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Tension Is Mounting in Ferguson as More People Are Shot

Protests over the police killing of an unarmed Missouri teenager turned violent for the third night in a row, as police have now broken their silence.

by Alice Speri
Aug 13 2014, 5:40pm

Image via AP/Jeff Roberson

Protests over the police killing of an unarmed Ferguson, Missouri teenager turned violent overnight for the third night in a row, with two more people reportedly shot in the early hours today.

Police responding to reports of armed men and gunfire shot a man in Ferguson who they said had pointed a handgun at an officer early this morning. The unidentified man was reportedly shot just blocks from the place where hours earlier civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton had addressed local residents.

In a separate incident approximately one mile away, an unidentified woman was reportedly shot in the head in a drive-by shooting, in an incident that authorities had not yet confirmed was related to the earlier protests. The woman is now in stable condition and is expected to survive. Police are still searching for the suspects.

At least seven people were also arrested overnight, as police told defiant protesters to "go home" or face arrest. Reporters on the scene described several protesters walking towards police lines in defiance of their orders, with their hands raised up.

Protesters hit the streets in Ferguson. Video via Instagram/gopanda27

Today police in Ferguson released their first statement since Brown's death, saying members of the department "have heard the community's cries for justice" and "will continue to cooperate fully in the investigations" by the FBI, the St. Louis County Police Department, and the Justice Department. 

"The City of Ferguson has been through tough situations in the past, albeit nothing to this magnitude, but will continue to display resilience and fortitude," the statement said.

Residents of Ferguson, a primarily black suburb of St. Louis, have been taking to the streets since Sunday, a day after 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by a still unnamed police officer, following an altercation of which the details are still being disputed.

On Sunday, after a candlelight vigil for Brown, angry protesters were met by heavily armed police in riot gear, and the initially peaceful protests turned into riots. Some groups looted and burning local businesses — including the QuikTrip, a local gas station that has since become a flashpoint for protests.

Photo by Alice Speri

On Monday protests over Brown's shooting turned into clashes, as police met local residents with tear gas and rubber and wooden bullets. Tuesday evening was initially calmer, but protesters reportedly clashed with police as the night went on.

Accounts of the events leading up to Brown's death differ widely, with police saying the teen had attacked an officer and attempted to take hold of his weapon. Dorian Johnson, 22, a friend of the victim who was with him at the time, has said that police shot at Brown after the two refused to immediately move from the middle of the street to the sidewalk.

Johnson and other witnesses said that Brown was on his knees, with his hands raised up high, when he was killed.

The gesture — and the slogan "hands up, don't shoot!" — has become a symbol of the protests, adopted by demonstrators rallying peacefully but also by some more provocatively confronting police with their hands up high.

Photo by Alice Speri

Johnson said police told him and Brown to "get the fuck onto the sidewalk," and then proceeded to grab and choke the teen when he refused to follow orders. He said an officer shot him when he attempted to flee.

"We weren't causing no harm to nobody," Johnson told CBS News on Sunday. "We had no weapons on us at all. He shot again and once my friend felt that shot he turned around and put his hands in the air and started to get down, and the officer still approached with his weapon drawn and fired several more shots."

Johnson's lawyer, Freeman Bosley, a former mayor of St. Louis, said on Tuesday that police had declined to interview Johnson, who has taken his testimony to the media instead.

"They didn't even want to talk to him," Bosley told MSNBC. "They don't want the facts. What they want is to justify what happened."

Police asked for calm and time to carry out an investigation into the incident and said on Tuesday that they would not publicly disclose the name of the officer involved in Brown's death, as previously announced, because of threats made on social media and fear for the officer's safety.

"The value of releasing the name is far outweighed by the risk of harm to the officer and his family," Thomas Jackson, the police chief in Ferguson, told reporters.

St. Louis police have since taken over control of the suburb from the Ferguson police department, also by instituting a no-fly zone over the neighborhood.

Also on Tuesday, the St. Louis County prosecutor said the autopsy of the teen's body won't be released.

Brown's family, local and national community leaders, and President Obama have appealed for calm.

"The death of Michael Brown is heartbreaking, and Michelle and I send our deepest condolences to his family and his community at this very difficult time," Obama said. "As Attorney General Holder has indicated, the Department of Justice is investigating the situation along with local officials, and they will continue to direct resources to the case as needed.

"I know the events of the past few days have prompted strong passions, but as details unfold, I urge everyone in Ferguson, Missouri, and across the country, to remember this young man through reflection and understanding. We should comfort each other and talk with one another in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds. Along with our prayers, that's what Michael and his family, and our broader American community, deserve.

In Ferguson on Wednesday Rev. Sharpton also called for calm. "Don't be a traitor to Michael Brown in the name of 'you mad,'" he said.

Sharpton had recently rallied in New York over the death of another black man, Eric Garner, who died after police put him in a chokehold for resisting arrest.

A Chokehold Didn't Kill Eric Garner, Your Disrespect for the NYPD Did. Read more here.

Those calling for "Justice for Michael Brown" also took to social media to remember other unarmed black victims of police or vigilante violence — from Garner to Trayvon Martin, who was shot to death in 2012 in Sanford, Florida.

On Wednesday, reports emerged that another unarmed 24-year-old black man had been killed by police in South Los Angeles.

Following Brown's death in Ferguson, social media sites were abuzz with tributes to black men killed by police.

"One every 28 hours," some said, citing a statistic turned slogan begun by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, a group fighting racism. In a report named "Operation Ghetto Storm" the group found that, in 2012, a black man was killed by police every 28 hours.

LaQuanda Brown, 28, has spent her entire life in Ferguson, and lives in the same housing complex where Michael Brown — unrelated — lived. She struggled for words to describe the atmosphere of the last few days.

"Tension, anger. Everyone in this community has had enough," she told VICE News. "People want to be heard and they want justice."

"They are wondering why all this police is here, why they are coming to peaceful rallies," she added. "Police come out with their helmets, vests and shields. They are so aggressive. They just make it worse."

On Thursday, vigils for victims of police brutality and racism are set to take place across the country, including in St. Louis.

The NAACP also issued a statement following Brown's death. "Even as we call for accountability by those charged with protecting the community, we call on the community to act — collectively and calmly," the statement said.

Despite some lootings, residents said that the protests over Brown's death had been largely peaceful, and that protesters had instead been met aggressively by police in a militarized response.

"It's messed up, they're suited for war against civilians," Miller Gardner, a young protester, told the Daily Beast on Monday, while standing, hands raised before a line of riot police officers. "I'm not on that side, and I'm in the military. They need to come on this side of the line."

Over the past few days, the suburb was heavily patrolled by officers in riot gear, with police lines all along West Florissant Avenue, a main strip in Ferguson. Journalists reported being denied access to some of the protests' sites — and residents compared the militarized police presence in the streets of their neighborhood to an "occupation."

The Ferguson Riots Are Not a Shift Away From Peace, They're a Challenge to Violence. Read more here.

Follow Alice Speri on Twitter: @alicesperi

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