As demonstrators gathered for a fourth straight day Tuesday, the Ferguson, Mo., police chief said that because of death threats he will not publicly release the name of the police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black teenager. Racial tensions have roiled the St. Louis suburb after the killing.
The parents of Michael Brown, 18, who was shot multiple times Saturday during a street confrontation with a Ferguson police officer, have called on authorities to release the name of the officer and prosecute him. Local law enforcement authorities and the Justice Department have launched parallel investigations into the shooting.
Benjamin Crump, the Browns' lawyer, told reporters that because the family has not called for any violence against the officer, the police should release his name. On behalf of the family, Crump said he is looking into ways to legally compel the police department to disclose the officer’s identity.
“We want answers too,” Crump said. “We want to know why he felt the need to shoot an unarmed kid.”
On Monday, Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson said he would disclose by noon Tuesday the identity of the officer, who has been placed on administrative leave. But after threats were made to the police department and on social media, a department spokesman said it is not safe at this time to release the officer's name.
The announcement comes after another night of unrest Monday, albeit smaller than the previous night, when vandals broke windows, looted and damaged 12 businesses in Ferguson. In Monday night’s standoff, police in riot gear fired tear gas into crowds of protesters and arrested up to 15 people.
A quieter demonstration followed Tuesday morning outside county justice buildings in nearby Clayton, with scores of demonstrators chanting, "Who do you protect? Who do you serve!" at police guarding the county justice center.
Carolynn Mabins, 55, of the city of St. Louis, said that even though she wasn't from Ferguson, she was marching along with other demonstrators because she thought Michael Brown was "unjustly killed" and because "I want to see a change for the blacks."
"Slavery's over," said Mabins. "But we're still [fighting] slavery in Missouri."
Crump called for police to release those who had been arrested during the protests.
“We understand these people were arrested because they held their hands up and saying, ‘Don’t shoot me’ for walking, ‘Don’t shoot me’ for being black,” Crump said. “If you want the community to trust you and calm down, don’t arrest us for exercising our constitutional rights.”
The heated protests in part have reflected the racial divisions in Ferguson, population 21,000, where two-thirds of residents are black but police and city officials are predominantly white. Black leaders have called for nonviolent demonstrations to address racism in the Ferguson and greater St. Louis police departments.
"The unrest that has taken place in the wake of Mr. Brown’s death at the hands of police is the unfortunate result of the understandable pain and frustration felt by that community," said Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund Inc. "That pain and frustration are mirrored in communities across this country where unarmed black teens and adults have been killed by police and civilians. These feelings must be met with proactive efforts to address to what is clearly a deeply flawed system of police and civilian responses to perceived black criminality."
Brown had been walking down a street with a friend Saturday when, according to police, an officer drove up and attempted to get out of his patrol car. Brown pushed the officer back into the car and after an altercation over a weapon in the car, the officer and Brown exited the car, during which the fatal shooting occurred, according to Jon Belmar, chief of the St. Louis County Police Department, which is the local agency investigating the shooting.
According to witnesses, however, Brown had raised his hands to surrender when the fatal shots occurred.
Dorian Johnson, who was walking with Brown at the time of Saturday’s incident, told MSNBC that the officer confronted them after telling them to stop walking on the street and move onto the sidewalk.
Crump told reporters Tuesday that they are trying to arrange for Johnson to give a statement to federal investigators because he does not trust local officials.
Another witness, Piaget Crenshaw, told the local Fox news affiliate, "I witnessed the police chase after the guy, full force. He ran for his life. They shot him and he fell. He put his arms up to let them know that he was compliant and he was unarmed, and they shot him twice more and he fell to the ground and died."
On Monday, the Justice Department announced an investigation in conjunction with the separate county police inquiry, and black leaders called for nonviolence but accused local police and other officials of condoning racism in Ferguson and greater St. Louis for too long.
“In the greater picture, what we saw … was the boiling over of tensions that had been going on for a long while,” said Antonio French, a St. Louis city alderman, who is black.
James Clark, vice president of a St. Louis nonprofit, Community Outreach for a Better Life, said the violence after Brown’s death was “due to a total alienation of a certain class of African Americans.”
Ferguson’s police chief and mayor are white. Of the six City Council members, one is black. The local school board has six white members and one Latino. Of the 53 commissioned officers on the police force, three are black, Police Chief Jackson said.
Blacks in Ferguson are twice as likely to be stopped by police as whites, according to an annual report on racial profiling by the Missouri attorney general. Last year, 93% of arrests after car stops in Ferguson were of blacks. Ninety-two percent of searches and 80% of car stops involved blacks, the report said.
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