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Police Have Named the Cop Who Shot Michael Brown as Ferguson’s Anger Turns to Peace

The announcement followed a promised shift in response by public officials — who had been facing growing backlash over their handling of Brown’s death.

by Alice Speri
Aug 15 2014, 3:00pm

Photo by VICE News/Alice Speri

Following days of protests that have turned the suburb of Ferguson, Missouri into a national symbol for police brutality and racism, local police identified the officer that on Saturday shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was unarmed.

Darren Wilson, a 6-year veteran of the force, is the officer, and he was placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation, officials said. Police had previously declined to name the officer, citing threats and concerns for his safety.

Also on Friday, police released a report that Brown was a suspect in a robbery at the Quiktrip that was later burnt down — and that Wilson was responding to a robbery call when he arrived on the scene. Video also emerged of the robbery that took place prior to the shooting. 

The announcement of Wilson as the shooter followed a promised shift in response by public officials — who had been facing growing backlash over their handling of Brown's death. People had pledged to keep taking to the streets until the officer was named and "justice for Mike" served.

"What's gone on here over the last few days is not what Missouri's about, it's not what Ferguson's about," Missouri's Governor Jay Nixon said at a press conference on Thursday.

The shift was immediately felt on Thursday night, as the streets of Ferguson resembled the stage of a huge, loud street party rather than the "war zone" — as residents described it — of the earlier days.

Gone were the armored vehicles, the tear gas, and the hundreds of police officers in riot gear that had been arresting people on the same blocks just a day earlier.

The rage at the police killing of Brown was still there, no doubt, as was the anger towards police's aggressive crackdown on earlier protests. But officials had promised a shift in tactics and, at least on Thursday, they delivered.

As it turns out, dozens of police cars, tanks, and officers were on standby just a few blocks away — but they were virtually a no-show at the protest-turned-party.

Capt. Ronald Johnson of Missouri's Highway Patrol — newly in charge of policing the suburb after widespread criticism of the St. Louis county police's handling of the situation — made a quick appearance by the burnt down gas station that has become Ferguson's "Ground Zero."

"Of course they send a black man now," a bystander proclaimed, but with a smile. "The whole world's watching now — who's gonna bring in tanks now?" someone else chimed in.

Johnson greeted people, hugged some, then left — leaving a crew of young residents, including one in a Guy Fawkes mask, to direct the paralyzed traffic.

As police were nowhere to be seen, Ferguson's residents self-policed — with youth playfully directing traffic. Photo by VICE News/Alice Speri

As the night went on, Thursday's protest turned into a carnival-like parade. Photo by VICE News/Alice Speri

Not that traffic really mattered, as drivers joined in the rally by honking their horns endlessly well into Friday morning. As the night went on, drivers turned up their music and made their way through the streets, with dozens of teens sitting on roofs and hanging out of windows.

There were a couple scuffles here and there — but of the street carnival sort, and people sorted them out on their own.

Someone found a small train cart that was promptly filled with slightly intoxicated teens and paraded it through the streets. There was also a man on a horse.

"This is so surreal, I have never seen anything like this," Lance Taylor, 58, a Vietnam veteran who spent his whole life in the neighborhood, told VICE News while sitting on a sidewalk wall and watching the scene. "I didn't come here to protest, I came here to safeguard. If I see an officer pushing around a woman or a child I will intervene. Now it's turned into a party, I don't think I'm needed."

"No police, that's a good strategy. Let people get it out of their system, let them calm down," he added — noting that the festive atmosphere didn't mean people had forgotten Brown's death or the abuse of the last few days. "The government figured out, 'this is not working for us.' So now they are letting the kids play…"

Ferguson still needs answers of course — and solutions to problems that run much deeper than the events of the last few days.

Ferguson's youth dominated Thursday's protest — but as police kept away, the rally turned festive. Photo by VICE News/Alice Speri

"I haven't seen my people come together like this in a long time," Leon Johnson, 28, told VICE News while sipping a beer. "It means a lot. I hope it lasts."

But Johnson, who is unemployed but hoping to go back to school to be a mechanic, said the community needs to deal with issues bigger than Brown — including systematic racism, growing poverty, and violence — and not only by police, he noted. He was down to party for the night, rather than getting tear gassed like the night prior, but he said many didn't forget someone died.

"People are trying to make a statement, saying they're gonna change things," he said, wondering how long that would last after the cameras left Ferguson. "All police do is harass us, I doubt they will be more respectful now."

"We never got this kind of attention," another guy pitched in. "We'll see what happens after tonight."

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

Photo by VICE News/Alice Speri