The police shooting of an unarmed teenager in a St. Louis suburb over the weekend triggered angry demonstrations Sunday morning and vandalism and looting Sunday night, local media reported.
A few thousand demonstrators had gathered for a candlelight vigil in the evening to honor the dead man, Michael Brown, 18, who was shot Saturday around noon by a Ferguson police officer.
Mourners placed candles, flowers and a teddy bear where Brown was killed, the Associated Press reported, and some youths spray-painted “R.I.P. Michael” on the street.
But then the mood turned ugly. Television footage showed people vandalizing police cars, kicking in store windows and carrying out goods, including bottles of alcohol. At least one large fire was reported.
St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley confirmed widespread property damage but said no injuries had been reported.
“Right now, the small group of people are creating a huge mess,” Ferguson Mayor James Knowles told Fox 2 KTVI-TV. “Contributing to the unrest that is going on is not going to help. ... We’re only hurting ourselves, only hurting our community, hurting our neighbors.”
Late Sunday, the St. Louis Post Dispatch reported that gunshots had been heard, and a SWAT team had been seen in the area.
Earlier, police in riot gear watched but did not intervene.
On Sunday morning, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said the unarmed Brown had been struggling for a Ferguson police officer’s gun in a patrol car before he was killed.
Witnesses have said the youth, who was black, had his hands in the air as he fled the patrol car.
Brown’s mother said she didn’t understand why police didn’t subdue him with a club or Taser.
“I would like to see him fired,” Lesley McSpadden told the Associated Press, referring to the officer who shot her son. “I would like to see him go to jail with the death penalty."
Belmar said there would be a thorough investigation, with possible inclusion of the FBI. Because Brown is African American, the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People has said it would seek a federal investigation.
In a statement on its Facebook page Sunday afternoon, the St. Louis County Police Department, which is handling the shooting investigation, said, “The FBI will be contacted today and notified of the incident. If they choose, they may conduct a separate use-of-force investigation on this incident directly with the Ferguson Police Department.”
Adolphus Pruitt, the vice president of the NAACP Missouri State Conference and president of the St. Louis NAACP, told the Los Angeles Times that two Justice Department representatives had arrived in St. Louis late Sunday.
The Rev. Al Sharpton of the National Action Network said in a statement Sunday that he had been speaking with Brown’s family and that Brown’s grandfather had asked him “to come to St. Louis in light of the police killing of his grandson to assist the family in achieving a fair investigation and justice.”
According to Belmar, Brown was walking with a friend in the middle of the street when an officer attempted to exit his vehicle. Police said Brown pushed the officer back into the police car.
Brown then entered the officer’s vehicle and a struggle ensued over the officer’s weapon, according to police. During the altercation a shot was fired inside the car.
The officer and Brown then exited the vehicle and at that point the fatal shooting occurred, Belmar said.
The officer who fired the shots has been placed on paid administrative leave and has not been identified. He has been on the force for six years.
Belmar said Brown was shot “more than just a couple of times,” but it was unclear how many shots were fired.
Witnesses’ accounts have differed from that of the police.
Dorin Johnson, a friend of the victim, told Fox 2 that he was walking in the street with Brown when the police squad car pulled up. The officer said to “Get the eff onto the sidewalk,” he recounted.
“It was not but a minute from our destination and we would be off the street,” Johnson said.
Johnson said the officer didn’t get out of his police car, but reached “his arm out the window and grabbed my friend around the neck.”
Another witness, Piaget Crenshaw, said, “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.”
Brown’s grandmother, Desiree Harris, told the Associated Press that she was driving through the neighborhood Saturday afternoon when she saw her grandson running a few blocks from her house.
Brown was supposed to start college classes Monday.
“He was running this way,” she said. “When I got up there, my grandson was lying on the pavement. I asked the police what happened. They didn’t tell me nothing.”
Louis Head, Brown’s stepfather, held a sign that said, “Ferguson police just executed my unarmed son!!!”
McSpadden said the shooting was “wrong and it was cold-hearted.”
Belmar said Sunday that the entire incident scene extends roughly 35 feet from where the police car was parked to where the fatal shooting took place, and where shell casings matching the officer’s weapon have been found. He said toxicology reports could take six weeks.
While the police held the news conference Sunday at the Ferguson police station, hundreds of protesters gathered in front, holding up their hands and saying, “Don’t shoot me.”
The protesters chanted, “We want answers” and “No justice, no peace,” some carrying signs saying “stop police terrorism” and “disarm the police,” according to the Associated Press.
“We are sorry that a young man lost his life and ask all to give their condolences to the family along with their thoughts and prayers,” the St. Louis County Police Department said in its Facebook statement.
“We are investigating this incident as we would any other shooting,” the statement said. “There is no bias or favoritism applied as we are an outside agency and were not involved.”
Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson described the shooting as tragic in an interview with Fox 2. “It’s tragic for the community. It’s tragic for our police family.”
“We want this to come to a conclusion quickly,” Jackson said.
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