TIME police

Ferguson Mulls Removal of Street Shrine Honoring Michael Brown

The tribute began hours after his Aug. 9 shooting death by a white policeman

Scott Olson—Getty ImagesMemorial to Michael Brown where he was shot and killed by officer Darren Wilson last August on March 14, 2015 in Ferguson, Missouri.

(FERGUSON, Mo.) — To some, a makeshift shrine in the middle of the Ferguson street where Michael Brown was killed last summer is a hallowed symbol of a new civil rights movement over race and policing. To others, it has served its purpose and is now more of an eyesore and a road hazard.

Within hours of Brown’s Aug. 9 shooting death by a white police officer, people began placing stuffed animals, candles and other tributes in the middle of Canfield Drive, where the unarmed black 18-year-old’s body lay for about four hours before it was removed.

The shrine stretches several yards down the center of the two-lane road that bisects a housing complex, and city leaders are grappling with the thorny question of whether to remove or replace it and risk further inflaming racial tensions in the 21,000-resident St. Louis suburb, which is two-thirds black. Another section of the shrine sits along the curb a few yards away.

“It’s a very sensitive topic,” says Janie Jones, a black, Washington-based mediator who says she has been working behind the scenes with Ferguson municipal leaders and the Brown family on how to clear out the memorial without agitating the black community.

“It represents a community’s cry for justice — not just for Michael Brown, but for people all over the world,” Jones told The Associated Press on Monday. “The city has some serious decisions to make going forward.”

Brown’s killing by Officer Darren Wilson, who left Ferguson’s police force after a grand jury decided not to charge him, touched off weeks of sometimes-violent demonstrations and a national “Black Lives Matter” movement that only gained momentum with the subsequent police killings of unarmed black men in other U.S. cities.

Although Wilson wasn’t charged, the U.S. Justice Department released a scathing report citing racial bias and racial profiling in the Ferguson Police Department and in a profit-driven municipal court system that frequently targeted blacks.

Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III, while appreciative of the memorial’s status as a nexus of protests and prayers, said it is now a public safety issue that comes with “any time you leave items in the middle of the roadway.” Knowles, who is white, pointed to last Christmas Day, when an unidentified motorist — whether intentionally or accidentally — plowed through the shrine. Neighbors and Brown supporters swiftly cleaned up the damage and rebuilt the site.

Now, Knowles said, “the city would like it moved,” adding that “we’re working on getting a buy-in with the family and community” to make it happen. He said no decisions have been made and there isn’t a deadline to decide the matter.

During a Ferguson City Council meeting last month — the first since city elections tripled black representation on the governing board that had been largely white — Jones proposed replacing the shrine with a permanent dove-shaped marker embedded in the street.

That would “take a very tragic situation and use it as a teachable moment to encourage community healing and symbolize the unity that is very much needed,” said Jones, president and CEO of the Joint Council on Policy and Social Impact. “The way we deal with this memorial is how we move forward in Ferguson, because that memorial represents the best and the worst of Ferguson.”

Jones said Brown’s mother wants a portion of the road where the memorial rests carved out and repaved because “she feels like her son’s blood is still in the streets.”

Jeff Small, a Ferguson city spokesman, said discussions about the memorial’s fate likely would go the city’s traffic commission comprised of various Ferguson residents and newly elected Councilwoman Ella Jones, who did not return telephone messages seeking comment for this story.

The Brown family’s attorney, Benjamin Crump, also did not reply to messages seeking comment.

Debate about the memorial’s fate comes as Brown’s parents are pressing a wrongful-death lawsuit against the city of Ferguson, Wilson and the former police chief. Dorian Johnson, who was with Brown at the time of the shooting, also sued those same parties last week, accusing Wilson of being the aggressor who used excessive force and “acted with deliberate indifference or with reckless disregard” for Johnson’s rights.

TIME Crime

Missouri National Guard Called Ferguson Protesters ‘Enemy Forces’

Police and Missouri National Guard attempt to control demonstrators protesting the killing of teenager Michael Brown on Aug. 18, 2014 in Ferguson, Mo.
Scott Olson—Getty Images Police and Missouri National Guard attempt to control demonstrators protesting the killing of teenager Michael Brown on Aug. 18, 2014 in Ferguson, Mo.

Internal documents bolster claims of military-style approach

The Missouri National Guard referred to protesters in Ferguson last summer as “enemy forces,” according to documents obtained by CNN, bolstering claims the police adopted military tactics to react to protests over the death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown.

