FERGUSON, Misssouri: More than 100 people marched at the St Louis County courthouse yesterday to protest the police shooting of an unarmed black teenager but the demonstration remained peaceful after two previous days of violence.
Protesters called for justice in the death of Michael Brown, 18, who was shot to death in the back of a police car on Saturday, an end to what they say is harassment of blacks by the mostly white police force in Ferguson and the jailing of the officer who shot Brown.
Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson said police were determined to keep a lid on simmering tensions.
Authorities had been expected to release the name of the officer involved in the shooting yesterday but the St Louis Post-Dispatch, citing police, said yesterday the name would not be released. The race of the officer, a six-year veteran who is now on administrative leave, also has not been revealed.
The FBI has opened a civil rights investigation into the racially charged case and St. Louis County also is investigating the shooting.
The crowd in front of the St Louis County Courthouse in nearby Clayton yesterday chanted “hands up, don’t shoot” — a reference to reports that Brown appeared to have been shot while holding his hands up in surrender.
“We’ve consistently had a problem,” said St Louis attorney Jerryl Christmas, who helped lead the protest. “There’s a lack of diversity all the way up from the local police to the prosecutor’s office into the judiciary.”
Police said Brown was shot in a struggle with a gun in the police car but have not said why Brown was in the car. At least one shot was fired during the struggle and then the officer fired more shots before leaving the car, police said.
The street in the low-income, mostly black neighbourhood where Brown was killed still showed signs of blood, and was surrounded by makeshift memorials of candles and flowers.
“The police, they always look at us with a certain disdain,” said neighbourhood resident Christopher Phillips, 33. “So there are a lot of people with a ‘F the police’ mentality.”
Jackson said the neighbourhood had a lot of crime but there were no race problems.
Benjamin Crump, a lawyer for Brown’s family speaking on CNN yesterday, said the Justice Department needs to take over the investigation completely, and not rely on St Louis County police.
“There were many, many witnesses who have talked to family members and they paint a very different picture than police witnesses,” said Crump, who represented the family of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teen killed in Florida by neighborhood watch volunteer in 2012.
More than 50 people have been arrested in protests following Brown’s death in the largely black St Louis suburb. Despite calls by Brown’s parents for calm, violence broke out on Monday night as police officers in riot gear, armed with rifles and accompanied by dogs tried to secure the area.
The area has seen a stark demographic shift in recent decades, going from all white to mostly black. About two-thirds of Ferguson’s 21,000-strong population are black, while out of a police force of 53, three officers are black.
The race of officers should not matter as long as their work is fair and professional, said Dave Klinger, a former police officer and criminal justice professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
“If the officer behaved inappropriately, we’ve got to sanction the officer and figure out what it is that led him to do what he did,” Klinger said. “Was he poorly trained? Was there a pattern in this agency?”
Klinger said the investigation must be as “transparent as possible.”