By Ellen Wulfhorst
Missouri Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and imposed a curfew in Ferguson on Saturday following a week-long series of racially charged protests and looting over the shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer.
The streets must be emptied starting at midnight for a curfew that will run until 5 a.m. until further notice, according to Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson, named by the governor to oversee security in the suburban St. Louis community that has been roiled by the Aug. 9 shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
“The eyes of the world are watching. This is the test of whether a community, this community, any community, can break the cycle of fear, distrust and violence, and replace them with peace, strength and, ultimately, justice,” Nixon said in remarks made at a church near Ferguson.
Some in the crowd gathered at the church reacted angrily to the news and one interrupted the governor’s remarks, shouting that the police officer who killed Brown must be charged with murder to bring peace to the community.
The unrest erupted after Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, 28, shot and killed Brown shortly after noon last Saturday as Brown and a friend walked down a street that runs through an apartment complex where Brown’s grandmother lives.
Tensions have been high all week but escalated on Friday evening as protesters again swarmed through a residential and retail district that has become a virtual war zone, pitting mostly black protesters against mostly white police forces.
On Saturday, people marching through city streets held signs that read “black lives matter,” and “Don’t shoot.”
For days, Brown’s family and supporters have demanded the name of the officer, which police repeatedly refused to release. That changed on Friday when Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson identified Wilson as the officer involved.
But rather than appease the protesters, Jackson added to the outrage when he announced that Brown had been a suspect in the robbery of a convenience store at the time he was shot, a move that supporters of Brown’s family called a “smear” campaign.
Friday night’s looting started at the same store where Brown was accused of taking cigars, officials said.
Jackson was later forced to acknowledge in a news conference that when Wilson shot Brown, the officer did not know the teen was a suspect in the robbery. The shooting happened after the officer told Brown and a friend to move out of a street they were walking along when the officer drove by. There was no connection between the shooting and the alleged robbery, Jackson said.
Attorney Ben Crump, who is representing Brown’s family, said in a statement issued on Friday that the family was “beyond outraged” at the police attempts to “assassinate the character of their son, following such a brutal assassination of his person in broad daylight.”
Civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton said he would lead a rally with Brown’s family in Ferguson on Sunday.
“There’s nothing more contemptible and offensive to the people of this country than for law enforcement to try to smear a dead man or dead child that can’t speak for themselves,” Sharpton said on Saturday morning at a weekly rally he holds in New York City that is broadcast on the Internet.
Other law enforcement agencies criticized the Ferguson police department for trying to make the alleged robbery an issue connected to the shooting and for releasing a video from inside the store that shows Brown violently shoving a store clerk before he walks out the door.
“We had no involvement whatsoever in releasing that video,” said Brian Schellman, a spokesman for the St. Louis County Police Department, which is leading the local investigation into the Brown shooting.
Neither the governor’s office nor the state highway patrol were involved in the decision either, said Scott Holste, a spokesman for Governor Nixon.
CONFUSION OVER KILLING
The police version of Brown’s shooting differs markedly from witness accounts, including that of the friend who was walking with Brown at the time, Dorian Johnson, 22.
In the police version, after Wilson asked Brown to move out of the road onto a sidewalk, Brown reached into the patrol car and struggled with Wilson for the officer’s service gun. Wilson, who sustained a facial injury, then shot Brown a number of times.
Johnson and at least one other witness have said that the officer reached out through his car window to grab at Brown and that the teenager was trying to get away from the officer when he was shot. Brown held up his hands in a sign of surrender but the officer got out of his patrol car and shot Brown several times, they said.
Police have acknowledged that Brown’s body was more than 30 feet away (9 meters) from the police car when he collapsed and died and that multiple shell casings were found at the scene.
FBI agents were at the scene of the shooting on Saturday interviewing area residents, and civil rights activist Jesse Jackson also visited the site, leading a prayer near a make-shift memorial to Brown just a few feet from where he died.