In August, the state’s National Guard was called into aid local police agencies who were attempting to control demonstrators protesting the death of Brown, a black unarmed teenager, by Darren Wilson, a white police officer.

The protests began as a demonstration against police use of force. But the response by law enforcement agencies, which mobilized armored vehicles and utilized tear gas and M4 rifles, spurred a national conversation over the militarization of police and prompted Congress to hold hearings over the flow of military gear to local police agencies.

The documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request appears to support those who claim authorities used a excessively military-style approach in its response.

“It’s disturbing when you have what amounts to American soldiers viewing American citizens somehow as the enemy,” Antonio French, a prominent alderman in St. Louis, told the network.

[CNN]

TIME cities

Ferguson Heads to the Polls in City Council Election

Ferguson Election
Jeff Roberson—AP In this photo made Friday, April 3, 2015, Reginald Rounds, a volunteer with the Organization for Black Struggle, walks door-to-door while canvassing a neighborhood in Ferguson, Mo.

Three seats are up for grabs in first election since Michael Brown shooting

Ferguson is holding its first municipal elections since the shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer threw the St. Louis suburb into racial turmoil last summer.

Voters will cast ballots Tuesday to elect three city council members. The town, which is about two-thirds black, has a mostly white council.

Historically, voter turnout has been extremely low in Ferguson, with only 12% of eligible voters turning out for a mayoral election last April. However, ongoing racially charged protests and the recent Department of Justice report outlining systemic racial bias against black residents by the Ferguson Police Department could spur greater political activity during this election.

The three council seats up for grabs include Ward 3, which includes the neighborhood where Michael Brown was shot. The ward’s candidates, Wesley Bell and Lee Smith, are both black.

[USA Today]

TIME Courts

Missouri Police Will Restrict Tear Gas After Ferguson Lawsuit

Outrage In Missouri Town After Police Shooting Of 18-Yr-Old Man
Scott Olson—Getty Images A demonstrator, protesting the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown, scrambles for cover as police fire tear gas on August 13, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri.

Three agencies have agreed to warn protestors in advance of using the chemical

Three Missouri police agencies have agreed to limit their use of tear gas as part of a settlement in a lawsuit over the protests in Ferguson.

The plaintiffs in the suit alleged that police departments had used excessive force in dealing with protests that were sometimes violent in the wake of the shooting death of Michael Brown in August and after a grand jury’s November decision not to indict the police officer who shot him, Reuters reports.

The settlement requires police to warn protestors before using tear gas and give them time to disperse, unless harm is truly imminent. A U.S. district judge will retain jurisdiction over the suit through 2017 in order to enforce the agreed-upon terms.

[Reuters]

TIME Crime

Ferguson Community Shocked at Cop Shootings, Senator Says

Senator Claire McCaskill says protestors are "disappointed" by shooting of two police officers

The Ferguson community has “come together” in outrage and disappointment a day after two officers were shot in a demonstration in front of the city Police Department, Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill said Friday.

“Many of the protest community have spoken out in very dramatic terms about how disappointed they are that some thug would come to a peaceful protest site and commit a violent criminal act like this against police officers who are doing their jobs,” she said, echoing Attorney General Eric Holder, who called the at-large perpetrator, a “damn punk.”

The shootings came the morning after the town’s chief of police, Thomas Jackson, resigned following a Department of Justice report that found widespread racial bias among the city’s police. The city manager and a judge have also resigned after the damning report ordered by Holder after the killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer in August.

Ferguson remained calm overnight Thursday despite the shootings. A few hundred protesters gathered peacefully outside the police department and no fights broke out, as they had before the shootings, according to the Associated Press. The AP reports that the two officers, who were released from the hospital Thursday, were the first shot in more than seven months of protests in Ferguson.

McCaskill said Friday that the racial tension enraging Ferguson isn’t unique. “This is a bigger issue than Ferguson,” she said on the Today show. “We have a disconnect between some communities in this country and law enforcement. And law enforcement only works if the people of this country believe in it. So we’ve got to back to the drawing board [and] get back to community policing models. There is healing going on in Ferguson and there is reform going on in Ferguson. And that needs to be happening in many communities across this country.”

McCaskill’s office said she was drafting legislation to address these issues, prioritizing federal resources for body cameras for police officers and providing more oversight of federal grant and equipment programs that critics claim have militarized the nation’s police force.

