FERGUSON, Mo. – Nights of unrest have vied with calls for calm in a St. Louis suburb where an unarmed black teenager was killed by police, while the community is still pressing for answers about the weekend shooting.
Hundreds of residents packed two churches Tuesday evening for community meetings about the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was confronted by a Ferguson officer while walking with a friend in the street near his grandmother’s home.
People also gathered in the streets Tuesday night, shouting at police. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that police again fired tear gas into a crowd. One person was injured in a drive-by shooting, although it was not clear if the shooting was related to the protests.
The Post-Dispatch also reported that a St. Louis County police officer shot and critically wounded a man who authorities said pulled a handgun on the officer.
The fatal shooting of Brown has exposed deep racial and economic fault lines in the community. At one church gathering with dozens of clergy members and elected officials, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon urged calm “in the face of crisis.”
“We stand together tonight, reeling from what feels like an old wound torn open afresh,” Nixon said. “A wound that hadn’t quite healed right in the first place, and now the pain is just as searing as when the injury first occurred.”
The other church rally featured the Rev. Al Sharpton, who earlier in the day pressed police to release the name of the police officer involved – but also pleaded for calm after a night of looting and vandalism and instances of police using tear gas.
“The local authorities have put themselves in a position – hiding names and not being transparent – where people will not trust anything but an objective investigation,” Sharpton said at a news conference with Brown’s parents.
Ferguson police initially planned to release the name of the officer, who is on administrative leave, on Tuesday. But they said death threats to its officers prompted them to withhold it. . Computer hackers have also targeted the city’s website and released details online about individual city employees.
“If we come out and say, ‘It was this officer,' then he immediately becomes a target,” Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson said. “We’re taking the threats seriously.”
Police have not disclosed the race of the officer, but witnesses said he was white. The Ferguson police force has 53 officers, three of whom are black. Jackson said the city has had trouble recruiting and retaining black officers.
Investigators have released few details about the deadly encounter, saying only that a scuffle unfolded after the officer on a routine patrol asked Brown and another teen to get out of the street on Saturday afternoon. At some point, the officer’s weapon fired inside a patrol car, according to the St. Louis County Police Department, which is handling the investigation at the smaller city’s request.
Several hundred protesters rallied Tuesday morning in the county seat of Clayton, urging St. Louis County’s prosecutor to file criminal charges against the Ferguson officer.
Brown’s father, Michael Brown Sr., said at the news conference to “come together and do this right … no violence.” President Barack Obama also urged calm, saying people must comfort each other “in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.”
Ferguson’s mayor and police chief were among the speakers at the meeting Nixon attended. Both were welcomed with polite applause.
The forum was intended as an alternative response after two nights of unrest in which crowds had burned stores, vandalized vehicles, assaulted reporters and taunted officers. Organizers shared plans for numerous nonviolent responses, such as a prayer walk planned to mark the one-week anniversary of Brown’s death and assembling teams of greeters to welcome back students at the high school from which Brown recently graduated.
The fullest account of Brown’s death so far has come from Dorian Johnson, who said he was walking home with Brown when they were approached by an officer in a squad car who ordered them to move to the sidewalk. Johnson told news crews that he and Brown kept walking and the officer then reversed his car “to where it almost hit us.”
The officer, Johnson said, tried to open his door, but it “ricocheted” back. Johnson said the officer reached through the window, “grabbed my friend around the neck” and tried to pull him into the car. The officer then reportedly pulled out his weapon and said, “ ‘I'll shoot you,' or ‘I’m going to shoot,’ ” Johnson said.
When the officer opened fire, Brown was hit, said Johnson, who hid behind a car. Brown kept running, Johnson said. Johnson said the officer pursued Brown and fired again. When Brown felt that shot, he turned around and put his hands in the air and started to get down on the ground. The officer kept firing, Johnson said.
Police have said there is no security or police video of the confrontation.