Amid Ferguson Unrest, Michael Brown’s Family Plans Public Memorial
By Molly Hennessy-Fiske and Tina Susman, Los Angeles Times
FERGUSON, Mo. — After peaceful protests in Ferguson devolved into the ninth night of unrest, with at least 31 arrests and two shootings, residents gathered to clean up debris from embattled West Florissant Avenue Tuesday morning and the parents of Michael Brown said they are planning a public memorial for their son on Monday.
The clashes led to the arrests of people from as far away as California and New York, underscoring what Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson said is a small minority of outsiders stirring trouble after the Aug. 9 shooting of Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old, by a white officer.
Officers came under “heavy gunfire” overnight, he said, requiring the use of tear gas to disperse unruly crowds. He emphasized that police did not fire a single bullet.
A curfew that had been in effect Saturday and Sunday nights was lifted, but officials had the authority to close streets and required that protesters stay in motion — not stop walking or congregate.
Schools remained closed in Ferguson as officials feared for the safety of children who would be walking to and from campuses.
Brown’s parents, Michael Brown and Lesley McSpadden, said Tuesday morning that the prosecution of the officer who shot their unarmed son is the only way to bring peace to the streets of Ferguson.
“Justice will bring peace,” McSpadden told the “Today” show’s Matt Lauer.
“We need to keep the focus on Michael Brown Jr.,” Brown’s father said.
The family expects Michael Brown’s body to be released in the next 48 hours and planning is underway for a public memorial service for Brown, said one of their attorneys, Anthony Gray.
Gray said the couple are devastated by the nightly clashes, which they feel, “divert all of the attention from honoring their child and allowing him to begin the process to rest in peace. That’s not how they want him to be remembered. They do not want that to be their son’s legacy.”
Gray, who was out with protesters on West Florissant late Monday, did not fault police, calling their approach “experimental.” He praised Johnson, chosen by the governor to take over control of the effort from local police last week.
“If we maintained the course we were on before Ron got involved, it would probably be 10 times worse than it is now. Nobody is itching to go back to the security measures they deployed in the beginning,” Gray said, referring to Ferguson police.
Johnson made an effort late Monday to forestall violence, Gray said, holding troopers back from engaging with the crowd of protesters.
“I don’t know if it will work or not. I’m just going to trust that they’re doing what they can to balance the interests that are at work,” Gray said. “What Ron Johnson brought to the street, if he had more of that in the people around him, the situation would be totally different.”
Johnson has called on protesters to stay inside after dark, and while Gray wasn’t sure if that was the solution to the violence, he said the dynamic needs to change.
“Everybody needs to take a break,” Gray said. “We’ve got a big memorial service that needs to be planned,” he said.
He said the family was encouraged that President Barack Obama is sending U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to Ferguson Wednesday.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon had deployed National Guard troops for the first time overnight Monday to assist the state Highway Patrol and St. Louis County police, and a spokesman said the deployment was expected to continue Tuesday.
But he stressed that guard troops came to Ferguson in a supporting role — not to man the front lines with police who faced off with protesters in riot gear Monday night, lobbing tear gas, and rescuing two gunshot victims.
“They had a limited support roll there at the command center, staying there to secure the command center,” spokesman Scott Holste said of the guard.
The deployment came after police complained the night before that protesters had approached the command center, throwing Molotov cocktails and glass bottles, leading police to respond with tear gas and smoke canisters.
During the worst of the clashes, protesters demanded to see Johnson, who had walked the streets with protesters hours earlier pleading for calm.
“Ron Johnson, where are you?” a protester shouted.
Johnson appeared hours later at a command center briefing, where he justified the use of force, saying officers were at risk. He displayed a Molotov cocktail and two guns seized during the melee, which he said included two fires set by vandals at a home and business, and urged legitimate protesters to stay home after dark Tuesday.
He did not know the conditions of the two gunshot victims and said officers used an armored vehicle to rescue one of them.
“All of these criminals at night that are masking themselves and hiding themselves behind peace, let them come at night so we can identify them, so we can take them away from our community and put them away and make our streets clear,” he said.
“This was not an act of protesters. This was an act of violent criminals,” he said.
AFP Photo/Scott Olson
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