The Missouri State Highway Patrol will take over security in Ferguson after local police were criticized for militarized tactics during four days of protests over the fatal police shooting of an unarmed black teenager, the governor said on Thursday.
Governor Jay Nixon named Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson, an African American who grew up in the Ferguson area, to oversee the security effort.
“What’s gone on here over the last few days is not what Missouri is about, it is not what Ferguson is about. This is a place where people work, go to school, raise their families and go to church, a diverse community, a Missouri community,” Nixon said at a news conference in Ferguson, where he met with police, prosecutors and members of the community.
“But lately it has looked a little bit more like a war zone, and that is unacceptable.”
Earlier U.S. President Barack Obama called on police to respect demonstrators in an attempt to defuse tensions in Ferguson after 18-year-old Michael Brown’s death on Saturday set off demonstrations.
Lawmakers, activists and demonstrators have complained that the mostly white police force has escalated the violence by using military gear and tear gas. Police have said they will do better but have also justified tactics, saying they have responded to the threat of violence during protests.
Meanwhile, activists claimed to know the name of the officer responsible for Brown's death. Groups claiming to be associated with the Anonymous hacker activist group threatened on Twitter to reveal personal information about the officer, such as his home address and photo. But St. Louis County's police department said the person they named wasn't an officer with the county or Ferguson police forces.
POLICE: ANONYMOUS CLAIMS TO KNOW OFFICER'S IDENTITY
On social media, groups claiming to be associated with Anonymous threatened to reveal a photo of a man they said was the officer involved, as well as his home address.
Edward Magee, a spokesman for the St. Louis County prosecutor’s office, which is investigating the shooting, said the name posted online was incorrect. “We can’t let anonymous groups or even public groups pressure us into doing anything we don’t think we should do,” Magee said.
Magee said the officer’s name will be made public if he is charged. Even if he is not arrested, his name will be released after the investigation because of the high public interest, Magee added. The officer has been placed on administrative leave.
Groups claiming affinity with Anonymous have called for nationwide protests and threatened to reveal personal information about Ferguson police officers. The Ferguson police said there have been attempts to hack their website and that it was temporarily disrupted, and the cyberthreats prompted the decision not to release the officer’s name.
Police have been slow to release information about the circumstances of Brown's death, except to say that it followed a struggle between the unnamed officer and Brown and that the officer was treated at a hospital for swelling on the side of his face.
Police Chief Thomas Jackson told reporters his priority was improving race relations in Ferguson, which has seen a stark demographic shift in recent decades, going from mostly white to mostly black. About two-thirds of the town’s 21,000-strong population are black. On a police force of 53, three officers are black.
Read yesterday's Globe file on how Ferguson clashes are putting America's heavily armed police under the microscope.
MEDIA: JOURNALISTS ARRESTED
As the protest swelled on Wednesday night, reporters Wesley Lowery of the Washington Post and Ryan J. Reilly of Huffington Post were briefly arrested at a fast-food restaurant.
A cloud of tear gas forced Al Jazeera journalists to flee at one point as they prepared for live reporting, with an anchor for the broadcaster Tweeting that police fired the canister at the crew.
Was arrested— Wesley Lowery (@WesleyLowery) August 14, 2014
Also Ryan Reilly of Huff Po. Assaulted and arrested— Wesley Lowery (@WesleyLowery) August 14, 2014
Officers decided we weren't leaving McDonalds quickly enough, shouldn't have been taping them.— Wesley Lowery (@WesleyLowery) August 14, 2014
Officers slammed me into a fountain soda machine because I was confused about which door they were asking me to walk out of— Wesley Lowery (@WesleyLowery) August 14, 2014
Detained, booked, given answers to no questions. Then just let out— Wesley Lowery (@WesleyLowery) August 14, 2014
I'm emotional, but need to note: Ryan and I are fine. Have seen people in Ferguson hurt by gas/rubber bullets. This wasn't that— Wesley Lowery (@WesleyLowery) August 14, 2014
Apparently, in America, in 2014, police can manhandle you, take you into custody, put you in cell & then open the door like it didn't happen— Wesley Lowery (@WesleyLowery) August 14, 2014
It's as if the arrest and the assaults never took place. Just opened the doors and let is out as if we'd let it go— Wesley Lowery (@WesleyLowery) August 14, 2014
PROTESTS: ‘I’VE HAD ENOUGH’
Protesters have gathered every night since Saturday when 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot to death in the mostly black suburb of St. Louis, during what authorities said was a struggle over a gun in a police car. Some witnesses say he was outside the car with his hands up.
“I’ve had enough of being pushed around because of the colour of my skin. I’m sick of this police brutality,” said one protester, who gave only his first name, Terrell, 18. “I’m going to keep coming back here night after night until we get justice.”
A St. Louis alderman, Antonio French, was among some 10 people arrested on Wednesday evening, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper reported. About 40 protesters have been arrested since Saturday.
THE SHOOTING: CONTRADICTORY ACCOUNTS OF WHAT HAPPENED
Dorian Johnson, who was walking with Brown at the time of the incident, has said in media interviews that Brown put his hands in the air and was not struggling with the officer. He said the officer fired multiple times into Brown’s head and chest. A preliminary autopsy confirmed Brown was shot a number of times, according to media reports. Johnson’s lawyer, Freeman Bosley, a former St. Louis mayor, did not immediately answer requests for comment.
Another witness, Tiffany Mitchell, told CNN she watched Brown and the officer “tussling through the window,” with the officer pulling the teen in as he struggled to get away, and then a “shot was fired through the window.”
“The kid he finally gets away and he starts running. As he runs, the police get out of his vehicle and he follows behind him shooting,” Mitchell said, adding that Brown turned around and put his hands in the air. “And the cop continued to fire until he just dropped down to the ground and his face just smacks the concrete.”
POLITICS: OBAMA, GOVERNOR PRESS FOR PEACE
National figures from U.S. President Barack Obama to civil-rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton have called for a peaceful response to the shooting.
Obama, who is vacationing on the Massachusetts island of Martha’s Vineyard, was briefed on Wednesday night about events in Ferguson by senior advisor Valerie Jarrett and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, the White House said. In a statement Thursday, the President said it was "time for peace and calm" in Ferguson, warning against both violence in the streets and excessive use of police force. He said the Attorney-General had been tasked with making sure that "justice is done."
"Now’s the time for healing. Now’s the time for peace and calm on the streets of Ferguson.” —President Obama— The White House (@WhiteHouse) August 14, 2014
Missouri Governor Jay Nixon said in a series of Twitter messages he would visit the area on Thursday, and urged “law enforcement to respect rights of residents (and) press” with the hopes that the “ongoing crisis” does not compound Saturday’s “tragedy.”
“Situation in Ferguson does not represent who we are. Must keep the peace, while safeguarding rights of citizens and the press,” Nixon wrote.
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