Ferguson protests reignite overnight as cops again fire teargas at demonstrators
Period of relative calm comes to an end after local police released a video that appeared to implicate Michael Brown in a robbery that took place minutes before his death
Protesters and riot police have clashed again in Ferguson, Missouri amid renewed tension over the shooting of an unarmed teenage boy by a police officer.
Police fired a teargas canister at a crowd of around 200 people last night who gathered near a shop that Michael Brown, 18, was suspected of robbing.
Some protesters threw bottles at officers in riot gear and chanted “hands up, don’t shoot”.
A 24-hour period of relative calm came to an end after local police released a video that appeared to implicate Brown in a robbery that took place minutes before his death.
The surveillance footage, which appears to show Brown stealing and intimidating the owner of the convenience store, and an incident report detailing the alleged incident were released at the same time as Ferguson police chief Thomas Jackson said that the officer who shot Brown – named on Friday as Darren Wilson – did not know that the teenager was a robbery suspect.
That decision prompted condemnation from Brown’s family and ratcheted up tensions between local people and the police.
There remains little clarity surrounding the moments leading up to Brown’s death and the police have given conflicting accounts of whether the events were connected.
Jackson first indicated that the officer stopped Brown in response to a callout over police radio describing the suspect for the robbery. Yet at a second press conference on Friday, Jackson said that the “initial contact was not related to the robbery”.
Brown was stopped because he was walking down the middle of the street, obstructing traffic, the police chief said.
Later still, Jackson was quoted by the St Louis Post-Dispatch as saying that Wilson saw cigars in Brown’s hand and realised that he might be a suspect in the robbery.
Attorneys for the Browns said that the family were “beyond outraged” at the simultaneous release, describing it as a strategic move to smear their son.
“There is nothing based on the facts that have been placed before us that can justify the execution-style murder of their child by this police officer as he held his hands up, which is the universal sign of surrender,” the lawyers said in a joint statement.
Jackson said the report was released in response to freedom of information requests by media outlets, apparently following tip-offs. Such requests can often take weeks or months to be fulfilled.
However, commenting on the resurgence of police clashes with protesters, Captain Ron Johnson admitted: “We had concerns that this would happen.” He said: “I will say we talked all day about the release of the video tape at the food mart.”
The decision to release the footage was also criticised due to the refusal by police to disclose comparable details about Brown’s shooting, despite this information being subject to similar records requests.
Johnson of the Missouri state highway patrol, who won plaudits for his handling of the demonstrations after being handed control on Thursday, said he “would have liked to have been consulted” about the simultaneous release of the report of the name and alleged robbery.
“The information could have been put out in a different way,” Johnson told reporters and residents at a press conference that unfolded more like a town hall meeting on Friday. “I would have communicated it differently,” he told the Guardian afterwards.
The disagreement over Friday’s decision highlighted the overlapping jurisdictions of the law enforcement agencies involved. The robbery report was released by Ferguson city police, the force that employs Wilson, which has come under sharp criticism for not reflecting the racial makeup of the city, which is majority African American.
The inquiry into the shooting is being led by St Louis County police, which led the policing of the demonstrations over Brown’s death through several nights of violent clashes, before being relieved by Missouri governor Jay Nixon on Thursday.
The FBI is also investigating whether the shooting breached civil rights. It announced late on Friday that agents would be “canvassing the neighbourhood” over the next few days to find new witnesses.
According to the Ferguson police account of the robbery, witnesses told police that Brown stole several packets of Swisher Sweet cigars from a convenience store between 11.52am and 11.54am on 9 August.
Adding further tension between the various authorities involved, county prosecutor Bob McCulloch, who would be responsible for bringing any charges against the officer, reportedly reacted furiously to Nixon’s transfer of the policing of the demonstrations. “It’s shameful, what he did,” McCulloch told the St Louis Post-Dispatch.
Nixon declined to respond to McCulloch’s comments on Friday. “We’re focused on our responsibility we have here,” he said.
St Louis County police have a warrant for computer hard drives and video from the convenience store involved in the robbery.
More than a dozen officers, including Johnson, the highway patrol captain, visited the store on Friday afternoon and talked with staff.
At the store, customers defended the owner.Eugene Ward. “If the evidence shows that the gentleman was here and committed a crime that doesn’t change the excessive police reaction. But it also doesn’t condone what the young man did.”
Police at the scene declined to comment but one highway patrolman was heard telling a customer that the officer involved in the shooting appeared to have been a good man and that Brown’s death was a tragedy.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2014
Watch video from Friday night’s events, via CNN, below: