By Matt Pearce, Lauren Raab and Maya Srikrishnan, Los Angeles Times
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, addressing the urgent situation in Ferguson, Mo., on Thursday, said he was making “a number of operational shifts” that will change the tone in the St. Louis suburb after five nights of unrest, marked by police firing tear gas and rubber bullets into crowds of demonstrators.
Nixon did not release details about the changes, but assured the crowd gathered at a Ferguson community meeting that “you will see a much better and much different tone” in the city. He said the “vast, vast majority” of the demonstrations have been peaceful and urged those in the city to use their energy in a positive way.
His comments came after clashes between police and protesters have intensified since an officer on Saturday killed Michael Brown, an unarmed, black 18-year-old. After an intense scene Wednesday night — which included the detention of two journalists — top elected officials expressed alarm over the heavy police presence.
President Barack Obama, speaking after Nixon, also sought to calm the tense situation, saying that there is “no excuse” for “excessive force” by police or for looting or violence aimed at law enforcement. Making a brief statement from Martha’s Vineyard, where he is on vacation, Obama said the police have a responsibility to be “open and transparent” about the events that led up to the fatal shooting.
Also, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) has talked to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder about what more can be done to de-escalate the situation.
At a community meeting in Ferguson on Thursday morning, beleaguered residents complained that white “anarchists” were showing up at protests and instigating trouble. Parents said they were running out of food and household items because they have been locked out of shopping areas at night. Children are frightened by the show of police force, they said.
Wednesday night armored personnel carriers and officers wearing body armor and carrying assault rifles greeted demonstrators. When the crowd ignored orders to disperse, officers unleashed tear gas and rubber bullets, witnesses said.
Police sealed off the area that was the scene of vandalism and looting Sunday night.
At least 10 people were arrested.
One of them was St. Louis Alderman Antonio French, a friend of his, Liz Peinado, said in a Twitter post. During the unrest, French has posted videos on social media of protests and the police presence on the streets.
During the nighttime confrontation, protesters with shirts wrapped around their faces held signs that read, “Hands up, don’t shoot,” as police closed in on the crowd. The slogan has been adopted by protesters because witnesses said Brown was running with his hands in the air when a police officer shot him to death Saturday.
In live amateur video posted to social media, police could be overheard telling the group to leave the area or they would be arrested. Clouds of tear gas were visible in the background.
St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch said Wednesday that details about the Brown shooting would not be released any time soon. He urged anyone with information to come forward and promised that every piece of evidence would be reviewed, presented to a grand jury, and eventually made public.
By withholding details from the public during the criminal inquiry, investigators would be better able to gauge witnesses’ credibility, he said.
The St. Louis County Police Department is investigating the shooting, and the FBI and civil rights attorneys from the Justice Department are conducting a parallel investigation.
Racial tension has simmered since Saturday’s shooting, beginning with a protest late that day. Then, Sunday night, vandals rampaged through 12 businesses, burning one and breaking windows.
Ferguson is a working-class suburb of 21,000. Two-thirds of residents are black, but police and city officials are predominantly white.
Although the largest protests have been peaceful, demonstrations have turned ugly at night.
Ferguson’s police chief said he decided not to identify the officer who killed Brown because a rumor that misidentified the officer had prompted death threats. The officer was injured in the confrontation with Brown and the “side of his face was swollen,” Jackson said.
The officer was treated at a hospital, the chief said, and he was “very shaken.”
Local law enforcement authorities have released few details about the shooting, and several witnesses have disputed the police account.
Brown had been walking in the street with a friend Saturday about noon when, according to police, an officer drove up and tried to get out of his patrol car, and Brown pushed the officer back into the car. After an altercation over the officer’s weapon in the car, the officer and Brown got out of the vehicle, and the fatal shooting occurred, according to St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar.
Bystanders said Brown had raised his hands to surrender when the fatal shots occurred.
Pearce reported from Ferguson and Raab and Srikrishnan reported from Los Angeles. Staff writer Ryan Parker in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
AFP Photo/Scott Olson
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