Hundreds of protesters converged on the police department in Ferguson, Mo., on Sunday morning shouting, “Don’t shoot me!” following a confrontation the night before in which the fatal shooting of an unarmed teenager by a police officer sparked what officials said was a near riot.
St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said the youth, Michael Brown, 18, had struggled for an officer’s gun in a patrol car before the officer fired several shots. Witnesses said the youth had his hands in the air as he fled the patrol car.
Belmar said there would be a thorough investigation. Because Brown was African-American, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said it would seek a federal investigation.
The killing drew criticism from civil rights leaders who referred to the 2012 racially charged shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by a Florida neighborhood watch organizer who was acquitted of murder charges, as well as a New York City man who died from a police chokehold.
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“We’re outraged because yet again a young African-American man has been killed by law enforcement,” said John Gaskin, who serves on both the St. Louis County and national boards of directors for the NAACP.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, a New York-based civil rights leader, called the shooting death “very disturbing.”
Lesley McSpadden, Brown’s mother, said the shooting was “wrong and it was cold-hearted.”
In a TV interview, Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson described the incident as “tragic for the community. It’s tragic for our police family.”
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 physical 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.
Some witnesses had different accounts.
Dorin Johnson, a friend of Brown’s, told a TV station 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.
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.”
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.”
On Saturday, following the shooting, hundreds of residents gathered at the crime scene in protest. Police called for about 60 other police units to respond to the area in Ferguson, a city of about 21,000 residents, about two-thirds of whom are black. The crowd eventually dispersed.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.