Accessibility links

USA

New Protests Form in Ferguson

  • VOA News

New protests formed late Wednesday in Ferguson, Missouri, site of 11 days of unrest after a local police officer shot and killed an unarmed black teenager.

Demonstrators took to the streets to voice anger at the August 9 shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown. The protests appeared to be relatively peaceful.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that two protesters showed up carrying signs in support of the police officer, Darren Wilson. Television footage showed many people in the crowd shouting at those two people.

Earlier Wednesday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder arrived in Missouri, meeting with community leaders and federal investigators as a local grand jury was to begin compilling evidence in the case of the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer.

Holder made his first stop at the Florissant campus of St. Louis Community College, near the suburb of Ferguson where 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot August 9.

He spoke with students at the college, then met separately with about 50 local leaders, telling them he had assigned the federal government's "most experienced agents and prosecutors" to the case, which has touched off days of nighttime protests during which security forces used tear gas and rubber bullets to clear the streets.

The protests were more subdued Tuesday night. Police said they still made 47 arrests, but mainly of people who defied orders to disperse.

Later, while walking through Drake's Place Restaurant in Ferguson, Holder told diners concerned about the recent street clashes, "we can make [the situation] better."

Missouri State Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson, who is in charge of the police response to protests, met Holder at the restaurant.

Asked whether he had confidence in the local investigation of Officer Darren Wilson, who shot Brown, Johnson said that, "General Holder, by being here, is a guarantee on that."

Holder, who has been accompanied by several Justice Department officials, including members of its Civil Rights division, also met with FBI and other officials carrying out an independent federal investigation into the shooting death.

The nation's top law enforcement official later met privately with Brown's parents at the St. Louis office of the U.S. attorney for the region, but no details of that session was immediately available.

Meanwhile, a grand jury was expected to begin hearing evidence to determine whether Officer Wilson should be charged. The group is expected to meet weekly until a decision is made, and could hear testimony from Wilson himself at some point.

Edward Magee, a spokesman for Robert P. McCulloch, the prosecuting attorney for St. Louis County, said it could take weeks for the grand jury to consider all the evidence.

Dozens of protesters demonstrated peacefully on Wednesday in front of the Clayton, Missouri, courthouse where prosecutors were to begin presenting evidence to the grand jury.

Wilson is on paid leave, with Brown's family and supporters are calling for his arrest.

The teen's death has triggered allegations of systemic racial discrimination in Ferguson, a predominantly black St. Louis suburb of 21,000 residents with a majority white police force.

Rallies, protests

Police have arrested more than 100 protesters in the last 11 days, primarily for refusing to leave the streets.

Most of the activity has been punctuated by looting, vandalism and clashes between demonstrators and police, who said many of those arrested are not from Ferguson but from states as far as New York and California.

Prosecuting attorney Bob McCulloch said his office could continue presenting evidence to the grand jury through mid-October, as he confronts conflicting pressures for speed and thoroughness.

“On one side, people are saying you're rushing to justice, and on the other side, they're saying you're dragging this thing out,” he said at a news conference. “We're going to present this as expeditiously as possible, but we are not going to present it in a half-hearted manner.”

African-American minister Stanton Holliday, 62, who said he was a longtime civil rights activist, said he was concerned that prosecutors were taking too long.

“The criminal justice system in America ... is as racist as it was 50 years ago,” Holliday said.

Protesters in front of the courthouse gathered in a circle for a prayer, chanted, and held signs urging prosecutor McCulloch to step aside.

Nearly two dozen officers guarded the building's main entrance, which also was blocked off with yellow police tape.

McCulloch's deep family connections to police have been cited by some black leaders who question his ability to be impartial in the case. McCulloch's father, mother, brother, uncle and cousin all worked for the St. Louis Police Department, and his father was killed while responding to a call involving a black suspect, The Associated Press reported.

The prosecutor, who is white, has insisted his background will have no bearing on the handling of the Brown case.

On Tuesday, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon said he would not seek McCulloch's removal from the case, citing the "well-established process" by which prosecutors can recuse themselves from pending investigations to make way for a special prosecutor.

In Ferguson, some said they hoped Holder's visit would lead to a speedy arrest and prosecution of the police officer involved in the shooting, while others cautioned against hasty justice.

At the time of his death, Brown was suspected of shoplifting and roughing up a storekeeper. Authorities, however, say Wilson did not know that Brown was a robbery suspect.

An independent autopsy requested by Brown's family showed he was shot six times, including twice in the head. A family attorney said the teen was trying to surrender to police when he was shot.

In a special message to the community published online by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Holder said about 40 FBI agents have been assigned to the case, along with prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney's Office in St. Louis.

Hundreds of people have already been interviewed, Holder said, and federal medical examiners have performed an independent autopsy, the third conducted in the killing.

“Our investigation into this matter will be full, it will be fair, and it will be independent,” Holder said.

Some information for this report provided by Reuters and AP.

Show comments

XS
SM
MD
LG