Michael Brown: Protesters march as Missouri Highway Patrol seizes control of Ferguson security

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Obama's statement | Reporters' arrest

Police and protesters continued to clash Wednesday night in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson over the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen who was shot by a white police officer. Two journalists were among those arrested, though they were quickly released without being charged. President Barack Obama on Thursday called for calm and said that he had asked the Department of Justice and the FBI to investigate the shooting. At a press conference Thursday afternoon, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said state troopers would take over the supervision of security for Ferguson.

Updates

Update 4:28 p.m. Protesters march as Missouri Highway Patrol seizes control of Ferguson

The Missouri Highway Patrol seized control of a St. Louis suburb Thursday, stripping local police of their law-enforcement authority after four days of clashes between officers in riot gear and furious crowds protesting the death of an unarmed black teen shot by an officer.

Hundreds of protesters marched through the streets of Ferguson Thursday. Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson — a black Ferguson native — is now in charge.

Early Thursday evening, St. Louis County police and state troopers were walking alongside demonstrators. Several marchers stopped to shake hands with officers. One woman hugged Johnson.

The L.A. Times' Matt Pearce caught Johnson interacting with the protesters:

Johnson

Johnson says he's taking a different approach to the task and was on the street Thursday evening talking to protesters. Nixon, who has faced criticism for not stepping in earlier, said he believes a "softer front" could help diffuse the situation.

Local police will still be involved in providing security, but under state supervision.

The scene stands in stark contrast to earlier this week when officers in riot gear and in military equipment clashed with protesters. Crowds have gathered since Saturday's shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

Johnson told The Associated Press, "We all want justice. We all want answers."

AP with KPCC

Updated 1:28 p.m.: Missouri state troopers to take over Ferguson security

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon says the Missouri State Highway Patrol will take over the supervision of security in the St. Louis suburb that's been the scene of violent protests since a police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager.

Nixon made the announcement at a news conference Thursday.

Nixon says security will be overseen by Capt. Ron Johnson of the Highway Patrol. Johnson, who is black, said he grew up in the community and "it means a lot to me personally that we break this cycle of violence."

Crowds have gathered in Ferguson since Saturday's shooting of Michael Brown to protest the 18-year-old's death.

Police defended the use of tear gas and smoke bombs to repel demonstrators after another night of chaos. But the police response has drawn heavy criticism.

— Associated Press

Update 12:12 p.m. U.S. attorney general releases statement calling for calm, questioning use of military vehicles

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder issued a statement on the situation in Ferguson, Missouri on Thursday, echoing President Barack Obama calling for calm and criticizing the behavior of both police and the protesters that had turned violent.

"Looting and willful efforts to antagonize law enforcement officers who are genuinely trying to protect the public do nothing to remember the young man who has died," Holder said in the statement. "By the same token, the law enforcement response to these demonstrations must seek to reduce tensions, not heighten them. Those who peacefully gather to express sympathy for the family of Michael Brown must have their rights respected at all times. And journalists must not be harassed or prevented from covering a story that needs to be told."

Holder also questioned the use of military vehicles by the police.

"I am deeply concerned that the deployment of military equipment and vehicles sends a conflicting message. At my direction, Department officials have conveyed these concerns to local authorities."

The Department of Justice is helping local authorities with crowd control, conducting meetings between community leaders and law enforcement and continuing the civil rights investigation into the shooting, Holder said in the statement.

Read the full statement below:

“This morning, I met with President Obama to discuss the events in Ferguson, Missouri. Like the President, I extend my heartfelt condolences to the family of Michael Brown.  While his death has understandably caused heartache within the community, it is clear that the scenes playing out in the streets of Ferguson over the last several nights cannot continue.

“For one thing, while the vast majority of protests have been peaceful, acts of violence by members of the public cannot be condoned. Looting and willful efforts to antagonize law enforcement officers who are genuinely trying to protect the public do nothing to remember the young man who has died. Such conduct is unacceptable and must be unequivocally condemned.

“By the same token, the law enforcement response to these demonstrations must seek to reduce tensions, not heighten them. Those who peacefully gather to express sympathy for the family of Michael Brown must have their rights respected at all times. And journalists must not be harassed or prevented from covering a story that needs to be told.

“At a time when we must seek to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the local community, I am deeply concerned that the deployment of military equipment and vehicles sends a conflicting message. At my direction, Department officials have conveyed these concerns to local authorities. Also at my direction, the Department is offering – through our COPS office and Office of Justice Programs – technical assistance to local authorities in order to help conduct crowd control and maintain public safety without relying on unnecessarily extreme displays of force. The local authorities in Missouri have accepted this offer of assistance as of this afternoon.

“Department officials from the Community Relations Service are also on the ground in Missouri to help convene law enforcement officials and civic and faith leaders to plot out steps to reduce tensions in the community. The latest such meeting was convened in Ferguson as recently as this morning. Over time, these conversations should consider the role that increased diversity in law enforcement can play in helping to build trust within communities.

