By Carey Gillam
FERGUSON Mo. (Reuters) – City leaders in Ferguson, Missouri, confronted demands for reform by several hundred people on Tuesday night at their first public meeting since last month’s fatal shooting of an unarmed black teen by a white police officer ignited weeks of protests.
The atmosphere was charged from the start, with members of a largely black audience at a church in the St. Louis suburb shouting down City Council members, rising out of their seats and chanting in solidarity.
Crowd members, who had to pass through metal detectors and security guards to attend, could be seen wearing shirts that read: “Let My People Vote” and “Hands Up Don’t Shoot,” a phrase that became a national rallying cry for activists protesting police actions they view as overly aggressive.
As council leaders attempted to discuss routine city business, one man shouted: “What about Mike Brown?”
Tension remains high in the mostly black community of 21,000 people after the Aug. 9 shooting. Protesters are demanding the arrest of the officer who shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown, as well as the ouster of Mayor James Knowles III and Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson.
The City Council, made up of the mayor and six other members, called the session after canceling a meeting scheduled for late August.
A public relations firm representing the council issued a statement on Monday laying out proposals the council said should help reduce community concerns, including formation of a citizens’ review board to help improve law enforcement operations.
The council also said it was introducing an ordinance to reduce fines and other penalties levied in municipal court that many have alleged unfairly target blacks.
Many in the community said the proposals lacked crucial details and did not go far enough.
Markese Mull, 39, who said he knew Brown and was planning to participate in a protest scheduled for Wednesday, called the council efforts “fake.”
“If we let this situation die down, they win,” Mull said earlier on Tuesday. “Next week somewhere, another black man will be gunned down. We have to keep this fight alive.”
City and county officials have been under fire since the shooting of Brown by officer Darren Wilson spiraled into nightly protests and sometimes violent rioting in Ferguson. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency for the city, and sent in National Guard troops to try to quell the unrest.
CALLS FOR OFFICER’S ARREST
Some witnesses have reported that Brown had his hands in the air when Wilson shot him as he and a friend walked down a residential street. Police have said Brown struggled with Wilson before the shooting. An autopsy showed the teenager was shot at least six times, including twice in the head.
Wilson has been placed on paid administrative leave and has gone into hiding, as the county prosecutor presents evidence to a grand jury to determine if any charges are filed.
At a news conference on Tuesday, Brown’s parents, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and other groups repeated their calls for Wilson to be arrested immediately, saying there was no reason to wait for a grand jury to review the evidence.
The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the shooting and also looking into accusations of racial profiling by Ferguson police.
Protests have continued in Ferguson and across the country over what demonstrators say is a long history of police intimidation and abuse of blacks in the St. Louis area and other U.S. cities.
A group called the Justice for Michael Brown Leadership Coalition said it was planning to block a major highway that runs through St. Louis on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Carey Gillam; Additional reporting by Jason McLure; Writing by Fiona Ortiz, Carey Gillam, and Eric M. Johnson; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Peter Cooney)
[Image: A makeshift memorial is seen near the site where unarmed teen Michael Brown was shot dead in Ferguson, Missouri on Aug. 22, 2014. By Adrees Latif for Reuters]