Police hold back on tear gas at Ferguson protest

August 20, 2014 7:41 am
Protestors take part in a peaceful march on West Florissant Ave. in Ferguson, Missouri on August 19, 2014/AFP
Protestors take part in a peaceful march on West Florissant Ave. in Ferguson, Missouri on August 19, 2014/AFP

, FERGUSON, August 20- Police lowered their profile Tuesday, and refrained from using tear gas, to allow a more orderly night of protests in this St Louis suburb 10 days after the police shooting of an unarmed black teenager.

Fears that another police shooting involving a knife wielding male might renew tension failed to materialize, after successive nights of clashes with police in the town of Ferguson.

Ferguson has been ground zero of a renewed debate about race and strong armed law enforcement in America since the August 9 fatal shooting in broad daylight of 18 year old Michael Brown by a white police officer.

US Attorney General Eric Holder is to visit Ferguson on Wednesday amid an ongoing federal investigation into possible civil rights violations.

A grand jury is meanwhile to begin Wednesday hearing witnesses to Brown’s killing, amid calls for the police officer, Darren Wilson, to be put on trial for murder.

In another development, Brown’s family is undertaking preparations for his funeral, which their lawyer said would take place on Monday.

Several hundred people returned to West Florissant Avenue on Tuesday, not far from where Brown fell, expressing their outrage and demanding that justice be done.

“Hands up, don’t shoot!” they chanted with their hands up in the air, in what has become the signature slogan of Ferguson’s frustration with its overwhelmingly white police department.

– ‘Peace train’-

The unexpected arrival of a “peace train” from a children’s amusement park, blaring “What’s Going On” and other Marvin Gaye classics, lent the protest a carnival flavor.

But in contrast to previous nights, rather than firing tear gas head-on into the crowd, police with riot shields and armored vehicles kept a lower profile.

They finally intervened around midnight (0500 GMT), pushing the remaining crowd — without the use of tear gas — towards a newly designated public assembly area in a former car dealership.

“I want the good people to have the ability to voice their opinions,” said Missouri State Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson, the African-American officer tasked with restoring order in this town of 21,000, earlier in the evening.

Mingling with citizens at the outset of the march, who insisted on their right to protest, Johnson denounced what he called “criminal elements” who, after dark on Sunday and Monday, had ignored police orders to disperse.

“Cowards hide in the dark, and it’s time for that to stop,” he told reporters.

Ferguson civic leaders had earlier Tuesday called for “night-time quiet and reconciliation” while promising to undertake sweeping reforms to the local police force.

Earlier Tuesday, a few miles (kilometers) away in St. Louis proper, officers shot dead an agitated man who yelled “kill me now” as he rushed at them, wielding a knife during an apparent convenience store robbery.

St. Louis Metropolitan Police Captain Ed Kuntz told reporters at the scene that an investigation had been launched, but, based on what he had heard, “it seems reasonable to say it was justifiable.”

Police have identified the white police officer who shot Brown in broad daylight on a residential street as Darren Wilson, 28, a police officer for six years.

– Wants murder charges –

Brown’s family wants Wilson — who reportedly has been granted leave from his duties — charged with murder for “executing” their son.

In an op-ed column in the St Louis Post Dispatch newspaper Wednesday, Holder pledged what he called a full, fair and independent investigation.

“And beyond the investigation itself, we will work with the police, civil rights leaders, and members of the public to ensure that this tragedy can give rise to new understanding – and robust action – aimed at bridging persistent gaps between law enforcement officials and the communities we serve,” he said.

Police contend that Brown was rushing at the officer, but other witnesses say the teenager — who was about to start vocational college — had his hands up, ready to surrender.

Brown was fatally shot less than half an hour after the theft of a box of cigars from a liquor store. Police fingered Brown on Friday as the suspect in that case, taking local anger to a new level.

A forensic pathologist retained by Brown’s family said that the teen was shot at least six times — twice in the head.

Three separate autopsies of Brown’s remains are taking place — by local authorities, by the family and by the Justice Department.

Federal law enforcement officials said that a military medical examiner who conducted the federal autopsy also concluded that Brown had six gunshot wounds, The Los Angeles Times reported, citing an unnamed government source.

US National Guard troops have been deployed to Ferguson to help control the unrest, amid criticism of the distrusted local force’s handling of the protests, with even President Barack Obama saying there was no excuse for local police to use “excessive force.”

But their role so far has been limited to guarding a command post in a shopping center away from the nightly protests.


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