TIME justice

Ferguson Activists Worry About Aftermath of Shooting

Police officers stand on alert during a protests outside the Ferguson Police Department on March 11, 2015 in Ferguson, Mo.
Michael B. Thomas—Getty Images Police officers stand on alert during a protests outside the Ferguson Police Department on March 11, 2015 in Ferguson, Mo.

Activists who have been protesting the police in Ferguson, Mo., are concerned that the shooting of two officers on Wednesday will cause renewed problems and derail their efforts.

In the wake of the shootings, the St. Louis County Police and the Missouri State Highway Patrol are returning to Ferguson Thursday evening to provide security for protests until further notice.

The two agencies were among the outside law enforcement brought in during the wave of protests that erupted shortly after the shooting death of Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer, but they left after a state of emergency expired in December.

On a press call hosted by the Advancement Project on Thursday, activists who have been involved in the demonstrations since August say the return of the county and state police does not instill confidence that there will be a “measured” response as protests continue.

“We have seen this change in responsibilities before and what it ended up with was tear gas and tanks and hornets nests being thrown in the crowd,” said activist and author Rev. Osagyefo Sekou. “This change in role and responsibility has not yielded much for our democracy. “

Activists say they will continue engaging in non-violent protests, as they have for the past 200 days since the death of Michael Brown drew national attention to the small Missouri municipality.

“We are committed to non-violence,” Sekou said Thursday.

Thursday’s shooting couldn’t have come at a worse time for activists, who were just beginning to feel like they were reaching a tipping point after months of demonstrations. Last week, the Department of Justice released a report that affirmed what they’d been arguing: that unfair targeting of African Americans within the Ferguson community by police officers was at the root of the summer’s lasting unrest. On Wednesday, activists had gathered to celebrate the news that Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson had resigned when an unknown person fired wounding two police officers.

“After over 200 days we’re finally at a place where we’re beginning, just beginning to see the possibility of progress,” said Rev. Traci Blackmon, a pastor at the Christ the King Church of Christ in Florissant, Mo. “I see this as having the potential of taking our attention off of where our focus must remain.”

She added, “ That’s why we are adamant and completely committed to not letting this derail the work that is in front of us.”

TIME

Witness the Aftermath of 2 Police Shot in Ferguson

Two police officers were shot early Thursday morning as demonstrators reacted to the resignation of the city's chief of police

TIME justice

Ferguson Police Chief Resigns After Damning Justice Dept. Report

Protestors and elected officials have been calling for Thomas Jackson's resignation

The police chief of Ferguson announced Wednesday he is resigning his post, after the fatal shooting of an unarmed black 18-year-old resulted in an excoriating Justice Department report on his department.

Thomas Jackson submitted his resignation letter on Wednesday, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. “I believe this is the appropriate thing to do at this time,” Jackson told the newspaper. “This city needs to move forward without any distractions.”

Ferguson Mayor James Knowles said at a news conference on Wednesday that Jackson and the city had agreed to a “mutual separation” that will take effect on March 19. Jackson will receive severance payment and health insurance for one year.

“He felt that this was the best forward, not only for the city but for the men and women serving under him,” Knowles said.

The Department of Justice issued a report last week that found systemic racial bias in Ferguson’s police department as well as a court system driven by profits. The report cited racial profiling by police officers and alleged that the court system functioned as a money-making enterprise that targeted the poor and minorities.

Protestors and some of Missouri’s top elected leaders had previously called on Jackson to step down from his post as police chief in the St. Louis suburb for his handling of the August shooting of teenager Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson. The shooting provoked days of often violent unrest in Ferguson, and inspired protests across the U.S.

Two police officers, a court clerk, the municipal judge and the city manager have either been fired or resigned since the shooting.

[St. Louis Post-Dispatch]

TIME Crime

These Are Some of the Racist Emails Ferguson Police Sent

Riot police force protestors from the business district into nearby neighborhoods in Ferguson, Mo. on Aug. 11, 2014.
Scott Olson—Getty Images Riot police force protestors from the business district into nearby neighborhoods in Ferguson, Mo. on Aug. 11, 2014.