“All the while, the federal civil rights investigation into the shooting incident itself continues, in parallel with the local investigation into state law violations. Our investigators from the Civil Rights Division and U.S. attorney’s office in Missouri have already conducted interviews with eyewitnesses on the scene at the time of the shooting incident on Saturday. Our review will take time to conduct, but it will be thorough and fair.”

Mike Roe/KPCC

Updated 10:40 a.m.: Governor vows change in Ferguson police response

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon says "operational shifts" are ahead for law enforcement in the St. Louis suburb where a police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager.

Nixon spoke Thursday at a meeting of clergy and community members to discuss law enforcement's response to demonstrations over the killing in the town of Ferguson.

The governor told the audience that "you all will see a different tone."

He did not elaborate on the changes ahead, but they are likely to be explained at a news conference planned for later in the day.

The governor said he was late to the meeting because he had been on the phone with President Barack Obama, who sent "wishes of peace and justice."

— Associated Press

Updated 10:07 a.m.: Obama calls for calm, launches investigation into Ferguson police shooting

President Barack Obama on Thursday expressed concern over escalating violence in Ferguson, Missouri, where protests have continued over the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen who was shot by a white police officer.

Obama said that he has asked the FBI and the Department of Justice to investigate Brown's death.

He said that there was never an excuse for violence against police or vandalism and looting, but he also stressed that it was inexcusable for police to throw lawful protesters in jail or bully and arrest journalists who are trying to do their job by reporting what they see — a reference to an incident Wednesday in which two journalists were detained at a McDonald's where they were using Wi-Fi to do work.

Listen to the president's statement:

Audio

— KPCC staff

Updated 9:09 a.m.: Obama expected to make statement on situation in Ferguson

The White House says President Barack Obama is being briefed on the situation in a St. Louis suburb where police used tear gas and smoke bombs to repel protesters.

The demonstrations in Ferguson, Missouri, have been sparked by the death of an unarmed teenager who was shot by a police officer. The officer is white and 18-year-old Michael Brown was black.

Obama was expected to speak about the situation Thursday from Martha's Vineyard, the Massachusetts island where he is vacationing. His remarks were expected to follow his second briefing on the matter in as many days.

The White House says Obama was being briefed by Attorney General Eric Holder and senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, both of whom are also on Martha's Vineyard.

Earlier in the week, the president issued a statement saying that Brown's death is stirring "strong passions," and he appealed for reflection.

8:20 a.m.: Reporters arrested, protests turn violent in Ferguson

Police in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson aren't yet saying how many people were arrested during a night of violent protests over the shooting death of an unarmed black teen. But the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says about 10 people were arrested — including a St. Louis alderman who had been chronicling the protests on social media.

Police used tear gas and smoke bombs to repel crowds who threw Molotov cocktails.

The violence came hours after the police chief in Ferguson said race relations were the top priority in the town, where a white police officer fatally shot the black teen.

Since Saturday's shooting, officers from multiple departments in riot gear and in military equipment have clashed nightly with the protesters.

HuffPost reporter Ryan J. Reilly and Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery were detained by police at a McDonald's. The two were charging their phones and using the Wi-Fi to work.

Police slammed Lowery into a drink machine and pushed Reilly’s head against the glass on the way out of the restaurant, HuffPost reported.

"They essentially acted as a military force. It was incredible," Reilly said.

Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery gives an account of his arrest this morning on the paper's website: 

One instructed me to exit to my left. As I turned left, another officer emerged, blocking my path.

“Go another way,” he said.

As I turned, my backpack, which was slung over one shoulder, began to slip. I said, “Officers, let me just gather my bag.” As I did, one of them said, “Okay, let’s take him.”

Multiple officers grabbed me. I tried to turn my back to them to assist them in arresting me. I dropped the things from my hands.

“My hands are behind my back,” I said. “I’m not resisting. I’m not resisting.” At which point one officer said: “You’re resisting. Stop resisting.”

That was when I was most afraid — more afraid than of the tear gas and rubber bullets.

The reporters were released without any charges. Both say they were assaulted but weren't seriously hurt.

HuffPost also reports that tear gas and rubber bullets were fired near an Al Jazeera America TV crew:

In a statement, the network said that "Al Jazeera is stunned by this egregious assault on freedom of the press that was clearly intended to have a chilling effect on our ability to cover this important story."

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Civil rights activist Al Sharpton is calling on the Department of Justice to monitor how police are responding to protesters in Ferguson, Missouri.

Members of Sharpton's National Action Network and local civil rights leaders are scheduled to meet Thursday with Ferguson police to discuss the police response.

Sharpton says he spoke with St. Louis County Police Chief John Belmar by phone to express his outrage at how the police responded to the protests.

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This story has been updated.

With contributions by Brian Frank, AP reporters Jim Salter, Jim Suhr and David A. Lieb, and Mike Roe

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