Obama urges ‘reflection’ on death of Missouri teenager
Call follows violent protests in St Louis suburbs after police shoot Michael Brown
Demonstrators march in the street while protesting the shooting death of black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri . Photograph: Mario Anzuoni/Reuters
US president Barack Obama has called the police shooting death of an unarmed black teenager a tragedy and urged a thoughtful response after two nights of violent protests, looting and arrests in a St Louis suburb.
He promised a full investigation by the US Department of Justice into the case, which has provoked outrage in the largely African-American town of Ferguson.
“I know the events of the past few days have prompted strong passions, but ... I urge everyone in Ferguson, Missouri, and across the country, to remember this young man through reflection and understanding,” Mr Obama said in a statement.
Friends and family of 18-year-old Michael Brown held a peaceful church vigil last night, and his father pleaded for an end to the violence. Standing with supporters, including the Rev. Al Sharpton, Michael Brown Sr said he wanted justice for his son but wanted it “the right way.”
“I need all of us to come together and do this right, the right way,” said Mr Brown Sr, who wore a T-shirt showing his son’s baby picture. “No violence.”
Several hundred protesters appeared to heed the calls for non-violence late last evening, chanting “hands up, don’t shoot” and “no justice, no peace” during a tense but ultimately peaceful stand-off with police clad in riot gear and flanked by armoured vehicles near the site of Brown’s death.
The protesters, some of whom waved signs as the group was led in chants by megaphone, had dwindled to a handful before midnight.
Rev Sharpton, a New York-based civil rights leader, called for peaceful protest in the wake of looting and more than 50 arrests since the shooting. Sharpton’s National Action Network will pay for Brown’s funeral.
“To become violent in Michael Brown’s name is to betray the gentle giant that he was,” Sharpton said of the 6ft 4in (198cm) Brown, who had planned to start college this week.
The activists also were demanding authorities make public the name of the officer involved. The police had said they would release the officer’s name on Tuesday, but changed the plan, citing fears of retaliation, according to media reports.
Police said Brown was shot in a struggle with a gun in a 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 FBI has opened a civil rights investigation into the racially charged case and St Louis County also is investigating.
A witness to the shooting interviewed on local media has said that Brown had been putting his hands up to surrender when he was killed.
“There were many, many witnesses who have talked to family members and they paint a very different picture than police witnesses,” said Benjamin Crump, an attorney for the Brown family. Crump also represented the family of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teen killed in Florida by a neighbourhood watch volunteer in 2012.
The “hands up” gesture has been frequently seen at protests over the shooting. More than 100 protesters in front of the St Louis County Courthouse in nearby Clayton yesterday morning chanted “hands up, don’t shoot.”
Demonstrations on Sunday night turned violent, with looting and property damage. Violence broke out again on Monday night as police officers in riot gear, armed with rifles and accompanied by dogs tried to secure the area.
The Federal Aviation Administration issued a ban on air traffic under 3,000 feet above Ferguson starting yesterday to “provide a safe environment for law enforcement activities.” Such bans are typically requested by police departments so that their aircraft do not tangle with news helicopters.
Residents in the low-income, mostly black neighbourhood where Brown was killed say they are often harassed by police. Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson said the neighbourhood had a lot of crime but there were no race problems.
Ferguson has seen a stark demographic shift in recent decades, going from all white to mostly black. About two-thirds of the town’s 21,000-strong population are black. On 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,” Mr Klinger said. “Was he poorly trained? Was there a pattern in this agency?”
Mr Klinger said the investigation must be as “transparent as possible.”