Story So Far: Turmoil in Ferguson, Mo.: What you need to know


As turmoil surrounding a police shooting in Missouri continues, here are some questions and answers about what has happened so far.

What touched off the outcry near St. Louis?

Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old, was shot multiple times and killed Aug. 9 in a confrontation with a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., a St. Louis suburb.


What do police say happened?

According to St. Louis County’s police chief: Brown was walking with a friend in the middle of the street when Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson tried to exit his vehicle. Brown pushed the officer back into the police car, then entered the car, and a struggle ensued over Wilson’s weapon. A shot was fired inside the car. Wilson and Brown then exited the vehicle, and the fatal shooting occurred.

Nearly a week after the shooting, police said Brown was the primary suspect in a robbery that occurred just before the shooting. Hours after releasing that information, Ferguson’s police chief said Wilson did not know Brown was a robbery suspect, but stopped him because he was walking in the middle of the street. The police chief later said Wilson was aware that cigars had been taken in the robbery of a store nearby, but did not know Brown and his friend, Dorian Johnson, might be suspects. The chief said Wilson then saw cigars in Brown’s hand and realized it might be connected. Police said Brown did have stolen items with him.

What do witnesses say happened?

Dorian Johnson told Fox 2 that he and Brown were walking in the street when the police car pulled up. The officer said to “get the eff onto the sidewalk,” he recounted. Johnson said the officer reached out of the car window and grabbed Brown around the neck. Johnson was named as a second suspect in the police report of the convenience store robbery, but Ferguson’s police chief said Johnson didn’t participate in the crime.

Another witness, Piaget Crenshaw, said she saw police chase Brown. “He ran for his life,” she said. “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.”


What did an autopsy show?

According to the private preliminary autopsy released Sunday night, Brown was shot six times, including once in the eye and once in the crown of the head. The forensic pathologist said the shot to the crown of the head was the fatal round.

Who was Michael Brown?

Friends and family have described the teenager as a “gentle giant” who was a day away from starting college at a technical school. His teachers told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he had fought hard to graduate from high school, where he had at various points been a member of the Junior ROTC program and the football team. Friends told the Post-Dispatch that Brown eventually wanted to own his own business.

Who was the officer who shot Brown?

Ferguson authorities named the police officer who shot Brown as Darren Wilson, 28, a six-year veteran of the department. Wilson has no disciplinary record. Police appeared to be guarding his home, and nobody has answered the door.

Who is investigating the shooting?

A grand jury has begun hearing evidence in the case, and, because a member of the Ferguson Police Department fired the shots, an outside agency -- the St. Louis County Police Department -- is investigating. The FBI and Justice Department have launched a parallel investigation.

What kind of unrest has there been in Ferguson since the shooting?

In addition to mourning and memorials for Brown, there have been demonstrations, street clashes and looting. A St. Louis County police officer shot and critically wounded a man who police say pointed a gun at him early Wednesday, and the same night, a woman was shot in the head by a civilian but was not seriously injured, police said. Several others have been shot in the crowd by fellow demonstrators, police said.

Police, often wearing riot gear and using military equipment, have been spraying tear gas and shooting rubber bullets to break up crowds.

In the middle of last week, Missouri’s governor replaced Ferguson and St. Louis County police with the Missouri State Highway Patrol to provide security in Ferguson.

There were peaceful demonstrations in Ferguson the night after the Highway Patrol was put in command. But the nights after the announcement of Wilson’s name and the release of robbery allegations against Brown have seen protesters looting stores and engaging in tense standoffs with police.

On Saturday, a week after the shooting, Missouri’s governor declared a state of emergency in Ferguson and instituted a midnight-to-5 a.m. curfew. Unrest, especially at night, continued to flare, and Missouri’s governor has called in the National Guard. In recent days, protests have been more peaceful and arrests have decreased.

What do protesters want?

Protesters initially said they wanted the officer who killed Brown to be identified, fired and charged in the killing, and they want the Ferguson police force to reflect the racial demographics of the largely African American community. They also said that they want respect from police and that they don’t want to be shot the way Brown was. Soon, crowds were also protesting the way police responded to the initial demonstrations.

Are blacks disproportionately targeted in Ferguson?

Blacks make up 65% of Ferguson’s population, yet they accounted for 86% of traffic stops, 93% of arrests after stops and 92% of searches after stops in the city last year, according to a racial profiling report by the Missouri attorney general.

When stopped by police, blacks in Ferguson were twice as likely as whites to be arrested -- even though police found contraband for 34% of whites they stopped and searched, versus 22% of blacks -- said Scott Decker, a criminologist on a team contracted by the attorney general’s office to compile the data.


Aug. 13, 6:48 p.m.: An earlier version of this post attributed the percentages of contraband found by police to all people stopped. The percentages apply to people who were also searched. The post also stated that blacks accounted for 80% of traffic stops; in fact, they accounted for 86%.


Who are Ferguson’s police officers?

The Ferguson Police Department has 53 total commissioned officers, three of whom are black and two of whom are other minorities; the rest are white, the police chief told the Los Angeles Times. Three of the officers are women and 50 are men, he said.

The officer who shot Brown is a six-year veteran of the department and has been put on paid administrative leave, officials said. Ferguson’s police chief said death threats led him to decide to initially withhold the officer’s name.

Times staff writers Ryan Parker, Maya Srikrishnan, Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Matt Pearce and David Zucchino contributed to this report.

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