesters. Most protesters dispersed after a couple hours.

As news of the protests spread via social media, people of all races came from the region—one more than 60 miles—for a second, impromptu anti-police protest, this time in front of a burnt and looted convenience store. Protesters said they heard about the earlier demonstrations and drove to Ferguson to support to Brown’s family and the community.

Police in riot gear stayed mostly quiet as protesters shouted “no justice, no peace” and drivers honked in support. Police were not addressing the crowds.

The shooting has come at a time of heightened scrutiny across the country over police tactics and racial disparities in the criminal justice system. But Jackson resisted comparisons to other cases.

“This case, I know it seems like it’s similar to others, but what I would really hope is that we could allow the investigation to play out,” said Jackson, who, in an indicator of how hot tensions are running, reported being shot at himself Sunday night in a local Walmart parking lot.

The riots Sunday night in Ferguson left a trail of destruction, with cars vandalized, stores looted and walls spray-painted. More than 30 rioters were arrested, and police said two of their officers were injured.

“People were acting out of emotions,” Ruffin said. “There are a lot of people hurting. I’m not saying what they did was right. … We want justice.”

Police were on hand Monday to keep order.

“We can’t have another night like last night,” Jackson said on CNN. “So we hope it doesn’t happen, but we’re prepared for the worst.

About 130 police formed a line, in riot gear, as protesters chanted “we’re not stupid. We ‘re not stupid.” Protesters formed their own line with their hands up, crying out things like “don’t shoot me” and “you got to stop killing our people.” Brice Johnson, 27, held up a sign that read: “Please do not shoot. My hands are up. RIP Mike Brown.”

Police arrested at least half-a-dozen people who did not disperse.

“This is a terrible tragedy,” Jackson, the police chief, said of the shooting. “Nobody wanted this to happen, but what we want to do is we want to heal, we want to build trust with the community. And part of that is to have a transparent, open investigation, conducted by outside party.”

-Kristina Sauerwein reported from Ferguson, Mo.

 

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