Messages are ‘demonstrative of impermissible bias,’ report says

One email mocked then-recently elected President Barack Obama, stating he wouldn’t hold the office for long because “what black man holds a steady job for four years.” A second depicted him as a chimpanzee. Another email ridiculed African-American speech patterns as other messages made jokes involving a black mother receiving an abortion and described a photo of what appeared to be dancing African women as “Michelle Obama’s High School Reunion.”

MORE Feds Clear Ferguson Cop Darren Wilson of Civil Rights Violations

Those were just some of the emails released by the U.S. Justice Department on Wednesday as it released the findings of two civil rights investigations into the Ferguson, Mo. police that showed evidence of overt racism and prejudice within the department.

The justice department said that its review of internal documents “revealed many additional email communications that exhibited racial or ethnic bias, as well as other forms of bias.” The report included a summary of one December 2011 email that mocked Muslims and another that joked about African-Americans receiving welfare.

“The content of these communications is unequivocally derogatory, dehumanizing and demonstrative of impermissible bias,” the report says.

MORE Ferguson Reviewing Federal Report on Police Force

The investigation also found that the emails included Ferguson Police Department supervisors who “are responsible for holding officers accountable to governing laws, including the Constitution, and helping to ensure that officers treat all people equally under the law, regardless of race or any other protected characteristic.”

The report found only one instance in which someone within the department acknowledged that the material was offensive, but the investigation did not find that anyone had ever been disciplined.

Ferguson police became a focal point of a national conversation about race and policing last summer after Darren Wilson, a white officer, shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager. Wilson was not indicted by a grand jury and on Wednesday the federal government announced it had cleared the officer of committing civil rights violations.

Read next: Attorney General Says Report of Ferguson Police Is ‘Searing’

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Civil Rights

Feds Clear Ferguson Cop Darren Wilson of Civil Rights Violations

Prosecutors cannot disprove that the officer who shot Michael Brown "feared for his safety”

The Department of Justice has cleared Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., of committing civil rights violations in the August confrontation that sparked sometimes violent local and national protests.

A separate report from the Justice Department did find, however, that the Ferguson Police Department was in frequent violation of several provisions of the Constitution.

The report, one of two released on Wednesday, broadly corroborates Wilson’s account of what happened in the St. Louis suburb on Aug.9. The officer said he spotted Brown and a friend walking in the middle of the street. Wilson told prosecutors and investigators he suspected the pair in the theft of cigarillos from a nearby convenience store, and called for backup before pulling to a stop near them.

The officer and some witnesses said Brown reached into Wilson’s police car to punch and grab him. Even though other witnesses stated that Wilson had reached out of his vehicle to grab Brown by the neck, prosecutors said their accounts were “inconsistent with physical and forensic evidence.”

Wilson said he took out his weapon while still in his vehicle and shot Brown in the hand as the teenager attempted to gain control of the gun. The report found “no credible evidence to disprove Wilson’s account” of what happened inside the vehicle.

Brown then ran away and Wilson gave chase, the report said. Autopsy results found that Brown had not been shot in the back as he was running away, as some witnesses reported. Instead, the report found, Brown was approaching Wilson in a manner that “appeared to pose a physical threat” when he was shot. The shooting death led to weeks of often-violent protests in the city.

Witnesses said that “Wilson fired at Brown in what appeared to be self-defense and stopped firing once Brown fell to the ground.” Though a number of witnesses claimed Brown held his hands up in a surrender position before Wilson fired, the report found that they were not credible.

“Some of those accounts are inaccurate because they are inconsistent with the physical and forensic evidence; some of those accounts are materially inconsistent with that witnesses’ own prior statements with no explanation,” the Wilson report concluded. A state grand jury declined to indict Wilson in November; he resigned from the Ferguson Police Department that same month.

A separate Justice Department investigation opened after Brown’s shooting has found routine patterns and practices of racism in Ferguson, including the excessive use of force and unjustified arrests.

“Our investigation showed that Ferguson police officers routinely violate the Fourth Amendment in stopping people without reasonable suspicion, arresting them without probable cause, and using unreasonable force against them,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement accompanying the release of the reports. “Now that our investigation has reached its conclusion, it is time for Ferguson’s leaders to take immediate, wholesale and structural corrective action.”

Brown’s parents said they were “saddened” by the decision to clear Wilson, but said they were encouraged by the DOJ’s findings about the Ferguson police. “It is our hope that through this action, true change will come not only in Ferguson, but around the country,” Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown, Sr. said in a statement. “If that change happens, our son’s death will not have been in vain.”

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